Last weekend I blew the dust off some old boxes of in storage that my parents had been prodding me to come up and sort through. The memories contained within those boxes carried a faint note of bittersweet, as most memories do. However, this one memory I had to share, because I feel that ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ is) has come to fruition, and continues to do so. I had scribbled down these postgrad anxieties on a pad of paper intended for dressage notes. They probably started out that way.
I’m able to hammer out three different beats with my foot and two hands on the steering wheel, all while driving and singing, though some might suggest that neither activity is my forte. There is one caveat, however. I can’t be thinking about it. The minute I start to analyze tempo and rhythm or try to isolate my hand-thumping from my foot-stomping, I lose my way and am reduced to awkwardly beating out some discordant meter on my steering wheel or swerving wildly through traffic (the last part I made up. Maybe.)
The same phenomenon applies in my riding life too – even in something simple like a lateral movement – if I attempt to move the horse over with my leg, I end up with my heel in their flank and my upper leg like a vice grip. Essentially, I look like one of those monkeys riding around on a border collie at a rodeo. If I position myself, cue lightly and rhythmically, and allow the horse to move where he’s been channeled it goes far more smoothly. I’ve spent enough time in the saddle for this concept to come to me as easily as the whole Rock-Band-Honda-Civic-Edition deal but still, I catch myself trying too hard and ruining the ride.
I suppose now is the season where we are supposed to be grown up and in control of our destiny, fresh from University (or about to be) and ready to seize the reins of our future. But every day feels a little more out of control than the next. Very few of us grow up with a plan for adulthood that really sticks. I am an English major, and I have come to terms with the fact that my career path is kind of up in the air, but I am still uncomfortable with this carpe diem crap in all the movies. Living life to the fullest is a friggen chore. The last thing I want to be doing is waiting for life to begin, but lifelong dreams do not come cheap. So I am making sacrifices and missing out on things, and it has me in a panic. I budget out my future and work holidays and weekends in hopes of achieving it, or figuring out what ‘it’ even is, but I think I am doing the whole rodeo monkey thing again.
My life is not a movie or a novelty. If I don’t contribute to social justice in some vastly significant way, that’s okay. If I don’t write a best selling novel before 30, that’s okay. If I don’t have a storybook romance, that’s okay. If I don’t make it to the Olympics, that’s also okay. If I don’t get to ‘live life to the fullest’, that’s okay . Maybe trying to live life to the fullest shouldn’t be so stressful.
For now, my idea of living life to the fullest is to find good channels to drift through, and when I see good people drifting along I will latch on and we can drift along together.
Why did I ever worry? Life is wonderful.
Post Script: R.I.P. Honda Civic.
I’ve been cross country three times now: twice for schooling, once for showing. I was initially seized with terror at the very thought of jumping immobile obstacles in wide open fields. What if I fall and become seriously injured? What if I’m paralyzed? What if I just can’t make myself do it? What if we jump a log and suddenly gravity breaks down and the momentum from our launch sends us reeling into outer space and we’re doomed to orbit the planet forever?
Some of my fears were less rational than others. However, they were all irrational because while I have a lot (author’s note: there is no font in existence that is able to emphasize the whole “a lot” thing enough) to learn, I’m a seasoned rider by now; because I know what the honest horses that I ride are capable of; because I know they wouldn’t do me dirty as long as I didn’t do them dirty.
And let’s be real here, folks: because I could literally swing my own leg over many (okay, most) of the obstacles in the divisions I ride and hardly break stride.
Despite my initial trepidation, by my third cross country trip my inner dialogue of “Eeek!” had changed to “Woohoo!” There’s just something about a cross country course that does that to you.
On course at Sporting Days Farm
I don’t remember what it’s like to be anything other than a rider. I didn’t start taking riding lessons until I was 10, but even before then, somewhere in my blood, there was something that stretched eagerly toward the unique partnership between horses and their riders. Whatever it is that drives equestrians forward must be the same thing that makes long distance runners suffer through mile after long mile all in pursuit of the famed ‘runners high’.
This past weekend I went to my first three phase trial at Sporting Days Farm in Aiken, SC. We walked through the course in the rain the night before, and the next day, after an invigorating stadium round, I found myself waiting in the start box aboard my trainer’s horse, Metro. When they counted down from 10, my heart didn’t thump nearly as loudly in my ears as I thought it would. Everything seemed peaceful and relaxed. Then came “3. 2. 1. Go!”
As a diehard introvert, I relish solitude as much as I enjoy the company of others. When Metro and I took off, I barely noticed the jump judges and photographers out on the course. Their blurred figures grew, shrank and then vanished in my peripheral vision as we thundered past them, focused only on the jump ahead and the location of the next jump after that. We were on our own. All that mattered was what the two of us told one another in those minutes. I didn’t have time or attention for anyone else, only for Metro and myself.
When you’re riding the cross country phase, you’re forced to trust your own choices, and your riding is better for it. There’s no opportunity for second guesses. There is no one on the ground to tell you when to hold or move toward a jump. No one can ride the horse for you. No one can jump the jump but your horse. You can only rely on each other to get through the course successfully.
That sense of solitude and nothing else really mattering is coupled with the fact that, despite the incomparable feeling of hurtling through space at 30 mph aboard a flesh and blood locomotive engine, there is plenty of time to ride the course. Metro was excited – I was excited too – so we galloped all out when we had space to, and in those moments it felt as though nothing could touch us. When we needed to slow down and take our time getting used to the water obstacle, we could. There was no pressure!
Galloping a horse through the wide open fields also feels so natural. The only way to describe it is that it as though it’s what you were both born to do.
On course at Sporting Days Farm
When I jumped the last fence, which just so happened to be the most affronting one, I felt a bubbling sense of emotion tighten my throat. Pride? Power? Gratitude? All three and the fact that I was 2 days without sleep and running off of 5 hour energy shots, perhaps. Either way, there’s something about a cross country course that makes you feel like the strongest, bravest version of yourself.
Big shout out to Halliea Milner of Go With it Farms, her fabulous horse, My Stubborn Side, and my parents, Pete and Susan Clymer, for making this weekend one to remember!
When my coach’s truck pulled into her friend’s farm, I didn’t immediately recognize the place from my youth. After all, a child’s memory is fickle and depends so heavily on context. The last time I’d seen the farm, I was probably clutching my ill-fitting velvet riding helmet in my lap and eagerly straining my head to look out the window. I very likely still had chocolate icing from the morning’s doughnut on my face as I waited with my sticky little kid fingers on the car door handle, anticipating the brakes finally slowing the car enough so I could fling the door open and run toward the barn. I probably got in trouble for that, but it didn’t matter. I was long gone by the time whichever parent had unbuckled their seatbelt and turned around to chastise me.
As I scanned the familiar riding arena sixteen years later after a far more sensible (very early) morning breakfast of coffee and a bagel, recognition suddenly kicked in. “This is where I started riding as a kid!” I practically screeched.
Though the farm has since changed hands and names, a relic of its past identity hung in the darkened lounge: “Rose Ridge Farms.”
It was here that I fell in love with a horse for the first time, and here is where my heart was broken when that horse was sadly put down. I cantered and jumped for the very first time here; I also fell off for the first time. Every fiber of my little kid soul ached to be here for roughly 167 hours of the 168 hour-long week. My dreams, if not born here, were nourished here.
Riding Ned back in 1998
The other day, as I tore into a new package of whiteout at my office, I caught myself. I had made the order for the corrective tape myself after several coworkers had passed by my desk in a vain hunt for it, yet once it arrived it just sat ineffectually by the printer. Finally, I found a use for it. “Awwwww yeeeeah,” I thought, giddy with anticipation.
Then I thought, “Wait. What the hell is wrong with me?”
I slipped quietly out of my office at 5:00 sharp and into the bathroom to change into thermal breeches. I layered two pairs of socks, a thermal shirt, polo shirt, hoodie, and windbreaker until I resembled Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, from A Christmas Story.
“Don’t pump your body!” “Stop chasing him with your seat!” “Sit taller!” “Lighten up in the saddle!”
These commands have all been repeatedly hurled at me by my coaches like small cannon balls of despair and frustration. They bounced harmlessly off my helmet, landing in the sand where they lay like casualties of my many riding flaws.
It’s not that I didn’t listen. I just didn’t comprehend how to train my body to ride in half-seat
. I seized up in my saddle, locking every joint, hoping to get as still and light as possible. That just made it worse. “Be still!” my brain yelled at my back and hips; what my back and hips heard was “山 羊农民?” I tried so hard to get it right. But it’s like my brain and body were speaking a different language. Some horses were patient with my adjustments and attempts to develop a decent half-seat, while others switched canter leads, as perplexed by the disjointed conversation between my body and my will as I was.
I was hoping for something like this to happen:
Sadly, that was a dead end road.
Busy: it’s both commonly bemoaned and universally worshiped, at least in the states. Lifestyle magazines across the board cater their content to their frazzled readership – I dare you to browse the magazine aisle and count the covers that don’t include some headline along the lines of “No Fuss Recipes for your most hectic days,” “Fitness secrets for the busy mom!”– and fast food restaurants have built empires on the backs of our fast lane lifestyles.
Not that I’m complaining. I am thankful for the job, friends, and experiences that keep me so swamped. However, more often than not, perspective is a whisper, not a shout, and it often goes unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Photo Credit: CHPCC.org
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
“And he’ll do it in five, you think?”
I am staring down a line of fences set up by my coach, shading my eyes with one gloved hand and holding a braided pair of leather reins in the other. Secretly, I am thanking the intrusive late afternoon sun for disguising my expression of concern and self doubt as one of simply squinting into the sunlight. I’ve been on a losing streak lately and I am anticipating another hot mess, but the knowledge that this anxiety is going to negatively affect my ride only amplifies it. I roll gently upward as Ed, my mount, casually stomps at a pestering insect.
After my coach affirms that yes, he’ll do the first line in five strides, I ask, “You think I should trot in or canter in?”
I am buying time.