When you think of the word “independence” in terms of the holiday we celebrate today in the States, you think of several things. Bravery, confidence, the willingness to do whatever it takes to reach a common or individual goal. On days like today, it’s a good time to reflect on how, exactly, a sense of independence ties into our everyday life.

Horses have become a universal symbol of independence. Whether you draw to mind an image of a wild Mustang herd roaming free in the West or the pure rush of adrenaline that comes when it’s just you and your horse in the arena together, horses and independence are deeply connected.

So, then, how does this concept apply to our endeavors in whatever our horse sport of choosing is? Independence, for all intents and purposes, can be loosely defined as the freedom of choice and confidence in one’s own decision making to pursue whatever decisions you make in life. That freedom of choice, however, is not without responsibility.

We have a responsibility to our horses to ensure their health, safety and well-being above all else. We solidify our independence by making sure we have a happy and healthy equine partner with which to pursue our goals. We are tasked with the responsibility that a living, breathing creature relies on us for its basic necessities. The obligation falls on us when our horses say “No, it hurts” or “Something doesn’t feel right” to listen. We must have the mental capacity and stability to be able to make those difficult decisions — to say that it’s time to retire or it’s time to find a new career, because at the end of the day, we are our horses’ voice.

We have a responsibility to our peers to conduct ourselves with dignity, respect and maturity. Whatever discipline you partake in, you will encounter people who encourage and support you every step of the way — as long as that support is reciprocated. It is our job to thank a volunteer who has stood for hours in the elements to ensure your ride times happen on time. To lend a hoof pick to someone who is running late for their class and needs one last once over before they get on. To offer something as simple as a smile or a compliment to a passerby at a show who might look a bit green as they head toward the in-gate. It is our responsibility to cultivate positive environments, both at home and at competitions, rather than undercutting others or standing at the gate gossiping about which trainer you hate the most or which girl looks the most snobby in her brand new Tailored Sportsmans.

And we have a responsibility to ourselves, perhaps most importantly of all. We have a responsibility to take our own destiny into our hands. We have the freedom to dream and the freedom to turn those dreams into reality, but it is therein our responsibility to make those dreams possible for ourselves. This means working three jobs instead of one to afford your horse, mucking stalls if your time and body allows, learning how to braid at shows to earn extra money, attending clinics instead of shows if you and your horse need some tuning up, and turning down that extra dinner out so you can put that $20 into your savings. This means not asking for “donations” from others — who have worked harder for every single dollar — instead of finding a creative solution to your problems. And sometimes, this means temporarily putting a hold on a dream so that you can first achieve stability.

Independence is far from free. Independence, in all of its meanings and interpretations, is laden with responsibility and obligation. Take the opportunity to reflect on those who have worked hard to provide this independence for us, and take a moment to look at yourself and take an inventory of what you’re doing to truly live independently. Whether your dream is the Olympics or to perfect that one pesky movement that’s been troubling you with your green horse, and everything in between, make sure you’re doing your part each and every day to live, and ride, on your own terms.

Happy Independence Day!