I went on vacation last week, and as a guilty pleasure, I picked up one of my moms romance novels. It was titled “Love The One You’re With” and by Emily Giffin. About a woman who reconnects with an old lover and through a tumultuous summer, contemplates leaving her nice, comfortable, and lovely husband for the thrill of the ex. A man that brought her passion, who was exciting and sexy. But in the end, she remembers how much worse of a person the previous relationship made her, and decided to stay with her husband – a man who was possibly more comfortable than exciting, but who was good for her.
And I thought how similar of a situation I have been in with my horses.
There have been so many days — heck, months, where I have been frustrated by my current mounts. Where we have had rides that have ended up bloody and disgruntled, and shows where I have driven home exhausted and in tears.
My current horse Nixon is the perfect example of this. He is big, he is gorgeous, and he draws attention everywhere we go. He is capable of scoring a 20 in dressage, and jump brilliantly and with amazing scope over the fences. He has the strongest gallop I have ever sat on, and just OOZES potential.
But what so many don’t see is that he also has unlimited potential to harm. To grab the bit, strangle the reins from my hands, rummage his face in between his forearms, and simple RUN. That he can go from 0 to 60 in 0.6 seconds along the long side of a dressage arena. That I can be leading him quietly from his pristine stall only to be hip checked into the wall, or grabbed by my sleeve and tossed to the side.
Most people only see the good. They only speak of his potential, his future ability, the confidence that he exhales into the atmosphere around him. They wonder why I don’t show every weekend, they ask why I am not moving up a level or entered in the next recognized event.
They see the Nixon that is behaving at the shows, or portrayed on social media, but they don’t deal with him on a day to day basis.
And I have seen many of those same people go through horse after horse, getting frustrated and giving up on the horse instead of recognizing the problem might be in their own inabilities, their own deficits. And they sell the horse, and find a new one. A fancier one. A sexier one. More well bred, taller, fitter, with a stronger record.
And then they fall right back into the same predicament. Because it’s not the horse…it’s the rider.
I refuse to let that happen with Nixon. I refuse to finally check out, to admit defeat, to ignore my own flaws as a causation for his.
I sent a video to my friend Meghan a few weeks ago of me riding another horse on the flat, exclaiming to her that he was finally relaxing, finally bending, finally listening. And instead of commenting on the ability of the horse, she wrote back that I had improved drastically as a rider in the past year.
That while I might have been recently eliminated from a Beginner Novice event when a year ago I was confidently and competently running around Training level on another horse, I had improved drastically. And this improvement correlated directly to my time with Nixon.
He is the harder horse. He is the tougher ride. He exasperbates my issues and highlights my flaws. He sends me home from the barn battered and sore, muscles screaming in agony. He blemishes my record just as often as he embellishes my trophy rack. Everyone else notices the handful of blue ribbons, instead of accounting for the thousands of black and blue bruises.
But I see both. I see the difficult horse, but the horse that I love. Who is teaching me to be a better rider every day. I see a horse who might not get me back to a Training Level event for years, but will teach me how to sit a half pass. A horse who might knock a tooth out dropping into water, but who will teach me to finally sit up off a down bank. A horse who might never accomplish a true walk-canter transition, but who lets me experience the feeling of flying every time that I take him on a gallop.
My leg is finally down. My back is finally straight. My eyes are up. My hands are soft. And why? Because this bold, brilliant, cocky, and somewhat unhinged horse taught me there was no other way. He accepts nothing less than the best riding from me. And because of that, my riding has improved.
He might not be the easiest horse, or the most expensive. He hasn’t ran a 3*, and honestly, he might never. He is not the most well bred, nor was he imported from Ireland.
But he is perfect for me. He is exactly what I need; right here, right now.
So instead of throwing in the towel and getting frustrated, I am going to love him. I am going to cherish the lessons he has already taught me, and look forward to the instructions he has laid out for the future. I am going to ignore the fancy horses that are listed for sale on the websites, and stop the notifications on the posts about others success with their blue ribbons waving in the wind.
I am going to stop considering what is considered perfect for one of my Facebook friends, and consider what is perfect for me.
And unlike so many of them, I am just going to love the one I’m with.