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  • Pivot

January 01, 2024

By Kimberly Laue

 

Close the circle, then stop. 180 degree pivot to the right. The final elements of tomorrow's pattern repeat in my head. Shifting my weight deeper into the saddle, I lift my hand that clutches the worn leather of my reins, giving my horse the subtle cue to come to a steady halt and then we turn 180 degrees. A pivot involves facing the entirely opposite direction than you once were, so we turn the other direction and stop. His breathing feels heavy beneath me. His labored breathing from physical exertion. Mine from holding my breath in preparation for the unknown atop a young, inexperienced 1,100-pound animal. We both pant to catch our breath after the ride is complete. I dismount as muscle soreness burns through my body.

I carefully walk beside my horse through the arena and into the narrow and dimly-lit aisleway of an unfamiliar horse complex in New Jersey. As I lead my horse to our isolated stall, I see trainers and clients sitting at their cluster of stalls, laughing, eating, and talking. I take a quick glance as I walk by, knowing the immense amount of money they paid for their horse in comparison to my own. We come from different worlds. When it rains, they have an indoor facility where they can ride; I have a muddy grass field at my house. They buy everything custom; I buy everything used. Yet we fell in love with the same animal, the sport, the lifestyle.

As I continue walking, I spot a little girl standing on her tiptoes, untidily wrapping rubber bands in her horse's mane. As I recall my early horse challenges, I think back to the practices at my home. Not a fancy facility, but a frosty winter field where I recall many evenings jogging on the frozen ground beside my horse to perfect that one showmanship maneuver, he and I matching each other's stride. My lungs blasted with frigid air. Cold sweat dripping down my back under layers of clothes, my toes frozen and my eyes heavy and tired.

When homework was done and my peers were watching television or in bed, I was stooped over rulebooks and manuals, reading horse show class descriptions and point penalties. Every turn, every transition, every lope stride had to be precise and look effortless, horse and rider working in perfect unison. I spent my extra hours watching the top collegiate riders perform at world shows on the live stream, longing to be in their boots someday. As I worked out with my sister, my core muscles felt like they were ripping apart inside of my body, but I knew that was what I needed to do to become a stronger rider. I needed to train my own body with the same commitment as I trained my young horse.

My mind pauses as we reach our stall. I take care of my four-legged partner first. Unsaddle, feed, fill water buckets, clean stall. I lead my horse through the same aisleway to the wash rack. My mind races again as I rinse salty sweat from my horse's sorrel coat. My eyes fill with tears as I reflect upon just how much of myself I have poured into this lifestyle. I turn off the hose, though it continues to drip water like my overflowing brain. My boots squeak on the wet rubber mats. My horse flicks his furry ears in my direction, gazing into my soul with his blue eyes. Being a competitive equestrian for so long has not just been what I have done, but rather a part of who I am. It has been a  cycle of tearing me down and building me back up again. But I look back feeling nothing but gratitude.

Sometimes, plans change and life changes too. Sometimes, the thing that used to be your everything, you just can't do anymore, with little reason why. No one talks about what happens when the plan in your head doesn't become the reality on paper. No one tells you that it's okay. That you are okay. That sometimes things are just for a season. And it can be a really good season...one that helped shape you into the person you are now. But then sometimes you need to pivot. To take what you've known, what looks familiar, and then face the opposite direction, while still appreciating where you've been. That seems scary but it is sometimes necessary.

But that's okay. And you're okay. And you are enough, not because of what you do, but because of who you are.