In general, I live my life under two simple mantras: 1. Progress not perfection and 2. Listen and be kind. I don’t always follow my own advice, of course. I’m not perfect, and bad days are just as likely to make me difficult to deal with as the next person. But I do try to be the type of person that people like having around. After all, I like most people. It’s fascinating to me how different all of us are…and how similar.

The older I get the less I’m willing to have “difficult” people in my life. It’s not to say that I won’t talk to or be rude to someone that’s difficult. There are times when you can’t avoid a difficult person. You’re forced to work with them, or they are attached to someone you do enjoy spending time with. That’s life, and you make it work. The difference is, I will no longer upkeep more than a causal relationship with anyone that isn’t easy to hang out with. Friendships, I’ve decided, aren’t supposed to be work.

I’m still upset at 2016 for being so crappy to everyone, but it looks like these last few weeks might just be okay. Last night the real estate brokerage I work for held their annual holiday party. All the staff receives their bonuses, which is awesome, but we also get to spend time with each other and our agents outside of work. People relax, have a few drinks, and really tell you what they think. I got so many lovely comments. Not just about my work, but also the person I am. I was proud of myself to hear it.

I’ve come a long way. Just a few years ago, I wasn’t all that impressed with myself. Any compliment was met with suspicion and doubt. Last night I realized that I’ve let go of most of my old obsession with self-worthlessness. It’s kind of magical.

Really the only place I never had to deal with my hangups was in riding. I wasn’t fat or thin, beautiful or ugly. I was simply a rider; not one of the best and not one of the worst. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if riding kept my mental health from collapsing into depression. Like many things in life, there’s no way to tell what would have happened had I taken a different path. There’s a big part of me that thinks I owe a lot to riding, however.

After I’d been in consistent lessons for about four years, I started to belong to the group of kids who were tasked with riding the “difficult” horses. Unlike my people issue, I find difficult horses fascinating. What happened to make them this way? What can I do to make them better? In the case of my youth, most of those horses were difficult because they’d been poorly taken care of. The owner of my barn would pick them up at auctions for just more than a meat buyer would pay for them. Some of them were diamonds in the ruff. Others were…not diamonds.

Superman & Me schooling before our classes. He's cuter than I remember.

Superman & Me schooling on the show grounds.

I’ll never forget a particular horse named Superman. He was older chestnut of indiscriminate breeding. Superman had long transitioned out of the “rescued” program into the school’s old lesson horse category. First time riders often got him. He was safe and boring. And for some reason, as a fourteen-year-old, it was decided that Superman would be my next show hunter. I was not impressed.

Working with my coach, I discovered how to teach and ask for a flying lead change. It was so hard, and my first real taste of training a horse verses riding a horse. I have a video, somewhere, of us showing. It’s funny, because on the rail you can hear people chattering away about the two of us. Someone asked if that was Superman and someone else answers, “yes, doesn’t he look fantastic?” I was annoyed at having to work with an older, “easy” horse. I felt like I’d put in so many hours to end up just doing fine in my classes. Then one night at the barn, my coach casually said to a group of adult riders, “I hated that horse until Christine started riding him.” Just thinking about that now, I still feel the same swell of pride I felt that day. Something shifted, and I wasn’t the same person — or rider — ever again.

As you get older, your body changes. For me, after having my daughter, I have crazy flexible ankles. They’ll sometimes roll outward, causing all of my weight to sit on the side of my foot and making everything go numb. I’ve been working on strengthening exercises for almost a year, but I still have difficulties now and again. Usually I take a few moments without stirrups and move on.

This week, in my lesson, one side of my calf was going numb so I casually repeated the trotting pole exercise we were working on with my stirrups dropped. Star was pissed off that they kept bumping against her, so she acted up a bit, but that was fine. The best part? B didn’t notice a change. It wasn’t until I’d nearly come back around the arena that she saw my feet free. I crossed my stirrups at the withers and grinned at her, “I feel pretty proud you didn’t notice I’d dropped them.” She joked about hating to say nice things and then proceeded to suggest that was my Christmas present. There was a bit of Star being a fiery dragon component of that lesson, so it was really nice to have that bright spot in the midst of everything else.

And that is exactly why I live the way I do: for the bright spots. I don’t expect everything to be bright, because brightness means nothing without darkness. Likewise, I realize that I have to be the bright for someone else, as so many others have been the bright for me. Even difficult people and easy horses can be the bright, if the right situation presents itself.

Progress not perfection, my friends…listen and be kind.

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