When I walked into the barn last weekend, six people were crowded in the aisle in a tight cluster, doing nothing. We are a fun, chatty barn, but we’re also busy, so people tend to chat as they do things, hands full of hoof picks and saddle pads. As I approached, it became clear they were not doing nothing. the tell-tale snorts were dead giveaways they were watching a riding video.
“Look at your leg!”
“Look at your horse!” Five adult women were watching a teenager’s recent riding lesson on a tiny screen and metaphorically detonating a glitter bomb of positivity into her life.
I am the strong, silent type at the barn—an introverted equestrian. Once I was past ponies, my barn had lots of adults and lots of younger kids, but not many riders my age. I quickly—and as a borderline introverted equestrian, contentedly—got used to barn time being alone time.
As an adult, I have a job and a husband, and sometimes I need to eat and sleep. I have to carefully plan to unearth even slivers of free time to jam in equine activities. So, in addition to enjoying going solo, I didn’t think I had the luxury of time to be social at the barn. I dug my little hole of solitude, and that’s where I happily lived.
Coming Into the Light
But in the six years I’ve spent at my current barn, I’ve been slowly dragged from that hole, against my will, and forced to make friends. It has been a painfully slow run. It started with one extremely outgoing blonde who made it her mission to extract friendship from me, plying me with riding compliments and queso (cheese dip). She succeeded.
I switched stalls and accidentally introduced myself to more people—moms and teens and young professionals—all asking about my ride, petting my horse’s nose and slowly crawling into my business with talk about school, work and which leg looks lame. Before I knew it, I was neck-deep in a community. And not only did I realize I had time, but instead of the harried, exhausted feeling I’d expected, it felt … what was this feeling? Nice? Because our barn’s social universe tends toward one thing: positivity.
Meeting a Need for an Introverted Equestrian
What made it feel so nice was not (entirely) that I am a busy, evil lawyer starved for the voice of another human, but that I am a doubt-filled ball of anxiety starved for the dulcet tones of people telling me I rode well and my horse looks pretty. And actually, we’re all starving for that.
I love to see it in action: kids lavishing praise on each other’s horses; adult amateurs high-fiving over the height they jumped; teenagers finding bright spots to applaud in really bad, rough rounds; people sharing war stories of bad show days with a freshly excused rider; and inter-generational laughs over refusals and falls that come as easily as smiles over perfection and ribbons.
And always, infinitely, people offering to video each other’s lessons, an army of Kris Kardashians in breeches, tripping over one another to gush, “YOU’RE DOING AMAZING, SWEETIE!” In a nutshell, everyone casually being their best selves to each other.
In Sharp Contrast
I’ve been to the kinds of barns where you can cut the negativity with a hoof knife. Quiet barns, where no one offers to help, lessons are whispered over and kids compare their ponies with angst.
Some barns like that are very successful, producing stars that ride in shows where I’d be thrilled just to spectate. But as a reformed solo artist, I’m here to sing the praises of the positive support group.
There’s simply no greater relief than walking out of the ring after a terrible work day and a truly shameful lesson to hear the next student say—even if you think it’s a lie—“You guys looked great!” Because like other really good things in life, the positivity you spread tends to rebound exponentially, sometimes when you really need it.
An Introverted Equestrian Spreads the Love
It’s just as good life advice as it is barn advice: Like someone’s boots? Tell ‘em! Think someone’s horse looks extra-shiny? Say it! Someone made the awkward oxer look easy? Praise is due! Your lesson partner has killer arm muscles? Tell her!
Think that little pony kid is the most adorable little one you’ve seen? Tell his mom; she will die of happiness. Is there a 2% chance the object of your positivity grenade will roll her eyes? Yes. But isn’t that worth the 98% chance you’ll open a fissure of joy and rainbows?
Better still, there’s a 100% chance that positivity will build a wonderful, supportive place where five women who have horses to ride and tack to clean will stand in the barn aisle, watch a two-minute video of someone else’s ride and tell her she’s doing awesome.
So throw down a glitter bomb of positivity. And if your grouchy target rolls her eyes at first—just add compliments and queso.
This story from an introverted equestrian appeared in the February 2020 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!