Monday, October 26, 2009

Horses and Life Lessons

In my recent posts I have talked a lot about searching to find balance with the many demands on my time and having a renewed faith that I wasn’t the only horse crazy out there. In her recent post Laura wrote about finding her balance and purpose in motherhood and Michele wrote about the joy and angst of being a horseshow Mom. Well, I personally feel that there is no greater gift and no job more important than being a Mom. Although it never worked into the cards for me to experience motherhood, I take my role as “Aunt Terri” and a mentor to numerous kids very seriously. I believe deeply in the adage that “it takes a village” and get great joy being a second Mom to all of my students, helping them reach their goals, consoling when things don’t work out, giving them the occasional reality check and setting the right example.

In the horse show world, trainers get to observe every kind of parent. The helicopter, the worrier, the ones who are living vicariously through their children, the ones who apply too much pressure to win (those don’t last long at my barn) and thankfully most often the self-less, supportive parent who is content to stay in the shadows and allow there kid to shine. Regardless of the variations in parenting styles, most parents with children who participate in equestrian sports are very involved parents and in my book that is what matters most. With the numbers of latch-key kids, and parents too busy with their own lives to barely have a conversation with their teenager, I applaud any parent who is involved even if I do need to rein them in from time to time.

As a trainer and riding instructor, most of my career has been involved with an incredible organization – The United States Pony Club (USPC). Now don’t let the name fool you, not everyone rides a pony, the organization was founded in England where the word “pony” refers to a child’s mount. The USPC is a non-profit organization that, through a well established curriculum, teaches equestrian skills to children from as young as 5 or 6 through age 25. In addition to an emphasis on horse care and teamwork, USPC offers instruction and achievement ratings in 3 tracks – Eventing, Show Jumping, and Dressage. Rating levels start at the “D” level for beginners and progresses up to the “A” level for advanced riders. USPC offers great fun and camaraderie for its members and also boasts graduates that are equestrian stars such as Olympians Lendon Gray, Karen O’Conner, David O’Conner, Stephen Bradely and Gina Miles, individual 3-day Event Silver Medalist from the Bejiing Olympics.

But I think the most important things that Pony Club, and horse ownership in general, helps to produce is responsible, caring adults. The upper level ratings, B, HA and A for Pony Club are quite intense both in the sense of jumping heights upwards to 3’9” at the “A” and doing 2nd and 3rd level dressage, but also in the respect of performing under pressure after months and even years of preparation. Now how many of us have had to produce at work under deadlines and other pressures and how many of us have had to learn the hard way, that if you really want to achieve a goal you work hard for it, sometimes for a long time, and even then not everything always works out like we hoped. How many of us today know someone who thinks that life itself owes them something and these individuals just don’t understand that achievement and rewards are more about tenacity and perseverance than luck and entitlement.

All of these important life lessons are learned in the Pony Club program. I was just reminded of this fact this past weekend. I have been a National Examiner (the person that evaluates riders at upper level ratings) for Pony Club for over 10 years. This past week I was in Virginia conducting a “B” level rating and all but one of the candidates fell short of riding up to the B standard. This made for a disappointing and disheartening weekend for candidates and examiners alike. But amazingly at the conclusion of the rating on Sunday, each of the girls went out of there way to thank me and tell me they had learned a lot and they appreciated the kind and empathetic way we had conducted the rating. They all felt that, in spite of the disappointing results, it had been a positive learning experience and they were going to regroup and try again in the future. Now how many life lessons is that, wrapped up in one weekend. Grace in defeat, gratitude, seeing the positive side to a bad situation, accepting constructive criticism, maturity and class in disappointment, perseverance, and being tough enough to pick yourself up and try again. Boy, I know a lot of adults who would not have maintained that good of an attitude.

Yesterday I was sitting in the Dulles airport waiting for my delayed flight to finally take me back to California; feeling very worn out, a bit defeated and wondering why in the world I do this (God knows it is not for the money) when my cell phone rang. It was a call from one of my fellow examiners telling me that one of girls who had had to withdraw because her horse was not performing well, had called another PC examiner to say that even though she had not passed, it had been a great experience and that she hoped to see us again. This young lady, who had been in tears the day before, was happy, grateful for the opportunity and determined to try again. Oh yea, that is why I do it.

What life lessons have your horse experiences taught you over the years? What experiences from your horse life do you take with you into your professional life or even your role as a parent? Do you feel, like I do, that what I have learned from horses has taught me to simply be a better person overall. I’d love to hear your stories.

Terri Rocovich

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