Love Your Horse and Yourself – Friendship with Your Horse Makes You a Winner

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While sorting through my father’s belongings after his death, I found this photo of me riding Pumpkin, the mare of my childhood. The photo triggered a powerful insight in me. It depicts a moment I remember clearly, and one that defined much of what I believed about myself for the first half-century of my life. It’s a story I’ve told many times.

In the photo I’m 6 years old, and Pumpkin is 3. I’m at a small horse show in California, one of many I attended throughout my youth. I’m riding in the 12-and-under bareback equitation class. There are only four children in the class, and when we’re asked to line up for the winners to be announced, the judge came up to me and said, “You’re a good rider, but next time you should wash your face.” I got fourth place out of four.

All my life I told the story as a joke, to explain that I was a bit of a ragamuffin as a kid (and perhaps to excuse the fact that I still am one). I ran wild and free as a kid, with little guidance from my parents. But I could see the smart and pretty girls with fancy shotgun chaps, well-shaped felt hats, and hair smartly done up in perfect buns. I could ride though. I rode everywhere on that mare—high mountains, ranch work, and in many shows. I eventually learned how to wash my face, and we won classes in big shows. But the dirty-faced kid was always close.

When I saw that photo in my father’s house decades later, the significance of the moment came back. All my life I’d been trying to be good at showing horses, to be a successful professional trainer, and feeling a little out of place. But now I saw the truth. There I was, a 6-year-old child, riding a 3-year-old green-broke mare, bareback, one-handed. I was amazing! And what I had then (but hadn’t appreciated until now) is what I’ve finally learned I really want: a trusting friendship with my horse.

Horse shows are wonderful things; they test our skills and beautiful, athletic horses and riders abound. I love them! But competition can be brutal. Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate lessons, clinics, expos, trail rides, and (even more so) the day-to-day time spent moseying around developing a relationship with my horses. A relationship filled with trust and try from both of us is more important to me than a tack room full of ribbons.

Take note of where you are with your horse and appreciate it for what it is. No matter your goals or aspirations, just love your horse and yourself.

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