October 20, 2023

I Am Whatever Connor Wants Me to Be

Recently, someone, somewhere out on the internet - politely and without revealing my identity at all - publicly questioned my decision to quit Dressage. Someone I don't know. They, and some subsequent other folks, made a bunch of (wrong) guesses about why I might have quit Dressage.

And, you know, such is the nature of blogging. You put yourself out there, you have to be vulnerable or else it's not good content, and therefore you open yourself up to speculation. So it didn't really bother me, but it did make me want to address it clearly and openly.

To ask that question and to guess that it had anything to do with outside forces is to fail to understand me as a horsewoman or my relationship to Connor. I am not a Dressage rider any more than I was an eventer for the first five years I had him. I'm a horsewoman, and I'm Connor's advocate. That is my whole identity as an equestrian.

 I switched to straight Dressage in 2015 not because I wanted to, but because Connor had told me that even though he was capable of this:


He didn't enjoy it. Even though he was sound and his last event was winning a massive rated BN division at the Kentucky Horse Park and by all outward measures he was successful, I knew that leaving the start box made him anxious, not excited. So you have two options in this case: you either say "I'm an eventer and you don't like eventing so I'm selling you to buy a horse that does", or do what I did: we switched to a sport that left one foot on the ground at all times, and my heart horse was happy again.

But when you have a wildly stoic horse like Connor, you can't rest on "he's happy doing Dressage". You have to keep re-evaluating. And after six years of us both enjoying Dressage, as my trainer and I pushed him towards Third, I started to get that same feeling I got toward the end of his eventing career, that he wasn't enjoying it. I had to "make him" do a lot of things under saddle, even though, again, he was sound (if you ignored his persistent, violent headshakes when first asked to go on contact every ride) and by all outward measures successful in the sport and capable of reaching my goal of getting my Bronze scores on him.

This realization came at a time that I was getting divorced, was in therapy for depression, and was learning to acknowledge and feel my own feelings for the first time in my life, which gave me the strength and perspective to say, you know what, I'm not enjoying this either. I'm not enjoying putting a square peg in a round role either.

Connor will never, ever say no to me. He will always say yes, no matter if what I'm asking him to do hurts him or scares him or he's not interested in what I'm interested in. It's my responsibility to not take advantage of that. It's my responsibility to be his advocate and partner first, above all else, above any ambitions I have to compete and win and rise up the ranks of a particular sport.

So he got quite a bit of time off while I was too depressed to ride and struggling with losing my identity as a competitive equestrian. He stood in the field and got fat and lost his topline and still made my heart soar every time I saw him, groomed him and heard him nicker at me (which he always does, every time he sees me).

And as I've gotten myself back together, I've started riding again. Started finding my identity again. And started exploring other sports that sound fun for both of us, as the human and horse we are, not the human and horse I wish we were because I have some arbitrary idea that I'm "a Dressage rider".

Might have made a friend that does endurance this week...

I am whatever my heart horse wants me to be, because that's what a heart horse is.


  1. Amen. So well said. That last line, "I am whatever my heart horse wants me to be, because that's what a heart horse is," is beautiful.

    And I gotta say, I'm really impressed with your dedication to continuing to blog through the changes. My blog was so centered around endurance for so long that when Q expressed her anxiety around it and I accepted her decision to quit, it made it really hard to continue blogging. Lately, I feel drawn back to blogging, but have been spuddling on how/if to restart.

    Reading your words above, "...too depressed to ride and struggling with losing my identity as a competitive equestrian..." make me realize that my grieving process around the change in trajectory away from endurance has just taken longer to get through. So many of your points in this post resonated with me in ways I can't entirely put to words, but I am grateful for you writing this and putting it out there. Thank you.

    1. I'm so glad it resonated with you. It has not been easy to keep writing or to accept some of the changes - even the change of not being a 3-5x a week blogger is so public. But you're right that losing an identity like being "an endurance rider" a kind of grief all its own that has to be processed in its own way. If there is one thing I've learned from therapy this year (which covered multiple types of grief in my life) it's that talking about your grief to the right audience helps. Blogging hasn't always been that, but sometimes it is, and I'm letting it happen when it feels right.

  2. I started reading your blog when you & Connor were doing dressage, but that's certainly not why I stayed. I enjoy your writing style and the parts of your life you chose to share. Plus, I have become a huge cob fan, to an embarrassing level. I would certainly love to read more about the farm & daily life.

  3. Love this! I'm glad you're still blogging as you work your way through things. I enjoy your content whether you're a "competitive" rider or not. You might enjoy Karen Rohlf's Dressage Naturally. Her philosophy is the horse and your relationship with the horse comes first before any competition goals. I know you're already there, but it's nice to see that there are other talented horse people who share the same values. Connor is very lucky to have such a thoughtful and principled owner.

  4. Something I've learned as I've gotten older (and really, I'm pretty old) is that things happen and life changes. It doesn't make you a quitter because life takes you in a different direction.
    I love that you do what makes Connor happy and that you listen to him when he tells you about his feelings. He's a wonderful pony and he's very lucky to have you as his human.

  5. I love this so much--you're spot on with the vulnerability around publicly sharing so much of your journey. You carried on through things that I did not. Love your relationship to Connor and here's to the horses that are so much more to us. <3