The recent scandal with AQHA champion breeder Rita Crundwell has made me think a lot about the way in which people act and are expected to act in the horse show world. Frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach anymore. While for years I wanted nothing more than to stand in a show ring, proudly displaying my horse, presenting the culmination of all my hard work, it is sadly no longer about hard work at all. The sad truth is it's only about one thing: money.
In a way, though, everything in life is all about the money. Trying to do the right thing doesn't count for much anymore. People tend to me more impressed by what you have and can do for them in a monetary sense than what your moral compass is. I've known people who give more respect to someone who shows, even if they have starved horses at home and even if they lose their horse to the trainer they end up not being able to pay, over someone who puts the well being of their animals over showing, and in some cases, even putting food in their own mouths.
It wouldn't be hard for me to put on airs. I could factually state that I went to KU Law, live on a 400 acre estate, drive a Lexus and own horses. That doesn't sound too bad, but it's not the entire truth. I didn't graduate from KU Law and I am not an attorney (you'd be surprised how many people make the logical leap in assuming that I am a lawyer if they find out I went to law school). While I do live on a 400 acre estate, I do not own any of it--my Dad does, and I live on a small parcel of land in one corner of an irrigated circle in a 120 year-old house that is halfway gutted. I do drive a Lexus--but it is 12 years old. I love it, but I was able to pay for it in full with the insurance check I got from totaling my Camry, so it wasn't as expensive as it sounds. And as you know, I do own horses, but they are basically pets for the time being. I can't afford a trainer, shows, or even the gas money to haul them anywhere except for Fabian's twice monthly vet appointments, which I have to set aside money for.
There was a time, though, when I wanted to play with the big boys and thought, in my complete naivete, that I could pull it off. I learned the hard way and at great cost and regret that not only is it impossible to play the game, but that in the end, it isn't at all what I wanted. Getting caught up in the game happens--the allure of what all is possible is temptation on steroids. Showing--and ultimately winning--provides a rush like no other. Eventually, though, you get to the point where you look around you and ask if it is all worth it, whatever you've had to sacrifice for that ten second thrill. To quote Sheryl Crow: "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad. If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?"
There are people who risk everything, like Rita Crundwell, for that rush. Other people sacrifice their familial relationships, their paychecks, their credit, their own horses' well-being for the hope of being a champion for one day. If all it took was hard work, I would be in there right now showing to my heart's content, but unfortunately it takes so much more.... More money, more unethical behavior, more putting aside of other things in life than what I am able to provide. I've come to the point in my life where I have to ask myself, "In ten years, will this matter to me? Will this make a difference in anyone's life?"
In all my years of showing as a kid, I can't remember all the classes I won. What I do remember, more than anything, are the times we spent, as a family, getting the horses ready to show, traveling to the show, going out for dinner after the first night, getting up early and scrubbing the poo stains off our white ponies before the show the next day, and then traveling home, being so completely exhausted from having the time of our lives all together, my mom, my dad, my sister, my brother, and me. Sure, we were happy when we won, but those trophies sit dusty and broken in a box in storage. However, I often bring out the pictures from those days and think about my brother nearly hitting the judge with his fake sword in costume class; my dad and I cheering on my sister with her reserve finish in a class of 82 ponies on an extremely hot Iowa day; my mom yelling "GEEGEEGEEGEEGEEGEEGEE!!!!!" from the stands as I ran my pony home from our barrel pattern.
Why is it so easy to forget the things that truly make us happy? Why do we always think it's going to be the finale, rather than the journey? Why is it so important for us to win, when it's the doing that is the most fun? At first, when I had people turn their backs on me because I couldn't afford to show, I was terribly hurt and I felt like I let them down, but the more I got to thinking about it, they are letting themselves down and it makes me feel bad for THEM. It is so easy to forget about the things that really make us happy and chase forever after those thing that we think will MAKE us happy, but ultimately don't.
I've thought about selling my show equipment, but something keeps holding me back. I think about the hurt of having failed in this race and tell myself there is no way I will enter it again. What I keep holding on to is the thought that somehow, someday, I might be able to recapture the spirit of what I once loved to do--show. Is there a way to do that without the "win" getting in the way? I might not have the respect of those that do seek to win at all costs, but that's not what is important to me. I will never be able to afford to play that game, no matter how much money I ever have. The fun, the memories, the feeling of being so exhausted at the end of the day that your boots feel like they weight 50 pounds a piece but you can pick them up easily because you are fueled by a smile on your face that won't fade for days--that's something that no amount of money can buy.