This Sport Isn't Fair. That's OK.

I grew up in Leesburg, Virginia - right in the heart of Hunter/Jumper horse country. This location had the clear benefit of easy access to both lessons and a wide range of horse shows, but it also had the less clear benefit of camouflaging the gap between those who had enough money to participate in the sport, and those of us who did what we could to get by.* We would pull into prestigious shows like Upperville in our beat up, rusted trailer, and pull off our ponies with their terrible, child-made braids, tack up, and show. When we were done, we would put them back on the trailer with some hay and water, and go home.

It wasn't that we weren't good - if we rode well, we could pull a 4th in top company in the regular pony divisions - it was more that we didn't really belong. As I got older, this feeling increasingly grew, until I saw with my eyes the gap between myself in second hand show clothes on a talented but not well trained (by me) OTTB and my competitors in tailored clothes and horses that seemed, well, sane and willing and gorgeous.

This preface isn't to decry the gap. Or to say that things need to change. Or to say that if I had only had the money of my competitors I could've won. The sport is what it is, at all levels, and there is nothing I'm going to say in a blog post read by 20 people at the most that's going to change anything.

But what I have come to realize, even though I still struggle with the realization, are these two equal truths:  This sport isn't fair. That's OK.

Let me explain.

I recently finished reading Mark Manson's "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck." While I can't paraphrase all of the excellent points he makes, here are a few that are worth mentioning in this instance:

1) Life is a series of problems. What matters are which problems you choose to have.
2) The problems you have come directly from your core, underlying values. What in your life truly matters to you? Not all values are equal - some produce "good" problems, and others, not so good.
3) If you were to die tomorrow, what would truly matter to you today? This is a good way to start getting in touch with your values.

There are many people in this sport who are in it, I believe, for the wrong values. I believe that this is one reason why the sport has become increasingly unfair in its wealth gap over the years. Some of these values are not unique to the horse industry, but are typically found in any high dollar venue: fame, wealth, and power are three top examples.

Then, there are people who are in it for different, less tangible values. The value of an honest day's work. The value of loving the horses and putting them first. The value of taking the time and care to truly learn the sport, and the desire to teach that high level of complete horsemanship to the next generation.

When you look at it from this perspective, the Fair/Unfair or Have/Have Not argument becomes less important. What you need to ask yourself, is why are you in the sport? Why do you ride horses? Is it for the blue ribbon? Is it because you want the fanciest horse? Is it because you want to show at the very highest levels? If those are your reasons, then yes, you better be prepared to have the dollars to make them reality.

But if you are in it for the horses, if you are in it to learn everything you can and be the best rider and horseman that you're capable of being with the means you have, then the playing field is evened.

I am not putting a better/worse against those values. I think that it's possible to value both good horsemanship AND winning a blue ribbon at Indoors. But one of these values is only attainable with money in the vast majority of instances, whereas the other is free.

Here is another way to look at it - A fancy horse doesn't KNOW it's a fancy horse any more than a not fancy horse doesn't KNOW it's not fancy. Horses only know they are horses, and any horse can be made to shine to the best of its unique ability. It may never be the hack winner, but it can learn to use itself correctly and without injury on the flat.

You may not go to your grave being the Grand Champion at Devon, but you can always look back and know that you gave your all to each horse you met, and tried to do right by with the best horsemanship possible. And since one of the best things about this sport is its endless ability to teach, you should be able to pursue this value right until the end.

This perspective can be hard to keep in the moment, when you look through The Plaid Horse or the Chronicle and see all of the amazing horses and riders at the top of their game in gorgeous, high profile venues. I still get envious, and sometimes angry at what I perceive to be unfairness, in the moment.

But then I realize I'm focusing on the wrong problems, because I'm focusing on the wrong values. I don't need money to be a good horseman. I only need time, patience, a thirst for improvement, and a love for horses. And those things, when I take the time to slow down and simply realize it, I have in abundance.

* I am not saying that I had it rough as a kid - I know my privilege both now and then. I was more stating the gap between the middle class and the hyper-wealthy, that's only increasingly grown.

** Disagree with anything above and want to start a discussion? Let's talk! But first, please read my disclaimer post. 


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