Two days ago, right after dinner, I asked Meg Kep, who lives with us for the winter, if it was strange that I got a bit sad when I looked back at all the photos that kept popping up on my Facebook feed of Tate and I competing at Kentucky in 2011, 2014, and 2016.
“Is that weird?” I asked.
This time of year, hundreds of pictures from Kentucky tend to flood my page. But this year is different. Our world is in a very strange half-halt, not quite moving forward, almost daring us to be backward in our thinking. We all need purpose, a reason to get out of bed. We can all recognize that staying healthy and alive is a priority, but after that we need motivation and inspiration. So here we are in a strange limbo, emotionally, politically and personally.
“It’s normal,” Meg said, but she looked sad too.
Today I was doing some quiet errands around town. As a horse person that means I was returning a bit (a Neue-Schule full-cheek turtle top) to a friend, and picking up some grey paint to finish painting our barn. When I was younger I could never figure out how my parents could just drive in silence, I always wanted to have Blink-182 or Smashing Pumpkins blaring (I’m dating myself, I know…still excellent tunes), but now, sitting still, driving familiar roads, listening to Brooks babble to himself in his car seat is a mental luxury.
"Where is the balance of being so caught up in the past that we become vain and bitter, or looking ahead so fiercely that we do not learn from, or respect, our history?"
I started thinking back to the conversation I had with Meg and of the nostalgia of times past. I remembered a younger me, a greener me, and my relationship with Tate and with “Rolex” (now Land Rover). I was struggling with why I wasn’t spending more time this week reliving those amazing times. Where is the balance of being so caught up in the past that we become vain and bitter, or looking ahead so fiercely that we do not learn from, or respect, our history? And how can I find peace enough to appreciate the magic of a moment without over-thinking it? You know, just your average drive around the neighborhood thoughts. To cut to the chase I will let you know I did not resolve those questions, but I did reflect more on these times and how it affects my attitude at the barn, and with my horses.
It’s a strange comparison but this time reminds me of when I was pregnant. As a human being I can deal with almost anything as long as I can plan for it. I don’t mind problem solving but I need information. When the doctors could not tell me the exact date my kid would be born, how quickly my body would recover, if I would recover, how my mind would adapt, when I would ride again, if I would even want to ride again, or how my world would actually be when Brooks arrived …it left me in an uneasy state.
Those last few months I read a lot of self-help books, I opened up with my Sports Psychologist weekly (well, more than weekly actually), and I helped my husband practice his patience. Ultimately, I knew I could not control certain circumstances but I could control my reactions.
I think as humans we are pretty good at looking backwards or forwards, but in this time of stillness, where do we look? If we cannot look backward or forward, we need to look in. We need to look in at ourselves, our horses, our training, and our programs. We need to look at our strengths, but more importantly our weaknesses.
I had a wonderful woman out to the farm to help me with some perspective on a horse that has been struggling with a handful of physical issues. I was feeling a bit defeated thinking the horse might be a lost cause… which pained me immensely because I felt connected to him on so many levels. She was struggling to find the words to get my head away from defining this horse by the things that were happening to him. Then clarity found her and she simply said “He is the ocean; he is not the waves. He is the ocean. All of these things are just waves, they are not him.” I couldn’t believe how beautiful that analogy was. It took my breath for a moment. It gave me a different way to look at the horse, but also at situations, and at myself.
So what we are in now seems a little bit more like a Tsunami than a regular white-cap but I do believe even in the worst of times there is opportunity. There is a book called “An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth” by Chris Hadfield which is about an astronaut who basically was so prepared for every possibility he could think of he ended up defying the odds and going into space. Others may have been smarter or more qualified, but they were not as well prepared. My favorite chapter in the book is called Do Sweat the Small Stuff. Often, I have under-prepared for certain moments, thinking “What are the chances?” Now, even when contemplating what to pack in Brooks’ diaper bag I always say to Tik, “Be the Russian astronaut!” (He was not actually Russian, but Canadian, if you read the book you will understand the reference. Anyway, we tend to pack one more diaper!)
I try to catch myself when I am simply passing the time scrolling through social media. Instead I am trying to pick up a book or watch a Masterclass. I am not always successful but I strongly recommend the Noelle Floyd's Equestrian Masterclass for every horseman. I am biased to my husband’s class but in an effort to be nonpartisan I will leave you with some motivation from Ian Millar. There were several things he said over and over that inspire me in my day-to-day work these days: “Don’t practice till you get it right, practice till you can’t get it wrong.” And “I don’t give up until I succeed, and I never give up.”
Use this time to look at your horses, your program, your strengths. More importantly, study your weaknesses. Be prepared for opportunity. Look back not with nostalgia but with appreciation. Look forward to a time when you can put into action the skill you are perfecting now. Be kind to yourself and others. Stay healthy. This is a wave; we are the ocean.
Written by Sinead Halpin
Based in Citra, Fla., eventer Sinead Halpin is a member of the United States Equestrian Team and competes through the CCI5* level all over the world.