Updated: Mar 30
What does it take?
What does it take to be resilient? To rise from falls? To find joy in the shitstorms of life, or to excel in the rough and tumble sport of Three-Day Eventing?
You may wonder how these things relate and what the hell the sport of Three-Day Eventing even is. Fair questions!
I am going to write a little series and interview my friends, who are still active in the remarkable sport I left behind 20 years ago. I ran screaming from Three-Day Eventing for a variety of reasons, not all of which we’ll get into today. Turns out, I almost had what it took … but not quite.
Over the past two decades my peers have evolved and excelled, and the sport has changed dramatically. I am currently travelling around to watch them in action and the thought, “You are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!” has occurred to me more than once. Things change. Life changes. And what drives change? Necessity, usually. And safety.
Three-Day Eventing began as a military test of Cavalry officers and their mounts between wars and was first included in the Olympic Games in 1912. It was so named, because it was a test of three distinct phases performed over three days.
On day one, the dressage phase tested the discipline and precision of the pair, with the obedience required of a horse to perform drills on the parade grounds - essential skills for mounted troopers during combat. So were bravery, athleticism, speed and endurance. These were explored to their depths in the cross-country riding phase on day two, where officers were required to gallop great distances across any kind of terrain and safely get over any kind of obstacles that got in their way. These could include ditches, banks, stone walls, hedges, farmyard gates and water obstacles. On the third day, they performed over a show jumping course, ensuring the horse’s continued soundness and serviceability after the demands of cross-country day.
Eventing began as the ultimate test of courage, connection and resilience between a horse and rider, and although the sport of today has evolved with the times, much of what once was remains true. We no longer need to push our horses with the ‘come-hell-or-high-water’ attitude of a cavalry officer in times of war and we are increasingly limited by the amount of land available to run these competitions. Also, most of today’s up-and-coming riders aren’t descended from generations of horsemen. So, over the years, rules have changed to protect the safety of horses and riders and to accommodate smaller pieces of land. However, true Masters of this sport are still like Wizards in their ability to connect, inspire, overcome obstacles and do things that seem virtually impossible, even Magical to the rest of us!
Survivors of cataclysmic shitstorms are often looked upon with the same deferential reverence. People who manage remarkable recoveries and thrive in the face of adversity are looked at in wonder, with a sense that they must have something that we could never possess.
And that will remain true, for as long as the thinker of these thoughts thinks them.
Back in the early days of Eventing, the sport was open only to officers, and then eventually to
civilians; all of them men. It was a grueling test and likely seemed ‘too much’ for the more ‘delicate’ sex. But once the door was open to civilians, one woman with imagination challenged the notion that women weren’t tough enough.
In 1964 Lana Dupont Wright became the first woman to compete at the Olympic Games in the sport of Three-Day Eventing, opening the doors for every other one of us. Without her imagination and gumption, where would we be?
The first element in achieving anything new and challenging; whether it is recovering from some dastardly disease or reaching the pinnacle of sport; is a belief that it is possible. This is always easier to do if we have the example of others to follow. But even then, so many of us look at trailblazers like Lana and assume we could never be like them.
What if Lana Wright had thought it was impossible for her? Well, she would have been right, of course.
As Henry Ford taught us, our thoughts become reality.
The biggest difference between those who do and those who dream, is a core belief in what is possible. And here is one of the places I got stuck all those years ago and the root of my exodus from sport. It also made me vulnerable to so many other debacles in my life!
I didn’t believe that I belonged. Sure, I got close, which was pretty amazing for a kid from the North, I thought (do you see a limiting belief there?). At any rate, I seemed to have ‘talent’, or ‘feel’ - whatever THAT is - and I competed with the best of them, for a time. But in order to climb to the top of the sport and stay there, I needed to trust that I belonged there. And because I didn’t … well I didn’t; just like Mr. Ford predicted.
Now that I am revisiting my past and appraising my peers in present day sport, you may wonder if I have regrets. Do I wish I could go back? Do I want to join them and do it all again? I wondered this myself, as I crossed the continent in my little VW bug in search of the indefinable ‘Magic’ of connection and resilience. But as I watch my friends pursue their passion with the dedication and singlemindedness that it takes, I am relieved to find I am not filled with envy or competitive wanderlust. Quite frankly, what it takes (beyond that essential first ingredient of BELIEF) requires more than I am willing to put out! And it flies in the face of my newfound goal; which is to lollygag and lilly-dip my way through the rest of this life, with a feeling of groundedness that so often eluded me, before.
I came to this newfound desire to slow down, to be present, and to appreciate life the hard way! Years of working like a mad-woman, prioritizing being ‘busy’, and all the while people-pleasing and not truly believing in the possibilities I was chasing, was killing me. Thankfully, cancer came calling. That may sound strange, but there is nothing like facing death to help you choose the life you want!
And here is where belief comes in, once again. In order to not only survive cancer, but also to redefine my life and find joy in my shitstorm, I first had to believe that it was possible. And that was a stretch, at the time! I never imagined being so weak, so destitute and so far from the life of my dreams, and yet there I was; weak as a kitten and poor as a church mouse! It took some doing. Some mantras. Some hypnosis. It took the help of others, whose belief in me I leaned on when I could not find it in me to believe in myself.
Belief wasn’t the only thing, of course, but belief in the possibility of my return to robust health was the bedrock that everything else was built upon. I believed it was possible, I envisioned the possibility, and I embodied the possibility; until eventually, it became my inevitable reality! And today, I believe it is possible to STAY healthy, to find joy, and to do what I am setting out to do next.
Today, my health and strength have returned. Turns out, I am exactly as strong as my daily investment in my strength - which waxes and wanes at times - and I am certainly no longer a weak kitten! I am still working on the 'poor as a church mouse' part! ;) Another limiting belief to be bashed ...
Belief in myself is something I still struggle with to this day – conditioning is not easily overcome - and it comes and goes in direct proportion to my investment in myself. I don’t want to continue living in doubt, and this necessitates change. Change, I have found, is rarely comfortable! Plenty of my peers lament the changes they have endured in the sport of Eventing and in the world we grew up in, but as we have all heard, necessity is the mother of invention - or in my case re-invention. So, knowing this, I continue to believe in the possibility of a deeper belief in myself, and I keep moving forward, if somewhat herkie-jerkily.
I am here, it seems, to inspire others and to show them the way, as I fumble and learn and grow – living proof that ANYTHING is possible!
Follow me for more examples of how others are managing to do what we may think of as impossible, in a series that examines what it takes to overcome obstacles and to succeed in sport and life.
Take a chance,