Horses Are Unpredictable

Most kids bring their sports bag to school, put it in the locker room in the morning, and after school go to practice or a game. Not that I played team sports in high school; I did in middle school, but most of my friends did, so I had an idea of what the schedule consisted of throughout the school year. It took up a lot of time for them. They had practice from 3-6pm usually.

Before I began competitively riding I thought a 3hour practice was unreasonable, but it was very short compared to my riding schedule. My after school schedule was quite different from the average. I would go home, and ride my horse every day. Whether I would ride then clean the barn, or drive 2-3hrs to a lesson one way, it was never a short 3 hours. On average I was in the barn, lessoning, and training from 3-10pm earliest. Nothing was convenient. But it was very worth it.

My favorite weekly lessons were cross-country schooling. Sometimes I would leave school 30min early, trailer 2hours to Bucks County Horse Park with my mom and sister. I would unload my horse, tack him up, and meet my trainer out in the open field. After 6hours of school I was ready to gallop, jump in the water, over ditches, over solid logs, and run through the woods. Each day of riding brought up new challenges, which kept it exciting. Each day I walked in with an open-mind. My trainer would make fun of me sometimes because she would say, “Is Archie having a good or bad day today?” My horse was unpredictable, hard to read. I never knew what to expect. Although, he was very honest and genuine, sometimes he had very cranky and moody days that would trigger his rudeness. His attitude kept me fully entertained.

What I love about Archie is he illustrates life in a perfect way. Life is unpredictable. I often wake up, write a schedule out, expecting to follow the time slots that I put aside, but then things get in the way.

Archie’s moods were never easy to read. Which I liked. This part of him taught me to expect the unexpected. Cope with the unexpected. Find balance in my life. My mom often told me that I learned the word “balance” early on in life. We stress this in life, but often never find it. I have not found it, and probably will never master it, but I have an understanding of what it means to be balanced. Be happy. Happiness is a choice. This statement is cliché…but my mom always told me wherever you are that’s where you will be. You cannot escape yourself. Therefore, it is important to love yourself, and be happy with yourself. Horses influenced and taught me this lesson. In my blog I like to share what horses have taught me, because I think it really gives the reader an idea of what horses do to impact a person’s life, especially mine.

Don’t be intimidated

Karen O’Connor and Mr Medicott at the Greenwich Park venue of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

The horse world, although very small and inviting, can be very intimidating. I think the horse world taught me a lot about humiliation. Born and raised with a lot of support and encouragement I was one of those kids who felt I could do anything and everything at the same time. But horses took a lot more time and attention then I had expected. For a period of time I played soccer, rode horses, ran track, and was a part of various school clubs. But time was limited, and I felt stretched out. When I attended the horse competitions I realized I was not one of the best riders there, in fact, I was one of the least experienced riders out there. This realization made me want to work harder. I wanted to be the best, not compared to others, but for myself. I knew to do this, I would need to give up some other activities, and dedicate those open hours to riding.

As I became more serious in riding, I began training and working with professionals. Most of the professionals I worked with had been to the Olympics once or twice. This made me nervous. Walking into an arena, and performing in front of a highly regarded and well-renowned rider was hard to grasp in the beginning. What would they think of me, my horse, my riding experience? I clearly was not as good as them, and their attitude was quite demanding; the professionals had no time for fooling around. I grew from this though, I developed a sense of grit.

I think the best part of training and working around students and professionals that were dedicated riders was the lessons I learned from them. I learned that you cannot be the best in the room. There is always going to be someone smarter, prettier, and more talented. This did not discourage me though, in fact it made me want to persevere. I was taught humbleness from my experiences around horses and trainers.

I think being humble is an important character trait. It highlights a person’s personality as admirable, and interesting. I went through a period of time where I thought I was pretty awesome, I was the best, I could do anything and do it really well. But riding taught me that this was not the case. It was a lesson I learned very early on in life that helped me get through challenging life steps.

Every person is unique in their own way. Each person has a set of characteristics that define their identity. I describe myself, as hard-working, motivated (self-driven), independent, and kind. Each one of these aspects of myself I learned from the horses in a way. I am thankful and grateful for the lessons that horses and trainers have taught me. They have created my unique identity. I can write for days about horses, and it is because most of my experiences have been with them. These experiences created the person I am today.

Driving a horse trailer isn’t as easy as it looks…

It was the day after Christmas, and it was time to ship my horse to North Carolina. He was going to move there for a year to live with my Aunt and Uncle. My Uncle’s horse just passed away, and when he visited over Thanksgiving and rode my horse, I could tell they got along well. I knew that I was riding less, and had minimal time to give my horse the proper exercise that he needed; I decided that giving him to my Uncle for a period of time would be good for both my horse and I. The feeling was bittersweet. I was happy he would be able to work, and train while I prepared to graduate and apply to go off to college, but I also was going to miss him like crazy…

It was 3am, my mom, sister, brother and I loaded into the truck and hit the road. 14hours ahead of us, it was going to be a long ride. I was used to traveling, but this trip was not as smooth as we had hoped.

Driving a truck and trailer was a lot harder then it looked…I found that out the hard way. After 12 hours of driving, we were in standstill traffic. My mom was tired, and needed to shut her eyes, she said wake me up when traffic starts moving. As we were sitting in park, she asked if I could sit in the driver’s seat as we moved inch by inch. Once my mom dozed off, traffic began to pick up, and I had no choice. We were on the highway, and it was my first time ever driving the trailer. As I watched the odometer move to 60mph I was nervous. My mom was awake now, and she was trying to remain calm, and give me direct advice, but I could tell she was more nervous than I was; as we continued, my mom looked for a good place to pull over, but no rest stop was ahead. A steep hill was approaching, and the only signs I saw were steep hill, winding slope, trucks may slide. Reassuring right?! I listened to everything my mom said, and as we went down the hill there was a runaway truck hill. My mom and I began to laugh. Of course my first encounter of driving the horse trailer would be this. Thankfully, we made it down safe, came to a rest stop, and switched spots. After that, I respected my mom’s ability to drive the horse trailer. Man it was hard, and took a lot of skill. No wonder she was exhausted after 12hours of straight driving.

The truck and trailer was a place of conversation, bonding, and long-talks. It was more than just traveling in a truck; it was a period of time when I was growing up to be with my mom. I miss those times, but I am thankful for them to. I would not have had those moments without horses.

Rhythm of the beat

“One must think when looking at a horse in motion, that he hears music inside his head.”

So when I was younger I played the piano. My instructor, Mrs. Carlton, used to tell me that playing the piano is similar to riding a horse. I did not see how they had any sort of connection. I was young and naïve. I would laugh when she said think about the rhythm of the horse, and how you establish a connection with the horse. Put that energy and feeling into the notes on the piano. HAHA I thought. Piano was nothing like riding a horse.

But I was very wrong.

In fact, riding a horse and playing the piano are quite similar to one another.

Maybe riding in an arena doesn’t contain the grand piano, with polished wood, and tuned keys, but it sure does have a rhythm that musically performs. The 3 beat steady canter, the clicking of the hoofs, and the soft pound of each step the horse takes develops a powerful musical undertone.

Just like a song, any missed note messes with the songs melody; on a horse, any small move that effects the rhythm of the horse’s movement can affect the entire gait.

As a musician when I am in the zone of a song my fingers move across the keys, without thought. They move effortlessly. As a rider, once a rhythm starts, my body moves along with the horse’s effortless movement. We move in unison.

Our hands communicate with the horse’s mouth, in a steady connection to the reigns; our hands connect to the keys with a steady connection to develop a song.

Both activities require the brain, the heart, and the body. There is nothing more satisfying, after a long day, to go out on a horse and find a rhythm. Or sit down at a piano and listen to the music develop. Both take balance, both challenge me to think, both make me want to be better, and try harder. Riding is not easy; it comes with work, dedication, and hard-work. If you want to improve you must practice every day. Piano is not easy; it takes time, hours a day if you want to see improvement. That is what I love about both of them. It challenges me. Perfection does not exist in horseback riding, or piano playing. They take years, lifetimes to master, and even then are not perfect. And that’s the best part.

Riding and piano require full attention. They require me to be fully present and focused. They both require me to enjoy the moment, to enjoy the experience. Rushing through life is what I tend to do. I miss moments because I am thinking about too many things at once. Riding and piano help me to veer away from this flaw. They help me enjoy the little things in life. Appreciate the little things. My greatest memories are on the back of a horse, or in front of my family playing the 88 white keys…

Just Sweep

Five-year old me in the barn: I would be alone in the barn sweeping, struggling to push the broom; after five hours the barn would be clean. I had nothing to do but sweep the barn; nothing to worry about, nothing to study, nothing to research, nothing to plan. I just needed to sweep the barn. I would focus on the ground. Focus on properly stroking the ground with each sweep. My small muscles would ache in pain. The cold concrete ground layered with dirt and horse feed slowly came together; the dust, the hay, and all the materials on the ground would pile up as I pushed the broom back and forth.

Although sweeping may seem like a chore, or a job I surprisingly miss it. I miss the simplicity of my five-year old self taking hours to sweep a 100meter long barn.

Now, I go to the barn and can sweep the entire hallway in 20min tops. I don’t take the time to look at every detail of sweeping, because I don’t have that kind of time…but why? Why am I all a sudden in a rush? Where do I need to be, what is scheduled next that is taking away from sweeping? When did I choose to grow up? Where did time go?

I can remember like it was yesterday the feeling of struggling to sweep a piece of hay into the waste bucket. I visually remember the hours I spent in the cold trying to get the barn as clean as possible. But I don’t do that anymore; I don’t take the time to sweep like I did when I was five, and I know that I never will.

Growing up is a part of life, I know that, we all do. But it can be hard. I no longer go into the barn with no worries. I am constantly thinking about something. If I am sweeping, yes I still find peace in it, but my focus is no longer on the broom, it’s on everything going on in my life. I no longer watch the dust disappear from the hard concrete ground, I think about something else. Sweeping has become second nature to me. Like many things in life, we tend to rush through things. But thinking back to my childhood I was never in a rush. I took each step with great care, watched each stroke of the broom pick up the dust from the ground, and lived each second at a time.

Cleaning the barn was a daily routine for me, and like all routines I improved from doing it every day. Maybe sweeping the barn is not the same as it used to be for me, and in some ways I miss the simplicity of it, but I also appreciate the time I had in the barn to grow as a person. I swept the barn for 10+ years and each year I got better, each year I grew, but the broom would always be there when I came back to clean.

Graduation Day

I walked along the track with 450 other students, and looked around at the 3000+ people sitting in the stands. I was nervous, very nervous. You know that feeling when everything around you is quiet even though it’s not, or when things go blank in your mind and you begin to shake, but don’t know why? That’s how I felt…I did not feel alone, I knew I was ready, I prepared my speech far in advance, and felt good about it, but it was time to deliver it. I watched many speeches leading up to mine, and saw that the best speeches were not the ones with the fluffed content, and big words, it was the ones with the best delivery. I had to now deliver my speech to 3000 people; my family, friends, and teachers were watching. I tried not thinking about it airing on television for others to see, but knew this was all coming at me within the next 30 minutes. As I walked, my heart was racing, my mind was spinning. How could I do this I thought. I was going to be standing at a podium with 3000 x 2 eyes watching me. This was not possible…but it was.

I thought back to the long hacks I took on my horse, and ease settled over me. I instantly became calm, confident, and composed. I was ready. I knew that if I could run a 4 mile course on a thousand-pound animal, running 20+miles/hour, I could deliver a speech, and deliver it well.

As I came up onto stage, I saw the bright lights, heard my parents and siblings yelling in the stands, and I took a deep breath. In less than three minutes, I finished my speech and walked off with a big smile on my face. The adrenaline in my body slowly subsided, and the feeling of coming off a 4-mile cross country course was a lot more exciting than giving a 3-minute speech, I laughed to myself.

Minutes after, I received millions of texts in congratulations. But one text was special, and I will never forget this text. In fact, I saved it on my phone. It was from my Olympic trainer, Sinead Halpin. This text was not the simple congrats, or great job kid on everything you’ve done, it was a lot more than that. I read , “So I heard you are pretty much amazing…Which I already know…But I wanted to reach out and tell you since you were I think 13 and I saw you riding that little pony I knew you had some type of determination that was quiet on the outside but probably felt incredibly loud in your head…Determination passion and drive come with their demons…I know I have lived with them…You have worked hard to find the balance and it will always be work but that is what makes you so special and capable…all my love to you.” This text not only made my night, it taught me something very important; the horse world is a small world, and every person in the horse world has your back, including your horse. It is a world that has brought me friendship, love, and happiness. A world that can never, and will never be replaced. It holds a very special place in my heart.

Saying goodbye never gets easy…

Last day of winter break, and it was time to say bye to my family, my friends, and my horses. I was kind of used to leaving now, and understood that saying bye is not permanent, but it is never easy to do. As I walked away from the sweet smelling barn, I sat outside for a moment; kissing my horses warm soft muzzle, I felt sad to leave him. I did not want to say goodbye…

I took a breath, realized it was time to go looked back and saw his soft eye. He knew it was time for me to go, I could tell, and it was just as hard for him to watch me walk away. I used to see him and ride him every day, but now I am lucky to see him every 2months. I guess this taught me that saying bye is not easy.

I think about Archoman each and every day. He has taught me life lessons, lessons that no one else could seem to teach me. Perhaps because the communication between a horse and their rider is unexplainable. I learned balance, love, and trust from him. When I was younger I often would stress about perfection, but my horse made me realize perfection was not necessary or realistic. Maintaining balance in life, and finding happiness was what would bring a life worth living.

“It is not enough for a man to know how to ride; he must know how to fall” this quote highlights the concept that when you fall, you must get back up. Riding taught me how to make mistakes, and how to cope with them. It taught me that if you want to improve as a person you must make mistakes, because you learn most from them.

“Well, I think that part of being young is not exactly knowing why you do some of the things that you do. And it’s by exploring your life or experimenting or making mistakes and learning from them hopefully that you start to forge an identity.” This quote by Stephen Chbosky resonates with me. It describes a belief I have always had.

Finding out who I am, creating an identity is something I choose to work on every day. Change is present, and change can be very difficult, but it is something to except and grow from; I think I learned to cope with change, with mistakes, and with challenges from my horses. They taught me that this happens, and the best thing you can do is get back up and try again. No one is going to hold your hand throughout every part of life.

A horse is more than an animal, a horse is a best friend, a life-long friend. There are friends you have for a season, some for a reason, and those you have for a life time. Horses definitely fit the lifetime category. I learn something from them every day even if they are not physically present they have something to teach me in spirit.

Ride the Journey

10403839_10203976165266919_5460737222037177739_oPSU Equestrian team is different from the horse world I was exposed to, it is not the same sport I competed in, however any horse has the capacity to bring a smile to my face. Although, my horse has the power to make me feel more than a mere smile, a smile can go a long way. Eight o’clock in the evening every Wednesday night I climb into the saddle for my PSU riding team lesson. Feeling the horse’s rhythm, the movement of the canter, the wind blowing in my face. Its magic.

Sitting in the classroom, my fellow classmates would often ask me “Why do you horse-back ride? Isn’t it just expensive and a lot of work?” I would say yes to both of those questions without hesitation, but I 10504948_10203976166786957_4549149656966452566_ocannot explain to them the nature of a horse. They do not relate to the complexity of the relationship. Often, my friends would laugh, and wonder why I spent 3-4 hours a day shoveling manure, grooming the sweat off the muddy horses, and cleaning my tack until it gleamed. I loved the work, even in 15-degree weather, in the dead of winter. Or the days when it was 100 degrees and buggy, nothing interfered with the ability for my time spent with my horses to feel worthwhile.

The statement my friends brought up about horses being so tiresome, and difficult to keep never occurred to me. My mindset was thinking that if you enjoy what you are doing, money, time, and work are not a burden. It is not work if you love it. An idea I often discussed with my dad was, “Do what you love, and you will never work another day in your life.” Writing about passion, and what I am passionate about, my thoughts fall upon what I want to do with my life? I want to feel the passion I feel for horses.

1270482_10203976164466899_3641441954472547484_oTo live a life of happiness, with passion and gain fulfillment I need to find something that I love like I love horses. I want to wake up every day and run to work like I ran to the barn as a child. I want to be excited to do a job, just like I was excited to groom the horses, muck the stalls, and sweep the barn. I always found it important to wake up and feel needed to do something in the day, whatever it was, I never woke up without a plan in mind. I felt a strong sense of purpose.

unnamedHere I am at college, trying to figure it out. It is evident that life is an evolving process. Maybe the undiscovered surprises ahead of me will reveal new passions and areas of interest that will develop as I expose myself to new environments and experiences.  I am 18years old and I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to do with my life moving forward; I am discovering every day and contemplating options. I do know that I am grateful for my early life with horses; I am grateful that I am certain what is feels like to have passion.

Don’t Be Lonely…He Whispers

Horses aren’t competing machines, they are friends. “Horses lend us the wings we lack.” They are the angels watching me, guiding me.images-1

Time spent in competition was a fraction of what I actually did with my horse. Most of the time I was in my barn, on Renwood Farm, riding through the woods, smelling the air, and talking to my horse about life.

Weekends I looked forward too. Not because of the high school parties, or the time off from school, which was what my friends would be excited for, but my weekend was spent in the barn. By 9am my mom, sister, and I were in the barn feeding, cleaning, and chatting. Horses brought us three together. We stayed in the barn from early morning until 8pm at night when the sun went down. When I wasn’t training or competing, I went on trail rides in the woods with my mom and sister. We would ride for hours. My favorite trail ride was down the ridge.

imgresWe began walking down the quarter-mile driveway. Trees surrounded the road, it was shady, comforting, and relaxing. The air was fresh I could smell the trees as the wind blew softly. The leaves were all different colors; orange, red, brown, and green. The colors accented the gravel dirt road.

I vividly remember the leaves on the path, the placing of the rocks, the mountain side view of the Delaware river, and the hills the horses climbed as we trekked home.

“You and your horse. His strength and beauty. Your knowledge and patience and determination and understanding and love. That’s what fuses the two of you onto this marvelous partnership that makes you wonder… ‘What can heaven offer any better than what I have here on earth?’ Monica Dickens beautifully states the intimate relationship shared between a rider and their horse. Trail rides brought this partnership into unison. As I walked along peacefully with my horse that’s where I found myself. Horses made me feel vulnerable, but safe.

I often spent hours in the barn to find something missing in my day; if I imageswas feeling lonely the barn would make it go away. That’s often why being at college can be so challenging, because the hardest days for me I cannot go to the barn to fix it. I often feel lonely during the week, like most first-year students, and the barn isn’t there to keep me company. My horse isn’t there to keep me company. I think of his soft muzzle, his warm breath, his soft fur, and his gentle eyes. A smile captures my face, and the loneliness slowly fades. Although the barn is no longer right there for me to go when I need it, the feeling of it is there, the memories are in my mind. The smell of hay, the sound of the horses eating grain, the water filling up in the buckets are images and sounds I do not forget. Those are the visuals that fill my mind when I am lonely. The barn, the horses, complete me.

Few and Far Between “Life-long friendships”

After years of riding, watching, training, and competing, it was time. My time to go to Nationals. Pony Club National Championships was an annual tradition where clubs from every state came together to compete at the Kentucky Horse Park. 1548039_10204158866274330_1572949387508694382_oThe park where the Olympians competed; the best riders in the world competed on these grounds. This competition was different from any other, it was a week-long excursion at a world class facility. A team bonding experience.

It was 2am as we pulled out of Renwood Farm to begin our 14-hour drive to Kentucky. Three stops total; efficiency was pertinent when traveling with a load of three horses. The middle of July, and temperature increased as we passed the border of each state. By the time we arrived it was 88 degrees, and sunny. After hours of travel, it was time to unload, set up, and get the horses settled before competition began.

10530472_10204159391207453_7801331497933507545_oOnce our rig was unloaded, tack-rooms were organized, and the horses were settled in we were famished; selections in Kentucky consisted of Waffle House, Cracker-barrel, and KFC. My mom was not one to eat at fast food places, so she searched for something “authentic.” To our luck she found a cute little Japanese hibachi restaurant near our Holiday Inn. We shared a lot of laughs, and went over the schedule for the upcoming week.

The next morning, we walked our courses, got to know the grounds, and took the horses on a long walk to stretch and mentally prepare. My team worked diligently to bathe and groom our horses, as well as polish our tack for a flawless presentation at inspection. I never thought the day would come…at 11am I was in the warm-up preparing to enter the dressage arena. My test was memorized. I practice multiple times, Archie felt great (a bit wild), excitement filled the air. Archoman and I brought our A game.

As we entered the arena I heard my team cheering in the sea of people. I was relieved to hear so many familiar voices excited to watch us compete. These moments burn into my memory. Teamwork and support was why competing was so fun. We were all there for one another every step of the way.

This competition was about working with one another to be the best we could be for our horses and for our team. It was a week-long event, so we were not just there to compete every-day, we were there to create friendships, make memories with horses, and without. The bonding experiences; pool parties at night, games during the day, and exhilaration of competing at National Championships is something I cherished. To this day, my closest friendships I made riding, caring for, and competing horses. This past weekend I went home for the first time since college started, and to no surprise I hung out with my life-long friend Kaleigh. I met her when I was five, she was my first team captain at my first event rally.

10496185_10204162158316629_2794624585771163696_oMy Pony Club family had really become like my family; we vacation together, we share our victories, our heartbreaks and life experiences. As life shifts and changes we continue to grow and we not only share our love for our horses, but for each other. I am the capable person I am today because of these experiences and I have my horses to thank for it!