I’ve been feeling a little guilty lately because I haven’t been able to maintain my riding and competing at the level I once did.

I have increased responsibilities at home and on the job, which hasn’t left time to train at the level we once did. I’ve probably even felt a little embarrassed by my current regimen of occasional self-led lessons and weekend trail rides.

Well, I have a new riding philosophy and I call it “SCREW GUILT!”

Today, I didn’t have a plan or a riding partner, but that didn’t deter me. I pushed past that dull reluctance to get off my butt, hooked up the trailer, brushed off DannyBoy and headed over to the local equestrian park.

DannyBoy loved the jumper ring but is always ready for adventure. ©Thomas Gumbrecht

Once there, I tacked him up on the trailer and walked him over to the mounting block. On their own, my feet found the irons and my hands intertwined with the reins.

We disappeared into the woods and I was at once overwhelmed by the instant immersion into nature in this small gem of a park dropped into the middle of suburbia. Mere moments from our farm is wildlife of all description with trails varying from tree tunnels to open meadows, lakeside lanes, sand hills and footbridges.

Our bodies settled into their familiar coalition and thoughts seemed the only aids necessary. Our synergy was tested as our path was crossed by a startled deer, yet Danny was unconcerned. To my amusement a chipmunk jumped out of a rotting stump and DannyBoy shied to the right about three feet. Years of unconsciously gained experience interpreting his tension level and breathing patterns allowed me to relax into the saddle and continue our ride uneventfully—I wasn’t worried so he didn’t feel the need to be.

We encountered quite a few hikers and dog-walkers out to take advantage of the spectacular weekend weather. DannyBoy, as always, reveled in the attention of the humans, and indulged seemingly endless “selfies.” But I was even more impressed by his tolerance of their canine companions whose owners are sometimes intent on forcing unwanted cross-species friendships.

I didn’t have to learn any courses or jump-offs today. At this venue, if a log crosses our path I can go over it or around it. In fact, I did go around a few on our outbound leg. Returning back, we came upon a series of logs that nature had formed into a crude gymnastic and DannyBoy’s ears told me “let’s do it!” I sank into my heels and grabbed some mane and bam-bam-bam, the triple combination was behind us.

He gave me a quick glance over his shoulder: “I did good, right?” Yeah, buddy. You did real good.


We cantered an uphill sand trail, and then walked the rest of the way back to the trailer. I untacked DannyBoy and washed him off, and then let him roll in the sand arena.

DannyBoy is as comfortable on the trail as he has been in
the show ring. ©Thomas Gumbrecht

I sat on the trailer fender and drank a cup of coffee from a thermos while DannyBoy feasted on sweet clover. I reflected on our morning and how at one time I had gotten to the point of believing competition to be the only “worthwhile” equestrian pursuit and that every other exercise was merely preparation for it.

On the drive back, I noticed that I had the same feeling as I did returning from a Sunday horse trial a few years ago: accomplishment, satisfaction and gratitude.

At this moment, I feel that all of my other pursuits had prepared me for today. I could undermine that by beating myself up for not “living up to our potential.” But today, I will just let the wave of gratitude I’m experiencing wash over us.

Oh yeah, and SCREW GUILT!

About the Author

Thomas Gumbrecht began riding at age 45 and eventually was a competitor in lower level eventing and jumpers. Now a small farm owner, he spends his time working with his APHA eventer DannyBoy, his OTTB mare Lola, training her for a second career, and teaching his grandson about the joy of horses. He enjoys writing to share some of life’s breakthroughs toward which his horses have guided him.