We all have goals. Big or small, they are always present in the back of our minds. Me, I have aspirations of competing in the Olympics representing South Korea. It’s a big one, and as I get older it’s more akin to standing at the bottom of Mt. Everest with a pair of exercise shorts and sandals on. I’ve by no means given up on it, but I’ve come to look at it as something that is reliant on many things lining up — much like stars would align.
It can be discouraging.
With our horses, there is a heavy sense of urgency to tick as many of the boxes as we can before our bodies won’t allow us to go further or before our horses say they are unhappy in their jobs. I will be 33 this year, and it’s difficult to see young riders competing at their first CCI4* or making Nations Cup teams in Europe, while I’m taking a sabbatical (a saddle-ical?) from the riding to pursue my career.
But then I think about Sir Mark Todd, who at the age of 61 just completed another Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro — rumor has it that in London, they would not even let him in the Athletes’ Village because they could hardly believe he was an athlete! I think about Nick Skelton, who won an Olympic gold medal at the age of 58 last year. I think about the fact that the United States Eventing Association has a Centuries Club, where the combined age of horse and rider must be at least 100 years old to qualify.
I cannot imagine the amount of pressure riders at the top of their game feel on a daily basis, and the unending feeling that time is running out. The pressure to perform, to take advantage of having a talented horse that is also sound, the feeling that this is your one shot and doing everything to make the best of it is enough to make any grown adult question all of their life decisions. The crushing disappointment of watching your goals melt away into the realm of a daydream — that feeling that something tangible is being snatched away, has a tendency to crush confidence and dull the spirit.
There are two approaches when things aren’t happening on your predetermined schedule:
Get frustrated and continue to operate the same way you always have.
Get frustrated and change something.
I am guilty of scenario A in most cases, so learning to embrace scenario B is an uphill battle. Anyone with a big dream wants it — whatever “it” may be — badly. In most cases, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it. But it is those riders that swallow their pride, take a deep breath, and adjust their sails who will make up the storylines we continue to write about.
Change is necessary. Your ability to adapt, to overcome, and to rise is what will define you, not the all-out sprint to squeeze those accomplishments in before you get “too old”. Let’s face it: in this sport, you’re never too old.