I've been mulling over the idea of doing a post regarding the integrity (or occasional lack of) in the equestrian community for some time, but I couldn't seem to develop a clear vision in my head of how I wanted to piece it together. I think the reality is, the topic in itself is messy and clouded at best, so I decided to throw all my thoughts out through my fingertips and help myself make sense of all these big feelings I've got swirling around.
It's no secret that to some extent, equestrian activities are for the elite. I'm not necessarily talking about those who were born into a Trust Fund or were gifted exceptionally talented horses with easy access to top quality instruction and services but of course, those exist too. I'm talking more so about us - average people. While you're probably thinking "umm, I'm far from elite and I'm just barely squeeking by * stirs ramen*", I agree and I hear you when you say you work bloody hard to support your horses because gurrrl, me too, but we are still blessed more than many to be able to even have the opportunity to entertain horse ownership (or similar). Despite our best efforts, there is always someone we look up to - even the genuine elitist's have mentors; people they trust to handle their heart with dignity, and work for them as coaches, trainers, barn owners, horse owners, and so on. I'm not naïve enough to ignore the fact that these caretakers of our wellbeing are also business men and women who will always watch their bottom line, but regardless - we trust them to help us achieve our goals and some of us are lucky enough to even forge a friendship with these people along the way.
At some point in our lives, we fell in love with a sport in which very few of us ever make it to the top, and we spend our entire equestrian life being not quite good enough. When we finally accomplish something we set our minds to, it could always be better. If you're one of the few who perfected and polished said 'thing', you're always looking to the next 'thing' to accomplish. Maybe your changes are frequently late behind, or you can't for the life of you add a stride and just as you nail that, suddenly you can't remove one. You've reached your goal of doing First Level in competition, but you're already schooling Second at home; eager to move up. Your confidence has finally recovered after your nasty fall, only to get knocked back down again at the first minor inconvenience. When we have struggles or need direction, we turn to our trusty caretakers for guidance to show us how to make heads or tails of this crazy world.
We trust that these individuals have our best interest at heart. We trust their experience and we trust their integrity to put us and our horses wellbeing and development above all else. We pay them that money we worked our absolute butts off to earn, sometimes sacrificing in other areas of our life to do so. We crunch the numbers and budget to the best of our ability to continue chasing our goals while avoiding bill collectors and keeping ourselves and our families fed. We may even pick up odd jobs or craft sales, or help at the barn to reduce the fees due to make things match up so we can get by for another month. By the time we crawl into bed in the evening, we're often left exhausted and frustrated but hey, we nailed our flying change in our lesson today so it's all worth it - but what about when it's not? At what point do you question your trajectory, and if you're on the correct path? Is your direction clear, and are you confident in the team you've appointed to help you get to your destination?
At what point do you decide to bench your belief that everyone around you is well-intentioned, and trust your gut instead? Do you believe the rumor's about your mentors or idols, or do you stick to developing your own opinions? Personally speaking, I've always been stubborn and done my absolute best to see the best in people. I always try to avoid believing rumors without concrete proof and while it's lead to minimal falling-outs with people in the industry thus far, it has also done me a disservice despite my best efforts to do the opposite because I end up suffering in the end. I've been lucky to have only been taken advantage of once in my 20-some years in the industry. You might think it could easily happen to a child or inexperienced rider but the reality is - it happened to me as a 20-something experienced rider, trainer and owner. I got caught in someone elses web, and it happened to me as a farm owner, a horse club president, a breeder, a mother and a wife. I'm evidently not exempt, despite my years of experience in the industry. I ignored my gut (and several people in my circle, sorry guys) for oh, I don't know... 6 months(?). I let the (few) good things outweigh the (many) bad things before I finally put myself and my horse first, and closed the door on that absolute circus. It took me far too long to wade through the fog covered murky waters, and I wish I could say I came out unscathed but I still get triggered at times (FWIW it always annoys me when people say that, but suddenly I get it). The unfortunate side of this is, I now feel like I can't trust anyone and my horse and I are left to pick up the pieces.
I've always chosen to create my own opinions about the people around me - admittedly, this goes for just about everything in life, but I think it's helped me establish my own integrity in the process. For example, even as a teenager with a love for Dressage I could never get on board with Totilas (RIP) and his freakishly weird movement and while the majority of the world was in awe, I couldn't be swayed to see the beauty; all I could think of was the strain on his joints and tissues and questioned how that could ever be worth it. Much the same, I try to develop my opinions on people and yet, despite everything and everyone telling me to give my head a shake, I let myself get taken advantage of due to my generally kind nature and unwavering desire to be a better equestrian because it wasn't all bad. I allowed myself to be convinced I needed to fix certain things under specific guidance, and wound up circling the drain instead. It's all a little funny, but if your friend knocks you down and 'accidentally' steps on you while you're down there, but then extends a hand and helps you up, which part of that scenario do you focus on? For far too long, I ignored why I needed help getting up, and focused on the fact that said friend reached out instead - knocking me down was an accident after all..... right? When you break it down, how do you trust someone who purposefully creates a problem then reaches out to show you how they can fix it? I suppose this is giving the benefit of the doubt to assume that they are even woke enough to recognize that they created a problem to begin with. Regardless of it all, when you finally wake up from the spell, unfortunately you're left with nothing more than a drained bank account, frustration, a lot of rebuilding to do and some serious trust issues.
I've always loved the quote "You don't lose, you learn" and I try to live by that theory but sometimes it's really darn hard to see the lesson in otherwise shitty circumstances. I've spent the better part of the last several months beating myself up for not trusting my gut and friends; I put someone I truly didn't know above all else because I trusted the integrity of my mentor. I trusted their (generously padded) credentials and let my kind nature take precedence over my well being; falling for the woo of promises to help me overcome and conquer my woes. I distinctly recall having a hot bath and crying out of frustration while chatting with a friend who was listing off red flag after red flag and politely suggesting I put the situation to bed for the sake of my mental health - all of which I knew, but ignored. The worst part is, this was early in the relationship - like within the first three months and yet, I pushed on because hey - they're a professional so they must be right and I'm wrong. They have clients, a website, decent social media following and good reviews, people look up to them, and I had some good things happen while under their spell so they must be trustworthy, right? Don't get me wrong - the good moments were great, and no one develops those aforementioned things without some talent, but sometimes things just don't jive and it's time to walk away and trust that one day, they'll get what they deserve - the good, the bad and the ugly.
I'm trying to have no ill-feelings and I'm still working daily to see the lessons in this learning experience; one day I will channel my hurt and frustration into building an effective guard rather than one under the direction to let no person through at any cost. Despite it all, I genuinely hope they accomplish all they hope for and learn some lessons along the way, but at the end of the day I want no part of their journey anymore.
If nothing else as of late, this situation has reignited my love of the training process, and reminded me the strength of my intuition and talent with horses. Throughout this situation, I've been reminded that I am capable of accomplishing my goals, and I have the tools to do so. I've been reminded I can do this and I've learned that while I don't have a crystal ball to tell me the future, my gut has rarely let me down. I will overcome this unfortunate treachery of my confidence and good will, and I have found a way to grow within the darkness I temporarily found myself lost in. I feel as though I've emerged from the deep, dark depths of the ocean that I could never quite reach the surface of, and have since filled my lungs with fresh air; reigniting my passion for problem-solving and becoming a better person through horses. Despite it all, it feels rather cathartic to purge myself of what no longer serves me and move on.