What does it mean to make a comeback? After many years of dealing with family illness, a degenerative disorder that forced my horse into retirement and major life changes, it was finally time to return to the saddle.
I feel as if I have had many comebacks. Comebacks in my career, comebacks in my health, comebacks in my riding. I think humans are made for comebacks. We learn, study, train, and test ourselves over and over throughout life. When we accomplish goals sometimes we relax and take time off. It is hard to be at the top all the time. Many superstar athletes experience burn out, time off, and retirement. They all have to commit to their comeback, whether it is coming out of a long time off, injury or illness, or coming out of retirement.
For me, I am at a stage of comeback with my riding. I have had horses my entire life, and I have been a horse owner for over 20 years. My senior horse has been with me for 17 years and counting, and I have added two more to the herd. Due to health restraints of my own, my horse, and family members I sat out from riding for at least 7 of the last twenty years. That’s almost half the time of my adult horse ownership journey.
Sure, I’d ride here and there, but never on a consistent schedule. When I had to retire my senior horse six years ago, my riding took a major hit. That was also the same year my mom had her stroke and my dad’s Alzheimers accelerated rapidly. Talk about a hard year! Riding was not on my brain; surviving was the only thing I could focus on at the time!
During 2020 and COVID I found myself seriously looking for my next riding horse. Many people asked me if it was better to “horse shop” until after Chad and I started a family. I knew if I put horse shopping on hold and started a family I would never get a new riding horse. I knew the only way I would hold myself accountable was if I had a horse staring me in the face and waiting for me to ride him.
Fast forward today, I am looking at a pretty yellow and white horse show ribbon in my office. I found my new horse, Kevin, and purchased him in 2021. Yes, he sat quietly and patiently for me to no longer be pregnant, get through the newborn stage and get him into training. The weekend of June 22-24 he went to his very first horse show at the EXel Schooling Show in Germantown, Tenn. He came off the trailer showing everyone how tall he was, which is tall! He talked to every horse who called out to him, and screamed in my ear quite a lot. He thought a porta-potty was a dragon, but he quickly realized it was not going to eat him. And he went into his only class, Very Green Under Saddle, and then spooked at a baby and baby stroller. By the way, it was my baby and my baby’s stroller. But he came out with a third place out of ten, and I was beaming with pride.
Robyn Miller, my trainer, gladly rode him and acclimated him to his first horse show experience. I desperately wanted to be the one in the saddle, but for Kevin’s success I knew Robyn should lead him and reassure him in his new job and test.
As for me, I am working on my comeback: riding weekly, weight lifting, building my endurance through circuit training and cardio. It seems like I don’t excel at all when I think about the rider I was in my twenties. My body is different at 40 and after childbirth, but I don’t doubt how strong my body is or how strong it will become again. When I think about the challenges that took me away from riding in the first place, and how I am now back in the saddle and reteaching myself what it is like to be physically and mentally dedicated to the equestrian sport, I find my comeback to be victorious despite the length of time it is taking me to get back to the level of riding I know I am capable of.
Some comebacks are tales of triumph. Others are tales of transformation. Mine is a tale of resilience. I don’t think I will be the same rider I was prior to the last 7 years. I think I will be better. I think I will be more aware of what I ask of my horse and future horses. More importantly, I am more dedicated to the equestrian sport now, especially to show my daughter what it means to commit to a goal and to see it through no matter the time it takes.
Comebacks aren’t just for the young souls either. I find the most celebrated comebacks are of those who showed signs of aging and defeat. Perhaps one thing I love most about riding horses is that you can do it at any age. And many times the “elderly” rider is the most successful because he/ she has used their years with horses as learning experiences to become better horsemen and women overall.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea of a comeback. Whether you're starting over from a long hiatus, or from failing, the act of just taking the first step is always the hardest. And trust me, the first step is a daily commitment. Everyday we get to choose if we are going to take that first step towards the goal in our hearts. For me, the victory isn’t the outcome, it is all the hours in between. The hours where you doubt yourself, your strength. The hours when self doubt takes over and fear wins. The hours when no one else is there to pick you up and motivate you. It's the hours you say enough to the voices in your head and you take action. Those are the moments that lace together the greatest comeback stories and victories.