I always choose to forget my hatred of packing for a horse show; it’s what makes it possible to actually go to a horse show. Well, that convenient amnesia, and checklists. Lots and lots of checklists.
Monday was very productive and everything was set to go in the morning. I got home from loading the trailer and filling hay bags and giving out one more round of carrots to the boys at a reasonable hour (and not midnight!). So I parked my truck in the alley behind my house to make it easier to throw my suitcase in, and you know, not advertise to the neighborhood that I was leaving somewhere. Which is wholly unlike writing a blog post to the internet advertising that I was leaving somewhere. This all makes sense in my head.
Do you have Nextdoor? On one hand it’s highly entertaining, and slightly useful. On the other, you start to become incredibly paranoid because your neighbors will inevitably be incredibly paranoid. There are at least three emails a day marked “Urgent! Sketchy person walking around!” and some days I just want to respond with “Dudes, that’s the postman.” Now we have had some car break-ins, and we do have a few sketchy people running around. It is a city neighborhood, after all. In his book Culture of Fear, Barry Glassner discusses how even though crime is down, and has been falling for the better part of a decade, our interconnectedness and the multitude of services with which we consume information increases how much we know about on-going happenings, which makes it feel like crime is up. This topic always comes up on Nextdoor when someone will wring their hands and clutch their pearls about what kind of neighborhood do we live in?! But this is all logic, and sometimes logic doesn’t prevail.
Back in 2008, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with depression and an anxiety disorder. To combat these illnesses, I was not only prescribed medications – some that worked, some that resoundingly didn’t, because getting a good brain cocktail is tricky business. He also told me that I was not allowed to read any more James Patterson novels, no more horror movies, and no more SVU. I was able, and continue even now, to stick to two of these. Let’s be honest though, no one is taking way my SVU.
Part of my anxiety wells up simply from situations I create in my head. It’s not just that I think these things up, or borrow one of Patterson’s sick and twisted characters to star in them, and it worries me. I get things in my head and then I obsess over them, and then totally either shut down or panic, all the what-ifs in life too overwhelming to be able to emotionally handle. Remember, these are things that aren’t happening, and have a low probability of ever happening.
My plan was to get up at 430a, be at Starbucks at 5 – we’ll discuss my addictions later – and be on the road, with the horse in the trailer, dog in the truck, and hopefully all of my crap packed somewhere between the two at 6. Everything was set when I crawled into bed at 1030 Monday night. Then I started to worry that my truck would block the alley (it didn’t, I had already checked 3 times, jic someone tried to drive through between the hours of 10 and 5). Logic prevailed, and I started to go back to sleep.
That particular concern vanquished, all the Nextdoor posts about smashed windows and car break-ins crept into my head. Was it smart that I had parked in the alley? Maybe I should have parked on the street, where it could be a bit more deterrent than the alley because it was so open. The alley has no one looking out on it. But even that doesn’t stop people from smash-and-grabs on the street. I parked under the streetlight though, so that should be ok, and it’s ok anyway because it’s all just stuff in the truck, and it’s all replaceable, but if someone breaks in then I have to call the police, and my whole plan is derailed and then we’re going to get to the horse show on Wednesday instead of Tuesday and this just completely ruins the built-in day I have to let Fitz just chill before we start competing, but then we could just not show on Thursday and move our warm up day to Friday, and this whole situation has utterly ruined week one of my horse show.
My heart rate was through the roof, I was wide awake, the clock was ticking down to 430, and suddenly my whole week’s plan was off due to something that hadn’t happened, wasn’t likely to happen, and was completely manageable if it did happen. Then I was making contingency plans for if I walked out while the break-in was in progress, and one of these involved Gatsby chasing after someone and getting kicked, getting shot, getting run over by the serious traffic problem we have at 4 in the morning. Take a Xanax, and go to bed, Jessie.
I was mulling over this episode on the road on Tuesday. It’s like an anxiety after action review, where instead of psychoanalyzing my dreams, I analyze what sent me into a tailspin. Both are equally effective. While filling up in Raton, I was scrolling through Insta, and saw the collage that Olivia Inglis’ parents had released. She and her horse died in a riding accident last week, she was only 17, and equestrians the world over tagged their favorite pictures on social media with #rideforolivia with the goal of helping her parents create this amazing piece to help remember her. Over 3.2 million people shared photos, and mourned with the Inglis family.
Riding is a sport where you can have your life altered by one misstep. Olivia’s horse tripped, and in the next instant she was dead. The same situation could have easily happened to me in 2003 when my horse tripped and fell on me. I’ve been kicked, bitten, and thrown through fences. The respect I have for Georgina Bloomberg stems not only from her riding ability, but the fact that years ago I watched her horse stop in a World Cup qualifier in Jacksonville one year, and she came off into the middle of 5 feet worth of lumber. She got back up, calmly led her horse out of the arena, and then came back on her second ride 20 minutes later and dominated. I know not one, but two people that have fallen off and literally broken their necks in freak accidents. Both still ride.
It is amazing to me that I can panic about certain things, and yet these massive animals and riding have never been the root cause of my anxiety. There is simply no room for it. This is why we equestrians are some of the toughest athletes around: there is simply no room for anything beyond what the task at hand is, because there is too much that can go wrong even on the best of days to not be fully present in what you can control. Even nervous riders get through this, because the joy is worth the risk. We take the kicks, we take the falls, and move on to the next thing, because we’re still here. Had Olivia’s horse fallen a different way, I am positive she would have dusted herself off, patted her horse, gotten back on, and only reviewed the events that led to the incident and what she could do better next time. Because that is what we do. We get back on, we improve, and we don’t dwell on the fact that that fall could have been the one that killed us, or paralyzed us like Christopher Reeve.
There is something so… empowering and great about this sport and all that comes with it. As my trailer rocked behind me from Raton to Santa Fe because of the wind, I knew that the gusts could blow us off the road – it’s happened before to people I know. Instead of fixating on it, as I had the night before with someone breaking into my truck, I slowed down further, and murmured to my truck to take it easy. (My truck responds to clucking, ‘whoa’s and closing my ring finger around the steering wheel, obviously.) That was all I could do, and I focused on getting us through that nasty stretch of highway.
One previous road trip where my dad was driving with me, I asked him to pull over so I could double check the chains and the hitch of the trailer. He refused to do so, knowing that I had looked at it 3 times before we even put the horses on the bus. He told me that you have to acknowledge the risks, put your precautions in place, and then just get on with it, because otherwise you’d never get anywhere. Then our back tire blew, tearing off the fender, and we had to pull over anyway. True story.
We wear our helmets, and we do our best not to come off. We keep a hand on our horses’ butts when we walk behind them. We double and triple check our tack. These are the things we can control, and as long as you take care of those things, the rest will come. There is no room for obsessing over all the things that could go wrong, because they can, and they will, then you just deal with them, and 99% of the time you get through them. The other 1% are instances like Olivia’s, or Hickstead’s, or any barn fire, or another tragic event, where nothing could prepare you for it anyway. Which I suppose is mainly like the rest of life, but when horses are involved, the other half of an equestrian’s heart, the piece that brings out the best in us, it is easier to see through the fog of anxiety. The singular concern is a passion for the horses, the sport, and the process. We appreciate it while we’ve got it.
That, or we’re all effing crazy.