I wrote a few months ago about my struggle setting goals, and how for the first time in a long time I was forcing myself too.
I was riding the peak of a high – having taken both my seasoned veteran and my hardass youngin’ to a local jumper show. The seasoned veteran proven to me why he has been my go-to man for the past 4 years, and the hardass finally stepped up to the plate to demonstrate the progress that with a horse is so immeasurable on most days.
And I left the show thinking good thoughts. This was my time. I would finally have MY year.
Visions of galloping fences, half passes, and rosettes filled my head. Crossing through the finish flags with a smile plastered on my face and a fist pump in the air. Beers drank at the trailer in celebration, and vetrolin baths in the warm summer Kentucky air.
After two extremely frustrating years – full of injuries, empty bank accounts, and failures – it felt like it was finally my time. My hard work and dedication might finally pay off.
And with it, I set my goals. For Mak it was simple – get more mileage at training level. And if all went well, I hoped to end the summer with a preliminary combined test. It all went EXCEEDINGLY well, maybe even an event at preliminary level in late fall, or early spring next year.
For Nixon, I finally felt as though we were on the correct path. He had cantered around the jumper show at 2’6 with a calm, steady, pace. He was finally brave without being brazen, and I wanted nothing more than to finally move back up to beginner novice at a recognized event. My goal was to finally canter a cross country course – as his MO was always to run off, and trotting had become our safety net.
And after this show, I finally felt as though both of these things were possible.
And then in true equestrian fashion, it all came crumbling down.
I hit post on that blog, ran to the barn with a smile on my face, and loaded two of my horses up for a hack with friends. We ventured into the freezing tundra for a walk hack, covered from head to toe and shivering the entire way.
There was no time to be a fair weather rider when you had goals to accomplish, and therefore, off we went.
And after a truly frigid ride, we loaded Nixon and Kennedy back onto the trailer for the measly 4 mile journey home. We got home and began to unload, and found the pin to the butt bar on my 2 horse straight load severely bent, prohibiting Nixon from exiting. And in an attempt to release him from his entrapment, the following ten minutes became some of the scariest of my life.
I won’t go into the gory details, or the calmness that came over me as I stood trapped between my 17.1hh horse and the metal wall, because none of that matters. What matters is that Nixon effectively kicked the butt bar clean of the welding that attached it to the wall to release himself – destroying both the trailer and his second metatarsal – or hind splint bone.
And with it, my goals were destroyed as well.
The following few days were encompassed by waves of emotions. The height of the wave lied in the farm manager resting deep within my soul. The farm manager went through the motions of emergency triage. Sedation and banamine were administered, bandages were applied, and veterinarians were called. Radiographs were taken, and rehabilitation strategies set. As a farm manager, I knew that this horse was in no better hands, and that it would do nobody any good to sink into a severe depression or worse – panic.
I had dealt with worse. I had rehabbed more extreme. I knew as a farm manager that this was just a bump on an otherwise long road. And I knew how quickly 2-3 months could pass. I had done it before, and I could (and would) do it again.
But those horses in previous years were not my own. And it is so easy to deal with someone elses crushed dreams while attending to their horses fractures and tears.
And as the horse owner, or the equestrian, the low of the wave hits. When it is your own dreams that are crashing, and your own goals smashed alongside the frail bones of your horses leg – the pain is exponentially worse. You question every decision you make, and you panic over any outcome predicted.
And I watched myself go through the paces of good horsemanship as the farm manager, and then crash as I climbed into my truck and dissolved into tears as horse owner.
But after two weeks of rehab, and two weeks of the rollercoasters of emotions, I have learned a few things. These things have kept me going during this path, and will continue to motivate me as I journey through this winding path through the next 6-8 weeks.
And as I repeated them to myself over and over as I drove the back roads through the Bluegrass to treat my beautiful Nixon, I began to realize just how applicable they were to not only my horses, but in life in general.
You cannot control the actions of others, but you can control your reaction to them.
I could not have prevented Nixon from fracturing his leg, but I could control how I handled it – and I knew that I handled it well. I stayed calm, I assessed the injury, and I went through the motions. I had to find reassurance in knowing that he was in no better hands at that specific moment, and that the veterinarians agreed. And in that, I found comfort.
Years of emergency situations managing hundreds upon hundreds of horses had prepared me for this moment. In retrospect, I might no longer be a manager of a commercial farm, but those years prepared me for this exact moment. And I find comfort in knowing that my horses exist within the level of care that I have garnered through my past.
You might be devastated and at a low point, but it could always be lower.
I whisper this to myself each time that I pull Nixon from his stall for a hand graze. Sure, he fractured a bone and effectively halted our spring (and possible summer) season, but he is alive. The outcome of the situation could be devastatingly worse had it not been handled as calmly and effectively, and I could be walking to an empty stall instead of a stall with a happy, albeit stoned (yay – reserpine) face.
My life has taught me just how low low can get, and this is not my lowest. Yes, my horse is broken. Yes, my plans are shot. But we are – in all terms of relativity – OK.
The goals you set might not be accomplished in the timeframe desired, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set them.
I saw the dry comedy behind the fact that my horse injured himself right as I finally stepped up to the goal setting mound, with a massive swing and a miss. But that doesn’t mean that I should hide behind my fear of failure for the rest of my life.
Because I have learned in my 30 years of life that this crazy world known as horse ownership is full of these setbacks – both major and minor.
We have all showed up to the barn to find our horse 3-legged with an abscess. A pulled shoe the day of the show. A lacerated hock the day before a lesson. I have heard devastating stories of horses getting loose while grazing at Rolex and slipping on pavement, or breaking from their stalls at Pony Finals to eat an entire bin of grain.
Because life, and the life of a horse owner, is not an uphill battle. It is not linear. It is peaks and valleys. It is a wave. It is knowing when to surf that high, all the while acknowledging the crash that may follow it.
And the battle is not in how high you can get up that brink, but rather how well you find your surfboard back on the beach, and how hard you paddle back out to try again.
I am there. I am stranded on the beach watching my fellow surfers peaking over the massive waves of their own highs. I am currently searching for my surfboard. It definitely got a chunk taken out on the coral, and I might be a little battered and bruised, but I’m ready to paddle back out.
I am ready to pick myself, and my horse back up. And I am ready to set those goals again. We will be back. We are at an all time low, but I can see the highs ahead. Surf on.