In most aspects of life, I am an extremely goal oriented person.
I am as competitive as they come, and constantly striving to better myself. I want to be the best of the best. But more importantly, I need to be the best me I can be.

And yet somehow, I own horses. And horses have the ability to make even the most type-A or hyper-planned person fail.


Struggling. Photo by Melissa Bauer-Herzog

I’m sure all of us have shown up to the barn the day before a show to find a 3-legged pony, or a stream of blood.

I’m sure all of us have scheduled a plan for show season, only to have the furnace go out or need new tires.

I’m sure all of us have gotten back into riding only to start a doctoral dissertation, and find their salary cut down to a quarter of what it was. Wait, that might just be me.

Regardless of which of these have happened to you, we all appreciate how humbling this game is. You might finally find yourself to have all the money in the world, only to be forced to spend it on the vet. Or you might find yourself to finally own a horse of a lifetime, but without a penny to your name for lessons or shows.

It is a perpetual and cyclical ride on the struggle bus.

When you have the money, you don’t have the time. And when you have the time, you don’t have the money. Or worse, your horse decides that that time would be best spent soaking his hoof.


Wait?  You wanted to go to a lesson today? HA!

I have been there for the past few years. And it is so frustrating and so hard to not let jealousy consume you. Or worse, to simply give up.

It is also so hard to not let yourself use money as an excuse to not set goals. And in the last few years, I have failed. I have done exactly that for the past two years. I am so scared of not achieving these goals because of the reasons stated above, that I simply don’t set them.

And I then I sit back and watch my friends set their own goals, and tackle them with gumption. My friends goals are what I want mine to be. Run a 1*. Move up a level. Get that bronze medal. Place at championships. Qualify for that show. And I get so viciously jealous.

Because their goals require money.  Money I never seem to have.

How can I move up that level without the money it takes to take consistent lessons?  The money it takes to compete numerous times at the level below to gain the confidence and skill necessary to tackle the next.  How can I prepare myself for that bronze medal if I’m not even currently able to exercise my horses on a regular basis.  I am not only not in Wellington, I don’t even have an arena up here in Kentucky.


How do I get my horse to jump stadium without that look? Photo by JJ Sillman

And it is so easy to focus on what they have, instead of finding contentment and happiness in what you do.  You can’t change your entire life, but you can change how you look at it.

It is so easy to stare at Facebook statuses of success.  Pictures of XC schools in sunny Florida, or videos of foot perfect jump schools in immaculate indoors.

It is easy to throw your cell phone against the wall after as you check the weather app yet again to see if it will even warm up enough to thaw the outdoor. It is easy to hang your head after checking your bank account to see if you even have enough money to take that lesson.

And it is so easy to watch your soul turn into the shade of green that dictates jealousy, before realizing that your XC color is in fact blue, and this will clash horribly.

Love 6

We look much better in blue. Photo by Kendra Penn

So this year, I am changing that. I am ignoring the things I don’t have and focusing on the amazing things I do.

I am setting goals.  And I am setting goals that are plausible even without that trust fund. Without dollar bills and expensive shows.

Because I want off the struggle bus.  I want to stop using jealousy as an excuse, or money as a reason.  I want to be the best that I can be, and that best might be your worst – but thats ok, because I am not you.

My Rolex might be your schooling show.  My bronze medal might not be from the Olympics.  And my best day might be your worst. But that is fine, as long as I am still aware of the fact that I am smiling. And aware that I cannot control your frown.

For one horse, this might mean finally achieving that downward transition from the trot to the walk without falling on our forehand.  For another, this might mean cantering a cross country course without swear words and strained muscles. And for a third, this might simply mean riding more and staring at less.


Ride me more, please.

My goals don’t have to be yours, but it is beneficial to set them nonetheless.  They might not be grandiose, and they might not mean a full show schedule or copious amounts of money spent.  They  might not mean levels accomplished or ribbons won, because if I finally obtain that money, I hope to spend it on lessons and education.

But thats ok, because they are mine.  And while sharing might be caring, we don’t have to share our goals.

And maybe more importantly, my one goal is to strengthen my teams. This sport is supposedly beautiful because of the individualism within it.  But in actuality it is a team sport.  And the team is two members strong: you and your horse.

So this year, my overall goal is to be a better team player.  To support my mate when he is weak.  To pick him up when he is down.  To cheer him up when he is low.  And then to hope he helps me when I need that hand as well.

And if I can accomplish just that, I will consider 2017 a success.


My team.  Photo by Melissa Bauer-Herzog

5 Comments on “Struggle bus

  1. I think it’s the struggling student that makes so many of your blogs relatable. It’s painful watching friends move up levels, get new, athletic/sound horses, and I pop over 2’9 once in a while because I’m not at a place in my life where I have the money (or really, even the time) to actually ride.

    My goals this year are just to stay in the saddle consistently one way or another, and build connections to help find that diamond in the rough (like dig that diamond out of the rock deep in the earth, diamond in the rough) when the time is right. And it’s frustrating, especially in this industry, where you can work your ass off, and feel like you have nothing to show for it.

    Keep at it- you’re in a position where you are *goals* for your peers (hi!), where the levels/medals aren’t what matters, it’s the quality of the ride and the partnerships. Cheering you on!

  2. The struggle bus is real, man, and I have been on it. The best way off is what you have done. Focus on you and your horse and go with it with all you have! Make your relationship better and have fun doing it. Never stop learning and growing because do never lose if you are doing that. You have the right attitude. It is hard, but nothing worth doing is easy.

  3. “When you have the money, you don’t have the time. And when you have the time, you don’t have the money.”

    So true! I slogged through 7 long years of grad school, with the luxury of working on my own schedule while writing that dissertation during the last two, but definitely didn’t have the money for horses then. I was fortunate during that time to volunteer at a couple of therapeutic riding barns and grabbed some leisurely rides on their oldsters, but it wasn’t the same as having a horse of my own.

    Fast forward to being almost 10 years out from grad school, with a dream job, and I have a sweet little horse of my own but It’s so frustrating to know she’s just standing there 4 days a week and always so happy to see me when I can drag myself out to spend time with her. There has to be a better balance!

    I will say, given the ultra competitive professional world I live in, I’ve decided horses are the one place in my life where I’m NOT pursuing perfection, I’m not striving to improve every minute I’m on my horse, and I’m not setting expectations. It’s not about competing, which we don’t do at all. It’s about a gentle hack through the woods, or a long grooming session. I hesitate to use the term “therapy,” because that has very specific meaning for people who truly are using horses to address diagnosed needs, but it is definitely a release from the grind of work.

  4. Thank you for this. You’ve helped me be more “ok” with my riding goals, or lack of them really. While I would love to be a ‘perfect’ rider with a finely tuned, elegant horse, I remind myself what a privilege it is to ride at all, let alone have a sweet, dependable, willing steady-eddy, OTTB in my back-yard. He willingly packs me around my lumpy, bumpy uneven front yard a few mornings a week when the grass isn’t soggy. He self-loads on the trailer and bravely forges into the woods so I can live my dreams and ‘get away from it all’. When I get down on myself for not having time or frankly, even the energy to ride, that it’s ok, because all that really matters is that I CAN smell and touch a horse whenever I want- I just walk into my backyard. And that is the best dream come true of all.

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