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Best of JN: On Trotting Faster & ‘Bad’ Lessons

“Being back in the saddle regularly definitely has major perks, but I have found myself feeling a bit off as I fight the same battles I did this time last year. As much as I try not to, it is hard not to beat myself up a bit.”

Knocking the dust off after a long winter break is always exciting and exhausting. As Missouri weather has finally taken a turn for the better (crossing my fingers I didn’t just jinx us), I have been able to enjoy some quality time getting back in the ring with my boys the past few weekends. Being back in the saddle regularly definitely has major perks, but I have found myself feeling a bit off as I fight the same battles I did this time last year. As much as I try not to, it is hard not to beat myself up a bit.

My poor trainer is probably 100% over having to yell at me to go faster. “How’s that trot?” and “go somewhere, Meagan,” and sometimes, “TROT FASTER!” are repeated time after time after time. I swear I am going fast, but video evidence proves that I am moving at a snail’s pace. In addition to my misconceptions regarding speed, my old “ducking-at-the-fence-like-we-are-playing-limbo” habit has returned, in addition to the always exciting, “we-must-move-up-three-strides-before-every-fence-even-if-our-distance-is-perfect” mentality. I know that time out of the saddle definitely impacts your fitness level, but seeing my swinging lower leg now versus my steady lower leg just a few months ago can really be disheartening.

Finding our fancy trot. Photo by Jen Robertson

Going from good to okay is never easy, but it gives us room to improve and achieve greatness. That is what I have to remind myself each time that I screw up a distance as I get back into the swing of things. In a sport that is all about being judged, I have found that often times our biggest critics are ourselves.

I don’t think I stand alone when I say that our sport can be scary. One small mistake can lead to a hospital ride in a snap, and maybe that is why we are so hard on ourselves. With so much at stake, it is crucial that we bring our A-game to each ride, but that doesn’t mean that perfection is the only thing that is acceptable. We are all going to screw up, but it is how we learn and grow from those hiccups that help us be better.

As I rode around the farm on Saturday alongside a young rider I have taken under my wing as my “barn-child,” we chatted about the lesson we had just wrapped up. “It definitely wasn’t my best lesson,” she said under her breath as she fumbled with her reins. To be frank, I was feeling the same way. I was frustrated with myself for not giving my horse the best ride possible, even though he was an absolute saint and helped me throughout our entire ride. But as I listened to the utter disappointment in the voice of the teenage girl and imagined the thoughts running through her head mirroring mine, I knew that I couldn’t stay on this self-pity train I was on.

“You know,” I piped up after a few moments of silence. “I think it is our worst lessons that are truly our best lessons.”

She looked at me like I was crazy and, I’ll admit, I would probably have done the same if I were her. I am a highly competitive person. I never want to accept anything less than my best. Our coaches want the same for us too, but we all know that in reality, that isn’t possible 100% of the time. We are going to make mistakes, but it is how we learn from them and let them mold us that makes us successful.

Think about it: if we always had picture-perfect rides, would it be worth it? Would it be challenging enough that we would keep riding? Maybe for some people, that sounds like a dream come true, but for me, it sounds dull. I ride because I love figuring out the connection between horse and rider. I ride because that feeling of nailing a distance or tackling a new fence height is exhilarating. I ride because hearing the satisfaction in my trainer’s voice as she says, “there, you’ve got it now!” is so rewarding.

Enjoying an afternoon ride after a “challenging lesson.” Photo by Morgan McAllister

I guess what I am trying to say here is that we don’t have bad lessons, because, in reality, the bad lessons can be so valuable when you look at them the right way. There is so much negativity in the world; why should we contribute to that by being unnecessarily hard on ourselves? Get rid of the phrase “bad lesson” and replace it with “challenging lesson.” Then, take those challenges and grow from them, find out what you need to do to be better next time and push yourself to be the best version of yourself. And then spread that positive mentality all around, especially to the younger riders of the world. They are the future of our sport after all.

Imagine how proud I was when that same sweet girl had a much better lesson on Sunday and came out of the ring with a big smile. “Meagan,” she said, “I think you are right. I think I learned from yesterday’s lesson. Today was a good lesson because of it!”

For now, I am going to focus on trotting a little faster, getting my lower leg a little stronger and staying positive even when things go awry. Sure, I will have my share of “challenging lessons,” but I know in the end they will make me better than I was in years past.

Go Jumping.

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