The best teacher I’ve ever had

I am disciplined. I know that success is black and white. The most disappointing thing is knowing I could have done better but I didn’t put in the work.

I am ambitious. I constantly set myself goals that I desperately want to fulfil. I know that excuses are not going to get me anywhere.

I know what failure looks like. It’s being deeply disappointed by myself. I fail when I didn’t meet my own expectations.

I’m honest with myself and I’m reflective cause it’s the only way to get better. Without analysing my mistakes and weaknesses, I would never know how and what to improve.

So, why am I telling you all these features? Because I believe I wasn’t born with them. I believe I learned them through years of (competitive) dressage riding and building a relationship and bond with my team mate, my horse. I believe nothing has changed and shaped my character more than this sport and animal. Everything I AM is because of this horse.

I’m telling you all of this because I want to share the experiences I had and lessons I learned through the sport and this horse. I want to show you that having some kind of corner stone in your life while growing up is the most beautiful thing you can imagine. It’s not just a story about a girl and a horse. It’s a story about growing up, maturing and developing character. It’s a story about love, heartbreak and loyalty. It’s about success and failure. And essentially, about a priceless friendship.

When I started riding I was very self- conscious. I struggled with being explosive and aggressive due to being bullied in my early teenage years. But you can’t be insecure or unsure if you seriously want to work with horses. Horses feel your weaknesses. Horses notice if they can do whatever the hell they want with you. But I let other people do whatever the hell they wanted with me previously so I decided I wasn’t going to let horses drag me through the sand too. I also couldn’t get angry with horses. It was pointless. They wouldn’t scream back at me. They would be confused or scared. I realized these concepts and adapted them in how I handled these animals. Seeing how they started listening to me and respecting me gave me confidence like never before.

I gained traction in the sport more quickly than average. I noticed many things came more naturally to me than to others and reckoned I might have some sort of talent too. I licked the blood of being good at something and I wanted more. I developed the desire to be even better at it. The desire to stand out. As I continued to improve I gained confidence in my abilities and skills. Not because of outside approval but because I was reaching the goals I had set for myself and my horse. I thought: “Wow if I can do this – I can do even more!” Aiming high and getting there through hard work in dressage is how I learned to adapt a growth mindset.

 My horse taught me about success and failure. In no other sport that I know are they are so close to each other. She taught me everything about life by making me aware of every mistake that I made but still fighting for me in the crucial moments.

 The worst times of my horse riding journey never bothered me, not the worst setback or failure or limitation. It fuelled my ambition even more because I wanted the end result so badly. I said earlier that the only variable you have power over is the effort you put in. But in dressage riding you only make up 50% of the equation. The other half is an animal that weighs at least 12x my body weight and has a mind of its own. And that’s what makes the sport so interesting, powerful and magical.

I never wanted anything more than to be really freaking good at dressage riding. But I knew it didn’t only depend on myself. I had a partner, a teammate, a friend. At that’s what made the whole journey worth travelling. I didn’t only do it for myself, I did it for us.

 I know I gave her a future through believing in it and consistently giving her all the love a 15 year- old could give. This horse gave me back all the love and more and was my biggest shoulder to lean on while growing up. I had something many people my age didn’t which was a consistent place where I could be 100% myself and a friend who was by my side no matter what.

 It also taught be to be part of a community and a team, especially having had a rather bad social influence in my early teenage years. Being in an environment for the majority of your time in which everyone is sharing a passion and has ambition and endless fun is the best way to grow up. It doesn’t matter to me if the whole community still exists (because it doesn’t!). Because back then it made everything we did and achieved or failed at so much more worth it and so much more fun, simply because we shared it with each other. It counts to have those memories.

 My horse and the sport taught me more about life than anything else. It’s the reason I follow through with my weightlifting programmes, stick to my diet and am willing to make sacrifices for my goals. It’s the reason I am driven to pursue my passions and set high goals, why I believe in myself and my abilities. I learned to be dedicated, ambitious and to trust the process. Because I learned all of it already. I just apply the principles to a different sport now.

My horse taught me what being proud feels like. I had to quit horse riding last September because I moved away and I recently visited my horse in Vienna. I looked at this incredible animal, who I can still call my friend and partner, and I was nothing but proud.

Proud of turning someone explosive and anxious (meaning both myself and my horse) into someone powerful and at peace with itself. Proud of starting at the bottom and successfully finishing in higher classes that others ever imagined. Proud for reaching what I dreamed of. Proud of daring to dream. Proud of never settling for less. Proud of never giving up.

Because in horse riding it is simply about never giving up. That’s the secret formula. Interestingly, that’s the secret formula for life too.

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