I hate failing.
Did that even need to be said? Do any of us enjoy falling flat on our face (sometimes quite literally in our sport) in front of our peers? What is worse than watching our dreams run away from us right in front of our eyes (ok I have to quit with the pony puns now…)?
Failure is a part of our lives, however. In a sport where two hearts and two minds have to become one, there are bound to be miscommunications and not so successful attempts.
While some people allow failure to define them, I have opted to let failure refine me.
This was something I struggled with for a long time. Failure wasn’t an acceptable word in my vocabulary—it was go blue or go home. My parents never put that pressure on me, my coach never put that pressure on me, it was completely self-inflicted. Once I let myself slip into that mindset, it was only a short time until my self-esteem and my confidence in the ring slowly dissipated leaving my riding skills also on a downward spiral.
My senior year of college, I placed third at IHSA Regionals.
If you haven’t ridden IHSA, placing first or second at Regionals leads you to Zones. First or second at Zones leads you to Nationals. All year long I busted my butt, rode countless horses, fell countless times, walked, ran, worked out at the gym, ate clean, drank clean. My senior year was one big sacrifice so I could take home that blue at Regionals and make my way to Zones.
Instead, I got a big yellow ribbon.
I was brave. I didn’t cry at Regionals. I smiled and took photos and posed next to my best friend who beat me by a fraction of a point and secured that red ribbon to qualify her for Zones the next day. I was proud of my best friend, I really was, but deep down I was beyond angry with myself.
Looking back, I rode BEAUTIFULLY. Probably one of my best rides of my riding career so far. I saw nothing I could have done better, there was just two people who rode a teensy bit more elegantly than I had.
But at that time, I thought I was a horrible failure. I went home and beat myself up. I let that third place ribbon consume me. For months, I felt like I wasn’t good enough, was too short, got my start in hunt seat too late.
It was a dark period in my life. Pair that with my horse fracturing his splint bone and me having to take a two-year break from the saddle and I felt like my career was over.
When I returned to the saddle back in March of 2015, I had a lot of demons to conquer. I had felt like such a failure for so long, but I had missed riding so much. I took a few months and just re-learned the basics, allowed myself to go at a steady pace and see where life would take me. And then one day, I fell off for the first time at a horse show.
Old Meagan would have taken that as a moment to curl up in a ball and bath in my self pity. But new Meagan got back on with shaky legs, rode through the next class, and passed out in the passenger seat of the truck the whole trailer ride home. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. I just didn’t have the energy to process that day.
When I woke up when we arrived at the barn, I wasn’t filled with that same sense of dread and disappointment, instead I felt ok.
I felt ok.
It’s been one year now. One year since I started riding again, something that I have always loved but at one point I allowed it to break me I got so caught up in WINNING that I forgot what I loved about the sport—the horse. And in that one years’ time, I have failed a lot more but I changed my perspective.
I stopped yearning for the blue and learning from the yellow, green, white, pink. I started seeing my letdowns as an opportunity to rise again.
Since I have grown up a bit, let go a bit, and started to enjoy riding a bit, I find that when I “fail” (that word is so dirty) it just gives me another opportunity to step back, fine tune the technicalities, and try again. Practice makes perfect, but as the legendary George Morris says, “perfect practice makes perfect.” You have to try, try, and try again. You wont be perfect 100% of the time, but eventually you will hit that perfect note and what a note to end on.
What a glorious feeling, knowing you were at the bottom and worked your way up. Knowing you succeeded and that your hard work paid off.
So yes, you won’t always win. You will fall. You will “fail.” But welcome those bad moments with open arms and challenge them to become good ones.
Failing makes you passionate, failing makes you smarter, failing makes you who you are.
About the Author
Meagan DeLisle is a young adult amateur returning to the saddle after an unexpected two-year hiatus. Combining both her passion for horses and her love of words, Meagan often writes about the comedy that ensues while working with her green OTTB Joey and training her horse-show husband.