When we enter into a relationship with a horse, one of the most important skills to develop is resiliency. If we stick with horses and horse sport long enough, we’ll inevitably be faced with all matter of adversity. It’s profoundly important to find the mettle and perspective to deal with it.
Horses dump us in the dirt and injure our bodies and egos. They let us down at big important shows and fall staggeringly short of our eager expectations. They hurt themselves—sometimes irreparably.
They slip into illness in ways we can’t seem to get a handle on, despite numerous treatment attempts and veterinary consults. They develop vague, mysterious, and ever-changing symptoms that, in order to solve, require expert-level investigative work and a willingness to plunge down a hundred different rabbit holes.
And most frustratingly, despite the best vets, farriers, and feeds; the finest husbandry practices, and the most vigilant eyes, we sometimes lose them all together. Love them fiercely as we do, horses are heartbreakers.
If you are a trainer or instructor, the frequency with which you find yourself in the middle of a horsey conundrum increases by tenfold, or twenty, or forty. Now not only are you coping with the problems your own horses present, but those of all your clients.
If you’re a professional it’s likely that your experience, knowledge, ability to step in and solve a problem, and awareness of and access to resources is at least somewhat better than that of your clients due to long-term involvement and saturation in the horse world. So, when the ship turns sideways, you attempt to not let it go completely upside down. It’s part of the job to not just teach about riding, but to don many hats; those of psychotherapist, vet, financial advisor, risk assessment manager, cheerleader, problem-solver extraordinaire, and most commonly—provide a source of comfort and consolation.
Sometimes you’re doing this at an easily managed trickle; other times it’s a catastrophic deluge. You might find yourself in a situation where your heart horse (who happens to be your competition horse) is thinking about dying, and then your other young horse actually does die. On top of that, the universe is conspiring against the horse community as a whole, and you’re surrounded by horses who aren’t doing well in one way or another.
So, while trying to keep your own head on straight you’re also tasked with trying to keep your clients’ heads at least semi-attached. Your time and energy are spent advising them, researching for them, helping them make tough emotional or financial decisions, and talking them off the ledge. Being able to compartmentalize becomes a well-honed skill.
Whether you are trying to keep one proverbial plate spinning or twenty-eight, the force that helps us all continue moving forward when faced with hardship is resilience. We won’t make it very far without this mental toughness, this dogged determination to keep going when everything falls apart, to pick up the pieces and move forward with what’s left, or to quietly and patiently wait for a turning point.
Horsemen and women often possess superhuman levels of resiliency to trauma and true grit. If we didn’t have it when we struck off on the journey as professionals, we surely are given ample opportunity to develop it along the way. We learn how to redirect our mental energy and adjust our perspective. And when the wind is taken from our sails, we lean hard on each other.
Horses require us to cross bridges when we come to them, to realize the impermanence of things, and to develop a gauge of deciding what’s worth getting worked up over and what’s better left to the balm of time. They can be so frustrating and calamitous. But oh, how we love them.
Published in the August 2020 Issue:
Olivia Chapeski teaches and trains out of Chapeski Dressage alongside her father Bob Chapeski. Chapeski Dressage is located in Western Montana, where there is very little dressage and quite a bit of Western. Olivia is a USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medalist, and she’s also earned USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Freestyle Bars—all on self-trained horses. She was first put on a horse at two years old and never saw any good reason to do anything else with her time, though she did obtain a degree in psychology. Learn more about Olivia Chapeski at www.ChapeskiDressage.com.