Sometimes it takes a moment to appreciate that even on the bad days, we are living someone’s dream.
Things haven’t gone as planned. I ran into some minor soundness issues with Winchester over the summer and turned him out for a couple months. No doubt a bit of a disappointing delay, since we’d just started exhibitioning in June and I was getting excited to keep going. I had to remind myself to turn down my competitive drive and just go with the flow—I knew I was doing what’s best for my horse, and that’s always my top priority.
When I brought Winchester back up and started riding again this fall, Texas got hit with monsoon season and it rained for what seemed like 40 days and 40 nights. I was irritated about how little I’d been able to actually work my horse. I was tired of long trotting through a muddy pasture. I ached to get in the arena and train and work the barrels. I’d be lying if I said the looming timeline of the Barrel Futurities of America World Championships next year wasn’t a factor in my angst to get in the saddle. We had big goals to work toward and were behind the schedule I had in mind.
One Sunday afternoon I hauled to a covered arena to get a ride in—it didn’t go well. I could feel Winchester wasn’t right but couldn’t quite pinpoint it. I chalked it up to an off day, loosened the cinch and took off his boots to head home. My mind swirled with the overly self-critical analyzing that comes after a subpar ride—maybe he’ll be better tomorrow. Maybe I just need to ride more. Maybe we’ll be ready to exhibition again in a few weeks. Maybe I need to spend more time in the gym working on myself. I should probably change spurs. I wonder why he couldn’t catch that lead. I should have sat deeper in that last circle. I need to work on getting my shoulders back next time. I think I’ll do some figure eights tomorrow. I hope I’m training him right.
As I led him out of the arena consumed in my own anxiety, I noticed a young girl, maybe 7 or 8, who had been waiting outside the arena while everyone rode. She shyly walked up to me, wide-eyed with admiration, and said, “I love your horse, he is so beautiful.”
In that moment, my thoughts changed. I remembered being that little girl. I remembered several years before my family moved to the country and got horses, I was 6 years old and we were living in a suburb of Austin, yearning for a horse of my own. I’d sneak over the fence to the neighbors’ barn to pet their horses and bring them treats. My dad used to take me to the Austin Polo Club to just walk through the barns and sit at the arena and watch jumping lessons. I still remember standing speechless in awe of the sleek, leggy jumpers floating across the arena, the crisp smell of the pristine stalls and the soft, buttery leather, the kind people who’d let me pet their horse in the cross-ties or even hoist me up into the saddle and lead me around for a bit. I wanted a horse of my own more than anything.
And now, here I was, 24 years old, with a barrel prospect not only bred to excel but also one of the most personally special horses I’ve ever owned. I have my own truck and trailer. I spend at least five days a week in the saddle. I haul frequently to barrel races and live in the mecca of horse country. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was living the life my 6-year-old self—and that little girl at the arena—could only dream of.
Sometimes it takes a moment like that to appreciate that even on the bad days, we are living someone’s dream. As someone who rides competitively, I’m not saying you should throw that drive out the window and adopt a lackadaisical approach. Work hard, train diligently, put your horse’s needs first, stay focused, set goals, keep pushing for them, but don’t be so hard on yourself and your horse if things don’t go as planned. Brush it off, be grateful for your horse and remind yourself that there’s a little girl out there somewhere who wishes she could do this every day—she might even be watching you.