Monday, October 1, 2012

10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years

Happy October 1st everyone! Today marks my 10 year anniversary of owning Emmy! I can't believe that a whole decade has gone by since I sat with my parents in a small barn office and watched Emmy's previous owner scrawl out a bill of sale on a sheet of computer paper. We got her a week before my birthday, and what a birthday present that was! My best friend at the time was a majorette in the marching band and it was a Friday night. I was so excited about finally having Emmy to call my own that I made my dad drive me up to the football game after we finished at the barn. I really do wish that someone would have gotten that scene on video; a thirteen year old girl jumping over the chain link fence from the bleachers and streaking across the track into the arms of her best friend who was covered in sparkles and hairspray, jumping up and down hugging each other and screaming "WE GOT HER! WE GOT HER!" while the school security chased behind.

Emmy has been the best of best friends to me over these past 10 years. She's stood by me through every life event to this point, whether it has been a soft neck for me to cry into when things go wrong, a whinny or a nicker when she knows that I've missed her. People who say that animals can't feel emotions are crazy. I know that my mare not only feels emotion, but reads human emotion as well. She has been with me through my first job, first date and first kiss. We've watched each other learn and grow, we've lived through a high school graduation and went to college together. We sat together as we watched Johnny drive away in a horse trailer, headed for his new home and a new life teaching children. We gathered our nerves and walked into the ring together for both of our first Prix de Villes of North American in our first hunter derby. We lived through another graduation, this time college, and then moved again to a new home up by Lake Erie with a new horse friend named Cool. In ten years, I've stood by Emmy just as much as she's stood along side me. I nursed her through a suspensory injury and then years later, a broken hind leg. I sat in the pasture with her head in my lap on the night that she colicked so bad that I thought for sure she would never get up again. She has been an inspiration to so many people over the years, she's captured the heart of my teachers and friends and people who have never even met her in person. I think it's safe to say that Emmy, the 25 year old Thoroughbred who just keeps on truckin', has a fan club.

So in celebration of our 10 year anniversary, I would like to share 10 things that I have learned from Emmy over the last decade.

1) When in doubt, fake it. The best part of "believe" is the "lie." I would have never gotten through a single jumping course with Emmy at a show if I hadn't faked confidence. Emmy is a nervous horse by nature. She over analyses everything and she's got a nasty stop in her to the jumps sometimes. The good news, is that she jumps like a FREAK because she's a little afraid of the fences. Tractors? Semi trucks? 4 wheelers? Honking horns and fire trucks? All totally not scary and cool with her. Flowers and rocks? Definitely out to get her. I had to really ride that horse to every single jump and not let her think that I was ever doubting our ability to make it to the other side of it. I took this lesson into the "real world" too. Sometimes our job is to simply make others believe that we aren't terrified to stand in front of them and make a business proposal or a product presentation. It's not unlike cantering to that 3 foot oxer.

2) Everyone deserves a second chance, but not all second chances are worth taking. I especially believe in this because Emmy got her second (or maybe third) chance at a better life when we bought her. I really do think that everyone deserves a second chance to prove themselves, however, just because you deserve it doesn't mean you should always take it. Prime example: this spring I sold one of my saddles so that I could take Emmy to Lake Erie's annual Prix de Villes horse show. It's a huge show for the college and I've never gotten a chance to compete in it. All of my previous three years of college had been spent on the sidelines watching my friends compete because I didn't have a horse that could still jump the lowest height (a VERY solid 3'3" with maximum spreads). My senior year, the school added a Low Hunter Derby with heights at 2'6"-2'9". I went for it with Emmy (who by the way, is 25 years old) and sold one of my saddles to pay for it. In the first round of the Derby Emmy was jumping phenomenal but was usually spooky in the ring and it rocked my confidence (see #1). The course didn't have a single straight line in it; it was all roll backs and bending lines and in my nervous state, I pointed poor Emmy at the wrong fence. It was a beautiful jump, but it was the wrong jump and we were eliminated. I have only ever cried twice at a horse show, and that was one of the times. (The first being when I didn't make the top 4 rider cut at IHSA Nationals my freshman year and was called 5th, only to watch the top 4 riders do the exact same ride test that I had been practicing for months. I cried just a few tears that time because I was upset over a missed opportunity). This time, I cried because it seemed like such a waste of effort and money and time. Not only my horses time, but my parents and my friends who had come to watch and a waste of the trainers time who had given me a few lessons and come to help me school. The trainer who helped me out that week was a complete angel and as we headed back to the barn said, "Your horse has so much jump still left in was beautiful to watch and there is always next year." My friends told me the same thing and I entertained the thought for about an hour until I took Emmy's braids out and looked in her eyes and knew that it was over. We might have a second chance at doing this right and proving that we could master the course, but it wasn't worth it. It wasn't fair to ask my horse to jump those fences again and I had promised her with a whisper in her ear prior to walking into the ring that if she got me through this class I would never ask her to do it again. She held up her end of the bargain, I didn't hold up mine.

3) Follow your gut. If it feels wrong, it is. The day that Emmy hurt her suspensory I knew that something was wrong. We were at a horse show almost 6 years ago cantering to a jump and she just wasn't jumping right. I was young and dumb and getting mad because the distances to the fences were coming out all wrong. Deep down, I knew that something was not right but I pushed it aside and told myself that it was cold outside and she just wasn't listening to me. The next jump she landed off, she really didn't feel right behind for a few strides and then she seemed to be alright. I had to make a split second decision to either pull her up or keep going. but we were leading our division in points, so I put my leg on and pointed her at the next fence. We never made it over that oxer because she split the two rails with her front legs and flipped over (see #6 below.) In the aftermath, it was my poor decision making that cost me horse's Children's Hunter career. It was my inability to follow what my gut instinct was telling me. From then on, I've always stuck by what my gut feeling is telling me. Generally speaking, if it's a bad idea you already know it.

4) There is always time for a trail ride. After Emmy's injury, I took some time to figure out what was really important in life and what was just extra. The horse shows and the ribbons and the crowds? That stuff doesn't really matter in the long run, what does matter are those times that you left all of the extra stuff behind. This doesn't always have to literally apply to horses, but seriously, when was the last time you put all of the superficial out of your life and went for a walk? Looked at the stars? Smelled the fall leaves? Yeah. That's what I thought.

5) It's only a horse show. In the grand scheme of life, what does this one horse show really matter? This goes a little bit with #4 above. George Morris once said that "if riding were all bright lights and blue ribbons I'd have quit a long time ago" and I don't think anyone could have said it better. So what if you chipped the last fence in a perfect round? Yes, it sucks right now, but in a year will you really still be kicking yourself over it? And if you are still kicking yourself over it, are you sure that your life priorities are in the correct order? in general is so much more than just the weekend show.

6) Be a gracious winner and an even more gracious loser. The moment you believe you are unsinkable is the exact moment that you will be knocked from your pedestal of greatness. If you win, congratulate those who did not and say something nice about them. If you lose, congratulate those who won and say something nice about them. Life is too short to be petty.

7) Be open minded, try something new. This past summer, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to ride Emmy in a parade with her and her horse. I think I've really only ever seen two parades in my life, let alone participated in one, but I figured that Emmy was good with traffic and good with crowds so I said why not. We were lined up in that parade in front of a tow truck that was blasting its horn and we were surrounded on all sides by people and children waving flags and throwing candy...I was seriously nervous about what Emmy would do (see #1) but Emmy marched through that parade like a champion and we ended up winning third place overall for our patriotic themed entry. I would have never participated in a parade on my own accord, but I'm glad that I did! Even though it was something we had never done before, I weighed it against my horses strengths and weaknesses and decided that we had a decent shot of not killing ourselves, so we went for it. Apply this lesson to your every day life too. Go ahead, live a little.

8) Don't take anything for granted. Four years ago, I almost lost Emmy to colic (Geez louise, this post is making my horse sound like a walking time bomb...she's really not that bad I swear.) I was in my first semester of college and Emmy was living at home until I got situated at school. I went home every weekend to see her and I will never forget seeing the barn owner's name pop up on my cell phone that fateful day. At the time, I was dating her son, so it wasn't extremely out of the ordinary for her to call. Remember that gut feeling we talked about a few numbers ago? I will never forget picking up that phone call and just knowing that something wasn't right. I didn't have a car at school and I had to wait for my Dad to come pick me up from his work (luckily my college was a little less than an hour from home). In the meantime, I sent a trusted friend over to the barn to check out the situation and give me an honest run down of exactly what was going on. I was sitting on the bed in my dorm room almost hyperventilating when she called me, "You need to come" she had said. My dad and I were pulling around the barn drive an hour and a half later when I caught sight of Emmy, my friend, the barn owner and her husband out in the paddock behind the barn. There was one person holding the lead rope and two people on either side of Emmy literally holding her on her feet. She was sweating and staggering like every step was agony. I was out of the car before it even came to a stop and up over the paddock fence when it was as if someone had pulled a rug out from under her feet and she collapsed into a heap on the ground like a million pieces of broken glass. I sat with her head in my lap for two hours while we waited for a vet, watching the sun sink down behind the trees and remembering the last ride that we'd had together. We had gone out for a hack in the woods, cantering along the path and jumping any obstacle that got in our way, it had been a perfect ride. Now, Emmy's eyes were closed and every breath that she took was shallow and ragged. I literally thought that she would never get up again. I sat there with her and cried and told her that I was sorry and that she wouldn't have to suffer anymore once the vet got there, and that if she wanted to let go now it would be alright and I wouldn't be upset with her for leaving me. Ten minutes before the vet came bursting out of the barn she let out one deep breath and then went silent and I really thought she was gone, then her eyes suddenly snapped open and she sat up. After a few more minutes, she shoved me out of the way with her nose, took a deep breath, flung her legs out and stood up, then looked at me with those big brown eyes and just blew softly into my hair. My dad was there the entire time, watching quietly in the shadows of the barn and he told me later that he'd never seen anything like that before. I think of that day often...mainly when I feel as though I haven't spent enough time with Emmy because of work, chores, etc. You never know what life will throw at you and I don't want to get to the end of my time with anyone (Emmy, my family, my friends) and not be able to look back and say "it's alright for you to go, we ended on a good note." I think one of the reasons that I made peace with the thought of losing her that night is because I knew that we had lived those potential last days together to the absolute fullest. Don't get to the end of your life only to find out that you have regrets. Call you mother/father/brother/sister/boyfriend/girlfriend and tell them that you love them. Life is too short and too precious to assume that it will always be there tomorrow.

9) Don't hold grudges. Fairly self explanatory I think and I believe that all horses can help teach us this. Emmy is one of the most forgiving horses that I have ever met. Missed every single distance thus far in the jumping course? Whatever. As long as you keep riding forward it's fine. Catch her in the mouth? Whatever. Catch her in the back? Whatever. She forgives and forgets all day long. I wish people could be more like that.

10) You're only as old as you feel. This is a lesson that Emmy teaches me every single glorious day that I get to spend with her. She is 25 years old but (most of the time) you would never know it. She runs around like a crazy horse in the pasture, she jumps 2'9" like a freak still, and she will rip your arms off galloping cross country if you let her. She's an amazing horse and I'm so blessed to have her in my life.

Here's to many more years with my fabulous girl!


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