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Silver Linings!

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU… Sit back, a rambling post on its way! Our recent office move threw up some blasts from the past, including this photo of me competing in the Tumut Rodeo when I was about 18 years old (rodeo aficionados, apologies for my lack of style!), about three years after I had been successfully treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Dealing with cancer as a teenager wasn’t a barrel of laughs, but one of the worst outcomes was that I had to stop playing most of the sports that I loved. This change in my life led me to focus more on horses, and along with teaching me to have a positive, but philosophical outlook on life, ultimately led to the career and life I have now. In other words, there was a silver lining.

I am sometimes asked what my highlights are in my work with horses, but I believe I have been shaped more by the most difficult points in my life and career, and how I have dealt with them. In a job working with horses, you are always going to have ups and downs. There have been times when horses haven’t worked out for their owners, and I questioned whether I could have done things differently, but one of the worst moments in my career was when I took part in a horsemanship competition a few years ago.

The challenge was to start a horse under saddle in roughly four hours over two days, do some groundwork with another young horse, and put a reluctant loader on a trailer. Having never had the need to start a horse that quickly, I did a bit of research into some of the techniques the competitors in some of the American horsemanship competitions used and thought I would try them out. I did what I thought was a fairly decent job; I rode the little Arab mare I worked with, and loaded quite a challenging horse quickly and efficiently. I got good feedback from two of the judges, and although the third judge was much less impressed and I didn’t win overall, I went off to Texas the next day on a family holiday feeling that it had been a positive experience, albeit one that I didn’t particularly want to repeat.

Therefore, it was a bit of a shock to get messages through from friends letting me know that there was a big article written up on a popular, worldwide equestrian site “ripping me to shreds”, for want of a better expression! I don’t mind if people don’t like my methods, but they had filmed my work and edited it in such a way to show me in as bad a light as possible, even intimating that I had kicked a horse, when in fact I was stepping over a rope, and showing none of the positive outcomes that occurred during my sessions with each horse. It was shared across social media and I honestly had my career flash before my eyes. Penny and I sat up late into the nights working out how what to do, and it was so stressful that it even gave me a little bit of alopecia; a little bald patch on the side of my head! 

In the end, we decided not to fight it, kept silent on social media, and just cracked on with life. The little Arab mare came to me for four weeks and went home with more work under her belt, and I was confident she would go on to be a lovely riding horse. The storm blew over, and although I am sure it dented my reputation at the time, thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have harmed it in the long run. 

So if that episode didn’t kill my career, how did it actually help? It would have been easy for me to tell people never to video or photograph me working with a horse, but I decided that I wanted to keep an “open door” policy, as I want people to see and understand who I do things. That is why I do my monthly coffee mornings, and why I do “real life” demonstrations; working with young horses and those with dangerous behavioural and ridden issues is not always a bunch of roses, and people need to see how to handle these types of situations, rather than watch me go round on a perfectly behaved horse! 

I have learnt that there are going to be detractors, and that is fine and only challenges you to become better. I have learnt not to believe everything on social media; pictures and videos can be edited in positive and negative lights, it is far too easy to get the wrong impression from a snapshot in time when there’s no background information available. But most importantly, I’ve learnt that having faith in yourself and your abilities, and truly believing in the way you do things, is a really powerful mindset to have; don’t try to be someone else.

I’ll finish this post going back to the rodeo picture. There will be people reading this who are against rodeos, and will judge me for taking part in them. But, its part of my history and Australian “Bush” heritage, and certainly taught me to stay on a bucking horse! Would I do it now? No, but I’m grateful that I had the experience! Was I glad that I had cancer or be in the situation I was in with the horsemanship competition? Not in a million years, but they happened, and what didn’t kill me, definitely made me stronger!