I only did 2 recognized horse trials this year. In the grand scheme of things, that’s… certainly not a lot. Especially considering that a lot of people do that many shows per month. I kind of expected to reflect back on that figure and feel a bit “disappointed”, but truth be told, I’m not.
Sometimes I have major FOMO when I see other people showing all the time, all season long. Sometimes I stalk the online scores, look for any pictures and videos I can find from the show, and check all the course walk sites to try to get an idea of the courses. And then other times, I just kind of look at everyone’s posts from the show and think “good for them” and keep right on scrolling. That’s it, no FOMO, and I don’t particularly feel driven to follow that closely. Because, to be honest, sometimes it just feels nice to take a step back from it all and take a deep breath.
I feel like we don’t often really see that side of other people though. Nobody gets on Facebook or Instagram to talk about their long breaks, how few shows they’re doing, how they’re taking some time to fill the holes at home, or that they just plain want to slow everything down and reconnect with their horses again. All we really see, and what we seem to be conditioned to crave, are the show pictures and show results… the glossy glamorous exciting stuff. We’re impressed by that, and we want pretty show pictures and results of our own.
It almost leaves you feeling guilty or like you’re doing it wrong if you aren’t following suit. If you aren’t showing 10 or 12 or 20 or however many times a year it takes to make you “serious”. If you’re not always looking onward to the next show. If your life isn’t constantly consumed by the next jump lesson, the next XC schooling, or trying to perfect that one elusive dressage movement that you just can’t seem to score above a 6. People start asking you where you are, and when your next show will be. If they don’t see you on the entry list, they tend to ask you what’s wrong. Because surely something must be wrong if you aren’t out there at all the shows, right? As if life’s rhythm is dictated by the show season.
A lot of the time, I’m totally ok with that. I love showing, I enjoy it, and it’s fun. Most of the time I do live that lifestyle, consumed by progress and what’s next. But also… it’s not the be all, end all for me. For some people it is, 100% of the time, and that’s fine, but for other people it isn’t. When I start feeling a little burned out or like I want to step back and re-center myself, I often find myself looking at other people and wondering why they never seem to feel like that. How they can go from show to show to show and never want a break, and why I seem to be wired “wrong” compared to so many of my peers. I try to light the competitive fire under myself, or look for shows to sign up for. Sometimes I even do it without really considering if I actually WANT to. There’s this expectation in our sport’s culture that we’ll just keep trudging on, from one show to the next, and so that’s what we do.
I mean, after all, that’s so often how we decide our worth as a rider isn’t it? What level have you gotten to, how many runs have you had, how does your record look? The better it is, the more respected you are, right? The more your opinion matters. So to prove ourselves to the world, and to keep getting those glossy photos and show reports that we so crave, we keep going, always seeking more, because that’s just how it’s done.
But the truth is, it’s okay to just… not. I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but it’s okay to take a step back, for any reason you want, or for no actual freaking reason at all. Don’t feel like it? Then don’t. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, and you certainly shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Sometimes you’re totally gung-ho to just traintraintrain showshowshow and other times it does a world of good to take a few months to ride bareback, or hack out for hours, or just take the pressure off and reconnect with your horses. Whatever. You do you. When you’re ready, IF you’re ready, come back to it – I promise the sport will still be here. Whatever you decide to do has no bearing on your worth as a rider or your validity in the sport. Sometimes we just need to spend some time taking ridiculous pictures of our horses making weird faces, or sew pompoms on our helmets, or do bareback dressage in the field. And we have to stop thinking of that time and those things as a “waste” or something to feel bad about.
We all get different things out of this, and have different journeys. They don’t all have to look the same, and it doesn’t mean you’re any “less than”. Have fun, love your horses, and enjoy the time you get to spend with them. If you’re doing those things, you’re doing it right, no matter how many shows end up on your record.