• Maddy Brown

Proof of Concept: What I Relearned in 2019

At the end of last year, I launched this website with an article on what my team taught me about myself in 2018. Though this year has continued to teach me - about myself, horses, people, and the world - I found there were a few concepts that I relearned in 2019. This year was another one of great success, and that success truly drove these ideas home.

Trust the process.

Ah, my favorite cliché. I’ve said this phrase more times than I can count, and I’ve meant it every time. I’ve said it to parents who are questioning why they keep spending money at horse shows for their kids to place 6th in every class. They’re learning how to handle the pressure, and once they do, they’ll be competitive. Trust the process. I’ve said it to kids who are wondering why their friends are jumping higher than them. You’re solidifying the basics, and then you’ll improve more quickly than you can imagine. Trust the process. It’s never been an empty phrase. It was this year, though, that truly proved just how important it is to trust the process.

Last October, I sat at a dinner table and told the parents of one of my students the exact steps that needed to be taken in the following year. If they did what I was recommending, I told them, their daughter and her pony would have the most successful season they ever had. These parents wanted to do right by their daughter and so they heeded my suggestions. They trusted the process, and their daughter and her pony experienced more success than they had dreamed. They were champion or reserve at every horse show they attended in 2019.

Last summer, I had a very frustrated student who struggled to ribbon at the shows. Her horse was definitely not destined to be a hunter, but it was crucial to me that she learn how to control this horse in the hunter ring before I’d let them do the jumpers. She had to learn the finesse and control necessary to fit in the correct number of strides in the lines, to find the right distances, to stay out in the corners, and to regulate pace. I pleaded with her and her parents to trust the process. It was all a means to an end. At the end of the year, I felt the horse and rider had learned enough to step into the jumper ring. In 2019, this horse and rider pair were champion at nearly every show they attended, they earned two year end championships, and they won a class out of 25 at a national championship in the Rolex Stadium as the youngest rider in the division.

I could bombard you with stories of riders in my program who have flourished in 2019 because they and their parents followed the plan. This year, I relearned just how crucial it is to see things through, to believe in yourself, and trust the process.

Play to your strengths.

It’s a difficult time to try to make one’s way in the hunter/jumper world as a professional. The prices of the top horses are astronomical, as is the cost of the biggest horse shows. For years, I’ve felt like I would need to fill my barn with expensive warmbloods in order to be taken seriously. But what I realized in 2019 is that I have a talent for something else, a talent that is hard to come by and should be promoted rather than hidden.

I have a way of connecting with sensitive horses, especially Thoroughbreds, that many riders don’t have. I love working with them and helping other riders learn to speak their language. In 2019, I realized that I could be successful by playing to my strengths, and that I was. I took two riders and horses to the TIP Championships horse show in Kentucky, where they earned top ribbons in huge classes. I wasn’t on those horses in the show ring, and yet I was just as proud of their performances as I would have been if I was. I worked diligently over the past two years to create those horses and the young riders who piloted them around one of the biggest venues in the country. I embraced my talent and love for Thoroughbreds (and other sensitive types like my Trakehner, Arli) in 2019, and was even chosen as one of the top 7 applicants from around the country for the Chestnut Mare Initiative.

This year I relearned that there’s more than one definition of success in this industry, and you can find it if you play to your strengths.

Always, always, always listen to your horse.

At the beginning of the show season, I noticed that my horse Arli wasn’t feeling like himself. He felt like he lacked confidence at bigger jumps and was uncomfortable, two things that were very much unlike him. I ruled out soundness issues and decided that I needed to listen to what he was telling me. I set my desires aside and moved him down a division. I had big plans for the season, but there’s nothing more important to me than listening to my horse.

It turns out that it was exactly the right move. We tried some different things, took the pressure off, and spent a year having a great time. I felt it was a very productive season. We won quite a bit, our rounds became even and competitive, and we accomplished some big goals like winning a Mini Prix and earning another year-end championship. Our last show of the season brought a clean sweep with three fast and clear rounds. Listening to my horse set us up for a year where we grew as a team and fixed some minor holes that will make us even more competitive next year.

I could list more examples of how listening to our horses brought more success in the long run this season. We listened to the horse who didn’t enjoy the hunters and found an incredibly competitive and talented jumper. We listened to the horse who was unbalanced and spooky and found an underlying case of EPM. That horse has become surefooted and safe in the long run. We listened to the horse who bucked and missed changes and found hock soreness caused by over-conditioning. That horse has become a talented hunter who wins in any company. In 2019 I relearned the importance of always, always, always listening to your horse.

Here’s to another year of learning in 2020, both new and old!

Merry Christmas!

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