Instead of talking about me, I'd like to talk about this picture, which happens to be my favorite of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that I have.
Let me start by saying right off the bat that this is not a perfect picture, and to me, that is kind of the point.
I rode this horse way too deep into this line for anyone's good, and he responded by launching me vertically with G-force a rocket ship would envy. His knees are not tucked neatly under himself, and my hands are not making a nice soft line to the bit. But he jumped it, and jumped the heck out of it at that.
What you don't see in this picture is that it was his first time being faced with a 3'6" triple oxer. Upon realizing I had driven him to a nearly impossible distance in an attempt to ride forward enough to make it, I said (mostly believing myself), "Oh boy, we're coming up VERY short, but I believe in you!" He responded with, "Well then, you had better buckle up buttercup, because here we go!"
What you don't see in this picture is that this horse had sat in a field virtually untrained until he was nine. Somewhat ironically looking at this massive launch, he even spent the better part of his first month with me refusing to step over a ground pole in the most mind-meltingly frustrating of ways.
I could go on and on (and I'd be happy to over a beer if you're ever interested), but what I mean by all of this is that to me, being a trainer in this sport is all about heart. It's about the heart that you develop in the horse, and the heart that you develop in his rider. We're all in this sport for different reasons, whether it's stress relief or thrill seeking, competition or camaraderie. But we all came here to pursue a passion, and that side of things can easily get bogged down amidst the stress of vet bills, hospital trips, show deadlines, and the list goes on.
And when things don't go as planned, we often try to hide behind a smoke screen of proficiency so that nobody knows we're not perfect. As it turns out, none of us are, and the only way we can move past that is by opening ourselves up and sharing those "less than perfect" moments. Like seen in this photo, those moments have the possibility of showcasing more true success than a seemingly flawless one. This sport is difficult and messy; embracing that is part of developing true heart for it.
When we don't, we become guilty of praying to The Quick Fix Gods when the going gets tough. Sometimes we get undeservedly lucky, but more times than not, any "progress" is not worth what is lost in the process. True progress is not made by newly purchased, polished boots with unworn soles, but instead through cracked, mud-caked mucks that have seen better days (or years). Developing this type of ethic and drive leads to horsemen, not just riders. Our sport, and especially its four-legged participants, deserve that honor.
It's important to remember that our horses didn't pick this life like us. For some unknown and truly God-send of a reason, they entertain our crazy human antics of running in circles and jumping over things. While some are born with a desire to please, developing true heart in a horse is a complex, long-term task requiring vast patience, deep understanding, and a strong respect for the horse and the sport we are in.
Only then, when you understand that, can you help your horse truly develop heart. Only then will you find yourself on top of a partner with the willingness to try anything for you. Only then will you find your horse soaring over a virgin 3'6" triple oxer from a nearly impossible distance without so much as batting an eye.