Sometimes I reflect on the amount of time that I have been riding. When I swing a saddle in the air and settle it on a horse’s back. When I position a bridle on a horse’s head, buckle the throatlatch and tuck the excess into a keeper. When I roll a polo wrap. How many times have I done this? Many hundreds of times. Thousands of times! How many times have a trotted a cross rail or cantered to a single oxer or moved into two-point? Uncountable. I’ve been riding, with some exceptions and gaps, nearly every day for over a decade. It’s that realization that sometimes make me ask myself: why do I still suck?
In my most recent lesson I felt the full brunt of that frustration. The goal: to canter a simple warm up fence in preparation for some coursework. The reality: I buried my horse to a deep spot three. times. in. a. row, prompting my coach to say, “Don’t worry about it, you’re just an amateur, you can’t expect to be accurate all the time.” The comment was meant innocuously, but it stung. It stung enough that I was still thinking of it long after I’d cooled my horse out, put him away, driven home and was lying in bed.
Like I said, I ride a lot, and I’ve given up other things in lieu of pursuing riding. I am rarely home on a weeknight before nine or ten o clock. I have to cancel practices and games with my recreational ultimate team often enough that I’m rather shamefaced when I do show up. Even polo has taken a backseat in recent years as I pour my focus into jumping. I can’t go camping with my friends over balmy summer weekends and I can’t go skiing over the winter. When I’m tired and burned out from a long day working in the lab or pounding my head against the keyboard trying to churn out a slightly-coherent paragraph for my thesis — I still, albeit somewhat reluctantly, turn the car towards the barn instead of my bed.
Now, don’t get me wrong! As a general rule, it is absolutely and completely worth it. Every lazy day where I would rather have played hooky and instead forced myself to hack is forgotten when I have an incredible lesson, ride through a flatwork breakthrough, or get a clear round in the ring. But the fact is — I take it pretty seriously, and it makes me really sad that after all these years, I’m still inconsistent enough that my coach will make excuses for my mistakes. I may be an amateur, but I want to be a damn good one! I want to hold myself to a higher standard. It doesn’t seem right to me that I can pour all my financial and temporal and athletic energies into this sport — to just sigh and mollify myself when I make a mistake, and tell myself that I’m an amateur.
So I’m changing things. Even though I AM an amateur — I’ll always fund my riding with income from another job, and I don’t think I’ll ever be stepping into the ring with a sponsor’s name stitched onto my saddle pad — I’m going to think of myself as a pro. If I’ve taken the “first step” of investing the time, money and energy into being a show jumper — then by golly, I’m going to take it all the way home and ride as if it WAS my career. Just because I don’t do it full time doesn’t mean I can’t do it full effort. What does that mean for the near future? I guess a lot of cantering down to tiny fences, figuring out exactly where that warm-up pace is BEFORE the fence becomes an oxer!