Just a few short years ago, I was still in college at Georgia State University, sitting in the student center with a friend while a club fair was taking place on the city streets outside. We were languidly draped across some mass-marketed contempo-esque* furniture, people watching like we were born to do it: smirking, rolling our eyes, flippantly dismissing the endless enthusiasm of our eager young peers.
Until I spotted it: a black velvet riding helmet.
Unmistakable in the otherwise bustling, urban, environment, it was resting on a folding table along with a virtually empty sign-up sheet and a poster board advertising Georgia State’s equestrian club.
“I have to go! Bye!” I screamed over my shoulder as I vaulted over chairs and bowled into students in my rush to get to the street before the mirage evaporated.
Thus began my tenure in GSU’s equestrian club. I only stayed on the team for a couple years; riding and life opportunities knocked on other doors and I answered them. But I did learn a few lessons during my time there, one of which is that you ride the horse you draw.
Most intercollegiate horse show programs operate the same way. There are eight zones in the country, each of which is divided into a handful of regions, where anywhere from five to fifteen teams compete for points in order to advance to Regional, Zone, and National competitions. Here’s the thing: you compete on totally random, unfamiliar horses that the hosting school provides. This process is of course less random for some than for others, but as a general rule, you stick your hand into a helmet, and you pull out a small folded piece of paper with a horse’s name on it. There is usually no time for introductions, unless you can sneak a peppermint and a pat before you are sent into the ring.
Sometimes, you draw a made horse. Sometimes, you pull a rank horse. Either way, you’re riding the horse you drew, unless they commit murder or lose a shoe. So you watch carefully, if you have the opportunity, to see how they like to be ridden. You look to see where he/she will test you and where they will pack you along. You develop a strategy to ride this particular horse to the best of your ability. And when you swing into the saddle and walk into the ring, you say a little prayer to make you a safe, calm, and patient rider.
After that, there is nothing that you can do but ride.
Life is no cake walk. There are ups and downs, but you are never fully prepared for either. It often seems unfair. The scales are weighted. Some people seem to always draw the (metaphorical) nice horses while others always ride the grumpy ones. One of the hardest lessons to learn as we move from childhood to adulthood is that “life isn’t fair,” when we want so badly for it to be. However, it does no good to dwell on the injustice of life.
Life isn’t fair. Things get hard. Then they get harder. And they might get even harder after that. Nowhere on earth is there a written guarantee from anyone you can trust that life will ever be easy. However, riding the horse you drew doesn’t mean settling into misery or hardship. Riding is an effort. So is life. You prepare for what you can, you change what you can change. Then you try to enjoy the ride that you drew. At least you’re riding.
*I made this word up. I am not entirely sure what it means.