Humbly Beautiful

          Last weekend, my daughter and I showed at the Eastern Slope reining in Castle Rock.  The judging was very conservative, and my daughter expressed frustration in her ride and her scores.  A teammate, who has been showing for about a year, scored better than she did.  Although she loves her friend dearly, it was with a tearful voice that she asked me, "Why does she score better than I do?"  
          Oh, I was full of answers and platitudes, and when I ran out of those, I gave her all I had left, which was simply a hug.  She echoed the feelings I had been struggling with, for me and for her.  The more I tried, and the more I learned, the less I was rewarded.

The Responsible One

There is a story about the Prodigal Son.  The story goes that there was a family with two sons.  The younger one, the prodigal son, cashed in his inheritance to see the world.  This son had gone out in true grasshopper form, spent all the money, attended all the parties, and was returning home, broke and contrite.  Upon his return home, his father threw a party.
          In the meantime, the older son stayed home.  The older son worked to improve his father's wealth, completing the tasks before him responsibly, timely, and efficiently.  When the father was tired, the older son worked more and sent the father in to drink some lemonade (taking a few liberties with the story here).    The older son learned the business, and worked harder than anyone to keep it going.  
          When the father rejoiced upon the return of the prodigal son, the older son stood in the yard, fists clenched in fury, betrayal, and hurt.  The father eventually came out into the yard and approached the son.  The older son shared his hurt and anger.  "Why do you celebrate the return of the one who discarded us and our love?  Why haven't you thrown a party to celebrate the love I have shown for you?"
          The father's reply was telling.  "You are always with me, and everything I have is yours."
          The older son imposed responsibility upon himself, and created rules for his relationship with his father.  He thought that his good deeds and hard work would earn his father's love.  He completely missed that what he sought so desperately, he already had.


When I show Sergio, I feel like the older son.  I have prepared for the ride, I have worked hard to earn my place in the pen.  When I am done, I think that my ride is at least as good as another, but I do not get the score to match.  
          I keep thinking that my good works are going to lead to reward.  When they do not, I am bitter and exhausted.  The amount of effort that I have put into being there, riding a technically correct ride, and controlling everything, are the things that cause the ride to lose its shine.
          The problem with showing the horse and being the responsible one is that the result is not pleasing.  Although the ride may be technically correct, it is not beautiful.  We can see that the horse is guided through the pattern, and that the horse can perform the maneuvers.  The rigidity in the rider, the defensiveness of the posture, the tightness of the rein cause us to hesitate.  Where we may have rewarded the maneuver, we detract instead.
          The real sticker to the story is humility.  The older son, in his pride for his good works refused the gift his father had for him every day.  The father said, "What's mine is yours."  The love that the older son sought to earn was already his.
          When we show our horses with humility and a desire to honor the love we have for our horse, the ride becomes not about what we do, but about who we are.  We can say to the world, "I do not deserve this horse, I have not earned this ride, but he is a gift for me.  I am going to enjoy him, and boldly ride him, and know in my heart that I will never, ever earn him, because he is already mine."

Beautiful Gift

Ultimately, that is what the ride is being judged upon.  Although I, as the responsible one, want the ride to be about what we do - a perfect spin, evenly balanced circles - a technically correct ride is not beautiful.
          A beautiful ride showcases the partnership between a rider and a horse.  With confidence, the team sets out to perform each maneuver to the best of their ability.  If a plus half spin is all that team has, but they perform it joyfully, well then, that's a plus half spin all day long.
          I am very intimidated by riding the ride that judges me and not what I do.  I am kidding myself if I believe that the ride is about anything else.  To humbly and exuberantly (can you be both?) step into the pen and perform the maneuvers with Sergio is a fine thing indeed.
          The performance as a team is important, but I can't earn Sergio because he is already mine. 

Not Good Enough

          Riding Sergio fills me with joy, and releases me from the distractions of a body at rest.  He doesn't care about what I accomplished today, or what achievements I have made.  He isn't distracted by the masks that I wear.  He only cares about the time we have together and that I am present and trusting.
          I, however, have higher expectations.  I struggle to ride him the way he should be ridden, to accept what he has to offer, and to bring my share to the team.  He is a such a beautiful, talented horse.  I tell myself that I should be able to show him successfully.
          I want to be in control of the ride, to dictate our speed and direction minutely.  I want to be able to execute every maneuver exactly according to plan.  Unfortunately, my efforts to control change the way I ride, and distort the cues I am giving to him.  Our ride ends up being tentative and discordant, and the judge can see it.  The score reflects the judge's opinion, and my confidence plunges.  When my score is announced, I hear "You are not good enough."
          The message is repeated as my coach gives me advice and feedback on the ride.  "You need to sit back when you stop him (you are not good enough)."
          As I go over my ride, I repeat the message again, "I think I turned him around better, but I got a penalty (I'm still not good enough)."
          This message has been haunting me for most of my life.  When I am in a good place, it's easy to tune out.  When times are difficult, like they are now, the words ring in my ears.  I offer up everything I do for review and approval.  If the response is critical, well, that's to be expected because I. Am. Not. Good. Enough.
Miss Goodie Two Shoes
          Maybe the message originated during my childhood, as a middle child.  My response to a house full of girls was to be the good girl, to get along.  If my older sister struggled with her grades, mine would be A's.  If my younger sister quit her miserable California job and moved back home, I would tough it out and work an awful job.  The problem is that even as I tried my best to do the right thing and to be good, what I longed for was attention.
          Naturally, no one worries about a good girl.  No one lectures her, or encourages her, or tells her she is tough enough to overcome obstacles.  No one rushes in to save her from a disaster, because she never risks having one.  Instead, they leave her alone, because she has it all figured out.  Right?  Although I was good, I was never good enough to receive the praise I craved.
          My older sister recently bought a bottle of wine for me - "Middle Sister Goodie Two Shoes."  She probably wouldn't have if she knew how much it hurt.  The description on the label pierced my heart, because it was true, every word.
The Fire
           One of my favorite quotes from the Wizard of Oz is "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"  That's because I feel like everything I do is a mirage, a carefully constructed play to hide the fact that I am not good enough.
         Riding and showing Sergio is fearful business.  Not because riding him scares me, although sometimes it does.  What is really scary is the possibility of failing.  I am afraid that everyone can see right through the self-controlled masks, right through the good girl, and discover my secret:  I am not good enough for this beautiful horse.
          The whole purpose of showing is to be judged.  I am painfully aware that I am being watched by not only the paid judge, but also my coach (who I have a sinking suspicion already knows my flaws), my friends, and my family.  When I ride in the show pen, I feel as though I am being held up to the light.  As the bright light of my desire shines through me, it reveals all of my flaws.
          This scares the hell out of me.
Don't Give Up
          Showing horses is a hard business.  The rules keep changing, and there's always someone who rides better, has a better horse, or has more money.  The cold, hard truth is that I will never be good enough.  I will never have it all figured out.
          Nobody ever promised me that I would be good at showing horses.  Even so, no matter how sternly I address my heart, I cannot deny the love I have for riding.  To quit is to give up on myself.  Maybe my dreams don't tie to the reality of my ability (or funding).  Without horses, I am lost, and empty.  So for now, I will continue to slog it out, and hope that I can find peace from my good girl, and acceptance that not good enough is still Enough.

Can you see that person dancing in the flames on Sergio?  That's me - dirty, grubby, imperfect me.
I would like to thank Emily Freeman and her book, Grace for the Good Girl, for the inspiration and for the words I just couldn't find.