Anyone who has ever played a sport knows how difficult competition is. You put yourself on a stage for all of your peers to watch as you either fail or succeed. I’ve played many sports; Tennis, Soccer, I was on the swim team, I ran track, and I danced. I also pursued acting for a while (I know it’s not a sport, but you get the point – I hope). But I have never absolutely LOVED something that humbled me as much as Riding Horses.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be around horses and I wanted to ride, but I never really got the chance to REALLY ride until I was 18. I remember my first lesson. It was terrible. Being the entitled little girl that I was, I couldn’t stop swearing and getting irritated because I couldn’t figure out how to post while steering and losing my stirrups. And, of course, the horse has a mind of it’s own and knew I didn’t have a clue, and made sure to take as much advantage of that fact as possible – as many school horses do. I’m pretty sure my trainer thought she would never see me again. Actually, she probably prayed to God she wouldn’t. Little did she know, she would pick out my first horse, I would attend my first show with her, get my first blue ribbon with her at the in-gate, and she had the pleasure of informing me about my first Reserve Championship at a show – as well as for the year. This all happened in the span about 13 months.
I was hooked. That same summer, we attended the Motor City Horse Show at BOH to watch the Grand Prix and I saw Margie Goldstein Engle compete with 6 horses. I watched in awe as this tiny rider rode these massive, beautiful animals with exceptional ease. I had never seen horses like this. I had never seen jumps like that. Of the 6 horses, 4 made it to the jump off and I believe she placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th. (I could be completely off on my numbers, but this is how I remembered it, and the impression she left.) I was inspired, to say the least. That is when I decided I was going to the olympics. In four years.
Obviously, that didn’t happen, or you wouldn’t be asking “Who the hell is Melissa Wanstreet?”
Right now, I am a young horse trainer. I’m a tiny little fish in a sea of great white sharks. I have no problem bragging about my ability to start brave, willing and happy horses. I have a talent that is undeniable. Unfortunately, in this industry, people tend to focus where you lack, instead of where you flourish. We live in a world where others are constantly trying to knock down the ‘competition’ instead of bring each other up for the betterment of the sport. On top of that, we are surrounded by the most wealthy people in the world with the means to buy nothing but the best horses. Some of which, let’s admit, could be ridden blindfolded. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to discredit that group, but I too don’t wish to be discredited because I have to teach my horse while my riding skills mature. During this process, mistakes will be made. BIG mistakes. But if I’m smart, I will learn priceless lessons from those mistakes.
For a long time, I didn’t know that mistakes and failures were a part of the process. I didn’t know how to appreciate them and use them as tools. When mistakes were made in public, I couldn’t get past my mortification and focus simply on what I would do different next time. My failures were only a source of embarrassment and justification for those wanted me to believe I was not good enough. I allowed other people’s idea of me become who I was. I convinced myself to lower my expectations of who I could be. I even quit twice. But it always draws me back in. I don’t want anything else like I want success in this sport. I know that now, even though I convinced myself that I hated it.
Looking back, I realize how I only delayed my own progress by listening to the voices in my head that told me “I can’t.” Now I know better than to allow my mistakes to define me. I know better than to put others on a pedestal who would rather knock me down. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks a rider ‘can’t’ get better because it’s obvious that something in their own life has jaded them into believing someone else can’t improve. I see trainers who view their own clients as nothing better than they were yesterday. I see other professionals and amateurs who have overcome their own obstacles judging others who are where they used to be. To those individuals I ask “What are you so afraid of?” Are you afraid your client won’t need you anymore? Are you afraid your peers will beat you? Because maybe it isn’t that you believe they can’t get better. Maybe the problem is that you think YOU can’t get better.
So, for those of you who are reading this who are struggling to reach your dreams, to those who have given up, to those who have settled for less because you have been told you can’t reach that far; YOU CAN. It’s not easy and it’s not supposed to be easy. And it takes time. Be patient. Don’t think that just because you have been a doing this for 5 years that “I must be successful now!” Enjoy the journey and enjoy the falls – literally and figuratively. This is a sport where we get knocked down and we get back on the horse. Those mistakes are your gifts and they DO NOT DEFINE YOU UNLESS YOU LET THEM. Live Your Dream.