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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Groom Where You're Planted

I sometimes marvel at the envy I experience within my thoughts on a daily basis. I try my best to hide it, contain it, and keep it to a minimum, but it always creeps back in. On days when I'm really in the pity-party mood I like to think I'm alone in my horrible thoughts and jealous inner-longings.  The better part of me knows though that being human comes with many such challenges.  Jealousy (and its counterpart, hypocrisy) are ones that I'd wager are making a run for the gold in the category of most destruction to the developed world today.  You all know what I'm talking about.  "Keeping up with the Jones'" as its been coined. And let me tell you, if you were to find a huge group of Jones' and Jones-wannabes together, sharing an expensive, emotional and time-consuming hobby, well, you'd have found the world of horse-showing. Sometimes it seems that there is no ceiling to the fancy horses, the blingy outfits, the unbelievable rigs (with gorgeous living quarters ... that I would have to live in as I could no longer afford my house if I should purchase such an outrageous dream-machine).  How can any of us "little guys" compete?  Do hard work, hours spent, miles covered, solid training and preparation  count anymore if you are constantly being "outdone" by the guys next door?  Well, that all depends on your attitude I think.

Brendan's Irish-Catholic grandmother used to have this old sign hanging in her house (I think it was one of those needlepoint ones) that said "Bloom where you're planted."  Always seemed a little silly to me.  I mean what choice do you have if you're a weed growing out on a bare, dry prairie other than to just grow the tallest and strongest your little roots can make you.  Ay, but there it is. The saying isn't "Just barely make it where you're planted" or "Grow as tall and strong as you can where you're planted but complain about yourself in comparison to all the other beautiful foliage around".  No, it says BLOOM.  We generally think of blooming as the time when a plant is flowering.  This in itself is significant because we are called not only to grow, but to flower, right where we are.  Not where our neighbor is, not where our family is (and not on the horse that they have either!). We are called to develop our own deep, strong roots and fruitful branches, where we are, with what we are given.  There is an even deeper meaning I think though, when we look at the second part of the Oxford dictionary's definition of bloom: "the state or period of greatest beauty, freshness, or vigor".

How many of us believe that if we only had a fancier horse, a more prestigious horse trainer (is it wrong to admit that I sometimes feel this, even as the horse trainer?), or some new gizmo, gadget or outfit?

I am constantly telling my clients (and myself) that we have to have a truck load of perspective in this industry, and we have to really examine our own personal goals and achievements when assessing our success (see last month's blog, "In It to Win It"). 

Humor me a bit while I get a little philosophical for a minute.  I truly believe that anyone who is graced by the presence of a horse, has been introduced to this "world" for a reason.  Riding (and competing) with horses is truly like no other sport.  There is an inexplicable synergy found in the combination between horse and human.  Two animals, fashioned completely differently, one with two legs, a vertical carriage, wrought with emotion and both helped and hindered by advanced, conscious thought, and another with four legs, horizontal carriage, and ruled by instinct and deep biological impulses, both working together in a harmony that is fearfully beautiful.  Even if you aren't religious it is hard not to find some connection with something deeper when you walk astride a horse.  And regardless of what turns of fate brought us into this arena, so to speak, we all have to start somewhere.   Some start off with the best of the best.  Expensive horses, elite instruction, flawless training.  Some of us figured out how to stay on by playing "capture the flag" out in some back field on naughty little horses that we more or less trained by our 12-year-old selves. 

How truly wonderful it is though, when you study the profiles of those in the winners circle (both amateurs and professionals alike) that you find individuals fitting both of the profiles above, and all through the spectrum in between?

I believe it lies in the title of this blog (which I personally felt was extremely witty).  Instead of sitting around (and come on, if you're like me, most likely on Facebook) groaning over all of the successes and fancy new acquisitions of those around you, you need to get to work on just creating your own "blooms". 

I recently had one of these experiences myself (confession time ...).  This year there were several riders and horses at US Nationals who I know fairly well, and most of them had some amazing successes.  They have all worked so hard for and totally deserve it.  That, and it is absolutely awesome for the industry in our area that our Canadian contingent gave such a great showing.  I must admit though there was a moment (it was fleeting as I kicked myself in the butt quickly for it) that I felt envy.  For no justifiable reason, I felt it was "unfair" that they should have all of that success.  Why? I mean, they worked for it.  They paid for it.  What felt so unfair about it?  Plain and simple ... it wasn't mine.  

And in this moment I realized more fully than ever before that there will always be others I can compare to... those greater and lesser than myself.  In that moment though, I have to choose to focus on what I can do, not what I cannot. 

As most of you know, we have embarked this last year on a great new leg of our adventure ... our own place! The show horses all came home in June, the barn's a hoppin' and things are really and truly going great.  We don't have an indoor arena yet, and that can be challenging at times, but I'm just determined to "groom where we're planted" and try to make the best of it.  So, we get creative.  Sometimes weather causes cancellations. Sometimes we have to adapt our plans.  On days when I cant go full force in the arena, we do ground driving around the yard, stall-bitting and ground manner training (I even have a couple who can do some tricks now!!).  I spend a lot of time reading and brushing up on theory and technicalities.  We are also in the process of setting up arrangements to haul-in to some local arenas to ride when the real winter arrives!

I am ever-so-tempted some days to sit back and cry about what we don't have here (and no one gets to ask my husband how often I succumb to this temptation), but I hope at the end of the day I'll look back and think, "Wow, we really were able to make something awesome happen, despite facing some challenges".  It's easy to get spoiled with all the amenities our modern facilities offer.  And its easy to think that we need all of these things in order to create anything worthwhile.  Along the way though, I've learned that horses are hardy, and people are committed.  We just have to keep our spirits up about the whole thing.  And you know what,  in my estimation, our little band of horses are actually looking better than ever.  The naughty ones seem a little less naughty, the fat ones have slimmed down, and the skinny ones are getting pleasantly plump.  Everyone's morale seems great and we really have a wonderful little family here.  We're growing, we're learning, and we're blooming.  Right where we are.  No fancy trimmings (well maybe not yet) but man do we appreciate every little victory!

So my winter challenge for everyone is this ... The next time you visit your friend's new multi-million dollar facility with plush stall mats, heated floors and perfectly groomed and temp-controlled arena, or the next time you cruise Facebook and see how "so-and-so" just acquired an inheritance and picked up her five-time national champion that she is sooooo in love with, swallow that envy down hard. Put on a smile and be happy for them.  But don't dwell too long.  Pull up your socks, put on your muck boots, go down to the barn and then groom (and bloom) with a new vigor.  Life has a way of rewarding hard work and persistence, and the character you'll develop along the way will serve you well in being able to truly enjoy the successes you achieve, rather than driving you to look to the next, bigger, fancier thrill.  Do your best, and work hard, wherever you are, with whatever you have to work with.  Seek good counsel, and make changes when you can.  You will bloom no doubt, and when you do, the fruits of your labor will be so much more beautiful than the store-bought successes you once longed to afford. 

Happy Grooming!!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

In It To Win It

They say that if you never experience losing, winning just isn't as significant.  You know ... that winning is somehow made more glorious and satisfying if you've had to work for it, earn it, and experience some hard knocks along the way.  I would tend to agree.

That said, losing still sucks. I am a competitive person (obviously, or I would have taken up equine philosophy rather than one of the most competitive and subjective areas of the industry). I mean don't get me wrong, I have personal goals for myself and all of my clients that do not involve earning a ribbon in the show ring. At the end of the day though, it's going to be tough to keep folks interested if they never, ever come home with any prize. 

How then, in a world of competition that is ever-changing and one that can be entirely subjective and political (aside from the odd timed/scored event) do we navigate and find satisfaction when prizes are never guaranteed? 

Well, in my own mind I like to narrow it down to a few principles that help me stay grounded in my goals and aspirations and my "expectation management".

Here they are:

1) Be honest with yourself.

Take a good hard look at where you are at, the amount of time, energy and money you have put into it, and what it realistically takes to make it (in whatever discipline you are riding in).  If you have been doing the same thing, with the same horse for many years and achieving the same results, you may want to try changing it up a bit (unless of course the results are "always winning", which is highly unlikely in this ever-changing sport).  Try a new approach, get some new help, change your farrier, change your discipline ... whatever you do, don't keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.  Einstein called this the definition of insanity.

That said, if you've only been doing something for a couple months, and you haven't mastered it yet, or you've been progressing (but maybe not as fast as you'd like) or maybe its not as easy as you anticipated, it may just mean a little more elbow grease and "miles" so to speak.  Regardless, getting an outside opinion (other than your spouse, who knows nothing about horses, or your lifelong riding buddy who supports you no matter what you do) may be in order. 

Either way, take a step back.  Look at your self.  Look at your horse. Often we go through stages where one party improves while the other plateaus or hits a wall.  The horse starts getting fit or more technical and the rider feels "left behind".  Or the rider makes great improvement but the horse's condition and fitness takes longer to catch up.  You have to be able to look at your situation and reflect on what's going on ... as unemotionally and analytically as you can!

2) Be honest with others.

Don't talk yourself up or talk up your goals and aspirations because you feel "peer-pressured" to.  At the same time, don't beat yourself up either.  When discussing your horse goals, talk about what you would like to do and maybe potential time-lines but don't get yourself backed into a corner by putting out unrealistic goals or expectations (especially if you are a people-pleaser and will later regret over-stating your abilities).  Also, make sure you don't play the martyr either, downplaying or negatively mulling over your struggles. 

Tell people your story.  Tell them exactly where your head is at.  Let them in on what excites you and what terrifies you and be open to them doing the same.  Share with your fellow horse folk honestly and compassionately and you will find that others open up, let down their own (sometimes defensive and over-competitive) guard and are far more likely to support you and your goals.

3) Be open to advice, correction and education...

FROM EVERYONE! You don't have to take it or use it, but at least consider it.  There have been many times someone has offered me unsolicited advice (about everything from farrier, to feeding, to training, to grooming, to trailering techniques) and many times my first response is defensiveness.  It can make a person feel inadequate or criticized.  After some consideration though, you can occasionally find a little gem in that pile of rubble and it could serve you very well.  Accept "help" graciously and remember, if they didn't know you, care about you, or have any investment in you at all, they would ignore you! 

Do consider all advice carefully though, and remember, no one person knows everything.  As hard as it is sometimes to take advice, it is equally as easy to turn someone into an idol and take everything they say as gospel (if you are my client and reading this, please disregard).  All jokes aside though, everyone shares, advises and teaches from their own experiences, and you need to take it all in with a grain of salt. Get educated, use good discretion, do your homework.  Find people with good reputations, whose expertise and services mesh well with your level of experience, goals and personality.  It is imperative that when you are working with someone in a training or lesson situation, that for the time you are with them you trust them and their instruction.  If not you will most certainly find things tense and uncomfortable in no time. 

4) Keep perspective.

As I said earlier, do your homework.  Get to know the industry, discipline and competition you will be competing with.  I often prep my riders by telling them things like, "You are going to find yourself in a very competitive class with say 12 horses, and 3 of them may have far more experience, more advanced/developed horses and more skill development than you (this may be a good time remember #1 above).  If you come in 4th, well in my mind, that's a FIRST!!" If you have no idea who sits beside you in the line up and have no context within which to place yourself in that class, you may pout your way out of that class feeling that you have no idea why you didn't win it and resenting your ride, your competition, your horse and certainly your trainer.  In addition, you'll start to make up excuses for why didn't come out with the roses, and lose your ability to constructively reflect on any goals you may have achieved in that class. This isn't really fair to anyone, especially you!

Also, as a side note on getting perspective, I tell my riders (jokingly, but with some underlying seriousness) that they all need to have a couple of very close, non-horsey friends.  These are the people who, when you go on a rant about how you cannot believe that Peggy Sue brought her horse 3 strides to close to the behind of your horse and he swapped his lead and it was just SOOOOO embarrassing and you just might die, look at you like you are crazy.  And you are.  We horse folk are "crazy about" what we do, and I am totally guilty of this.  We get so intensely focused and narrowed in on our little riding bubble, we forget that sometimes its just one class.  Not really the end of the world.  Really, "first world problems" in every sense of the phrase. 

I mean, at the end of the day, there are probably hundreds of thousands of folks, just in North America who would give an arm to ride or own a horse, let alone do what we do.  Sometimes we feel we had a crappy ride, and we squeak by with a ribbon. Sometimes the best ride we've ever had gets us the gate.  Especially for what our team does, its a subjective game.  Do your best, train your hardest and get good help.  But ultimately ... Some days they like you.  Some days they don't.  Spend enough time around the place and you'll  realize this is true for EVERYONE at EVERY LEVEL. 

As a last and final wrap-up point I have to mention having non-prize-related goals.  Although saying things like "some day I'd love to win a Regional or National Championship" can be totally fantastic motivation for working and training hard, never put this kind of pressure on one class.  You may have a feeling in the back of your mind (based on your very realistic, honest and well-rounded perspective) that you are a contender in a particular class, but you should STILL have other, non-ribbon goals.  Things such as pace, engagement, leads, correctness, transitions, balance, ring management and so-on provide great fodder for these goals.  Work with your instructor or trainer and pick one or two of these performance-related goals for every class, even if you think you have it in the bag.  It will give you something to celebrate and discuss, regardless of whether you win or get dead last.

And always remember one of my favorite quotes ... "I never lose.  I either win or I learn."

Happy horse-showing!