Fat to Fit to First Level: ‘…And Having Done All, To Stand’

“I am at a loss as to where to go next in my interaction with horses.”

Recently, I read an article by top eventer Kyle Carter. In the article, Carter talks about his reputation for being able to “ride anything” and how, while he once took pride in that reputation, he now realizes, “in order to be competitive in this sport, you have to ride horses that you’ll be competitive on, end of story.” And he discusses how nice, reliable, good-minded elite horses are the ones winning competitions as compared to the equine “powder kegs” he had once ridden.

I have no aspirations to be competitive in my riding. I have won top awards in music competitions, baking competitions, and, yes, horse shows. I’ve won really complicated trials as an attorney. These days, my daily life is so chaotic that, when I am working with my horses, I just want to enjoy the moment and our relationship. With pressure, and without fear.

From my non-competitive perspective, Carter’s words still resonated with me, in this iteration: “in order to enjoy this sport, you have to ride horses that you’ll enjoy, end of story.”

As I contemplate my relationship with Kaliwohi, and our riding future together, I found myself “translating” more of Carter’s words.

Here’s an excerpt from Carter: “My point is this: the skills that teach you how to ride a rearing horse or get a dirty stopper over the fence are not the same skills that win you medals. Not to say the difficult ones can’t be good – I’ve had my fair share of horses who I’ve had the privilege of competing after I achieved that breakthrough – but don’t spend all of your time being good at riding bad horses.”

And here’s what came to my mind: “the skills that teach you how to ride a bolting horse or one that is truly herd-bound are not the same skills that allow you to enjoy a relaxing trail ride with an equine riding partner. Not to say a hot horse can’t wind up being good — many wild-captured mustangs have become trustworthy riding partners after that breakthrough — but don’t spend all [my] time being a good rider/bad rider/dumped off of a fright-centered horse.”

Last week I wrote about overwhelm. As I continue to think “overwhelm” I realize that I, myself, have had quite an overwhelming 2018. I won’t reiterate all the negative here; the point is, I have finally realized I am mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Remember that scene in The Horse Whisperer where Robert Redford’s character literally laid down Pilgrim — the injured horse that was suffering from overwhelm? My purpose in bringing up this scene is not to start a firestorm about whether laying down a horse is a good or bad training technique; my purpose is to say:

I feel like Pilgrim.


In my own head.

Despite all my decades of education, experience, riding, and life itself, I am at a loss as to where to go next in my interaction with horses.

Do I get on Kaliwohi again and work towards a possible “breakthrough” moment? What if disaster strikes?

Do I start working with Gil as a domestic-bred, and very laid-back, yearling, and invest two years on the ground with him in hopes of building a bond of trust that both of us can enjoy?

Do I save up some money to buy a reliable, “finished” horse?

Do I adopt a rescue dog and just go hiking and let Kaliwohi and Gil enjoy a life of leisure alongside my retired mare, Lady Grace?  (I get a great deal of enjoyment simply sharing my life and my farm with horses; they are like having living artwork roaming the field.)

In this moment, I do not know what to do, but I do know where to start. For me, personally, my go-to for any crisis is the Bible.

Ephesians 6:13 says, in part, “…having done all, to stand.”

Lao Tzu, in the Tao Teh Ching, says it this way: “Give up all unnecessary activity.”

And so, my friends, that is exactly what I am going to do. Stop doing anything that is not absolutely necessary, and try my very hardest not to condemn myself about it. Maybe I can’t stick the saddle on my mustang when he bolts, but one thing I am an absolute expert at is self-bullying.

“You should be in the saddle. You should be losing weight faster. YOUSHOULDYOUSHOULDYOUSHOULD fill in the blank a bazillion times over.” No wonder I feel confused. I literally can’t hear myself think at the moment, my head is so filled with the silent screams of self-bullying. Ugh.

Kyle Carter also wrote, relative to four-star eventers, “When you watch these riders go around in Kentucky, you more often than not see them kick to the fences – and I can tell you, kicking is a hell of a lot better of a feeling than holding the horse back as he drags you to a maximum jump. You don’t have to ride the strong, hot horse to be considered legitimate. That’s just what you’ve been taught to think.” (emphasis mine)

I’ve never met Kyle Carter, but someday I hope I do. I’d like to give him a hug of gratitude for his words. In two sentences, that elite athlete has given this complete stranger/amateur permission to not ride an animal that, at the moment, feels much too unpredictable for me to feel comfortable astride. And still feel like a legitimate equestrian. God bless you, Mr. Carter. I am an accomplished horsewoman, despite the inner demons screaming, “you’re a failure” in my head at the moment.

Maybe, next week, or next month, I will get back on Kaliwohi. Maybe I will start hiking with Gil to get him desensitized to trails while he is still young and small. (Note: for those of you who have followed Gil’s history, yes, his health is still precarious and no, I will never back him if he cannot physically support a human.)

But, for right now, in order to achieve my riding goals and my weight loss goals, I need to stop putting pressure on myself with all the, “I shoulds.” I need to “give up all unnecessary activity.” I need to, metaphorically, lay myself down like poor panicked Pilgrim, and realize that, in riding as in all areas of my life, I need not put pressure on myself or panic over anything, because God is in control, and everything will unfold in exactly the right way, at exactly the right time.

“…and having done all, to stand.”

Gil. Photo by Esther Roberts.

Join me on this journey on Facebook: Fat to Fit at Horse Nation (page and group), and my blog www.appalachianchic.com.


Go Riding.

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