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Zebra stripes are like fingerprints. Every zebra has a different set of stripes. Humans are like that in a way too. Of course we have our actual fingerprints that we are born with, but also the stripes that we earn. I was at an international conference for my industry’s society and listening to a panel of extremely successful people. As a young adult, I looked up to these people as if they were inherently better than me. They were older, smarter, and more experienced. But one of the panelists gave us a piece of advice that has stuck with me since. She said that when you’re feeling like you don’t belong, remember that no one knows what you know. Your specific set of experiences combined with the knowledge that you’ve learned is exclusive to you. You are an expert on the combination of your knowledge and experiences, and you are valuable because of that. Just because your stripes are different does not make you any less. Like my dad always said, “You’re unique, just like everyone else.”
My journey with horses started at a county fair when I was 2 years old. I rode the pony ride once, and I refused to get off. My papa spent every dollar he had to keep me on that pony ride (I cry every time I tell this story because that special man has gone to greener pastures). I’ve been viewing the world through the ears of a horse ever since. We lived in the suburbs, and my parents weren’t horse people, nor were they made of money. But they did what they could. I got my one riding lesson each week, and it was the best hour of that week. I was bullied in school. I didn’t have many friends. I was even bullied at the barn, because I was just a lesson kid. I wasn’t on the show team, I couldn’t even lease a horse. I was a nobody. But I didn’t care. I just wanted my horse time, and nothing else mattered.
As I got older, my confidence grew even though my bank account didn’t. I had certain levels of privilege, sure. I lived in areas where horses were relatively accessible and I had parents who could take me to riding lessons and could afford my 1-2 lessons a week. It’s more than many people can have, and for that I’m grateful. The horse world, like many other elite sports, has this vibe that nothing is ever good enough. We always need bigger, better, faster, and more expensive. If you ride, why don’t you jump? If you lease, why don’t you own? If you show, why don’t you have a trainer? There are so many barriers in place in the equestrian world that many people cannot get over, and it continues to get more exclusive. Cities get further and further from the closest riding stable, and entry fees continue to rise. Why are so many people afraid of making it more accessible? Is it the fear of having more competition? Is it the feeling of being superior by competing in a sport that is so unattainable for others?
I used to feel like the world was out to get me. I thought everyone was my competitor. I don’t know what changed in me, but one day I just couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. I didn’t care what anyone else thought, or what I was “supposed” to do. I took a break from showing, made a point to help others get access to horses or riding, and spent more time encouraging others. What you put out into the universe really does come back to you. As I focused on eliminating my negative attitude towards others, my attitude toward myself improved. I stopped being so hard on myself. I stopped being so hard on my horses. I started being grateful for every single minute that I get to spend with my horses, and wanted to share my joy as much as I could.
The world is a beautiful place. A beautiful, diverse place. And we need to embrace that in our sport and welcome it, not chase it away. We all have a responsibility to love and nurture our sport to ensure that it continues to thrive for generations to come. I’m now 25 years old, own two horses, Ty and Monkey, and have shelves and bins and walls full of ribbons, buckles, titles, and other awards. But on the inside, I’m still just a horse crazy kid who wants to spend a day getting dusty and smelly at the barn with the most beautiful animals on the planet and learning to embrace my stripes.