Riding Outside the Circle
IT SEEMS MANY of us—myself notwithstanding—go through life trying to find our place. Career paths and family goals that once seemed so clear in the starry-eyed optimism of youth and young adulthood become opaque and confusing in the throes of middle-age in a postmodernist world.
I’ve personally faced these feelings in light of a recent professional disruption. ( American Cowboy magazine— which I edited for the past 4-plus years—was abruptly closed.)
And while the narrative that this change sent me into a tailspin might make for better storytelling, the truth is I never became despondent. But I’ve sure had a lot of questions. Of course, I’m terribly sad that what I once thought was my dream job no longer exists; however, my prevailing thought through the process has been, “What’s next?”
The feeling that I needed to—as the Millennial generation might say— “find my lane,” had been pestering me. What would fill the void of covering and contributing to a culture near and dear to me?
THE BURDEN OF those questions, interestingly enough, began lifting from me at a horse show. Now, to be clear, I’m not much of a horse showman. I love to ride, I love looking after cattle, and I love the trappings of the cowpuncher lifestyle, but I don’t crave the show ring. My wife, on the other hand, does.
She found a local ranch horse versatility association that offers cutting, fence work, reining, pattern, trail, and conformation classes for several different levels of ability and youth— particularly attractive, given our kids could use show experience in preparation for their 4-H pursuits. In the end, I agreed to enter because of the cattle classes—and reasonable entry fees.
Though I take care of some stocker cattle as a side-hustle and get to ride in that pursuit, being a desk jockey for almost two decades has stunted the growth of my horsemanship and showmanship. I have a nice young horse that I really like, but he’s not fancy. Trainer fees aren’t in the budget. So, as the show date neared, I became increasingly uncomfortable.
Memorizing the pattern—trot at this cone, transition from a lope to a walk at this cone, pick up the right lead here—was especially vexing. And every time my horse approached the practice bridge I had built at the house, he snorted and stepped sideways before I could convince him to take it. I was excited about the cutting and fence work classes and the roping element, but my horse’s stops for the reining pattern were coming undone the more I worked on them. Dread for show day was building.
But, being frugal, I couldn’t walk away from the entry fees we’d plunked down. While I’ll spare you the details, the show actually didn’t go too badly. Sure, I felt as though I could’ve done much better—I was especially frustrated to have missed both loops in the roping, and my horse did snort at the bridge in the trail class. But there were some bright spots, too. I hit all my lead changes and remembered what to do at each cone.
My wife had a wonderful day with a new friend and showed her horse really well. She beat me in the cutting, in fact. Our children continued to hone their horsemanship and learned some valuable life lessons.
And really, so did I. We as riders, as well our horses, have plenty of room for improvement, but we weren’t completely outclassed, either. In a way, we’d found our lane in the horse show world—and we weren’t even looking. That discovery gave me an incredible amount of confidence that finding my lane professionally wouldn’t be impossible, either. Before the show began, I was well aware that I was not, nor was ever going to be, a great horseman. But that organization allowed me to see there’s still an opportunity for me to become a better horseman in a competitive atmosphere.
My journey of discovery wasn’t over yet, though. As the comfort of knowing that I could find my lane sunk in, I began to realize just how much I’d been consumed by my own professional disruption.
A wise man once advised not to merely look out for our own personal
interests, but also for the interests of others. Being singularly focused on what might replace the relative success I had enjoyed with American
Cowboy kept me from considering what was best for those around me. A passage from Proverbs cut right to the quick, stating that whoever isolates himself seeks his own selfish desires.
The challenge, it seems, is recognizing the gifts we’ve each been endowed with and using them to serve others. To combine the metaphors I’ve been playing with heretofore: This means using our “lane” as a way to serve our fellow man. WHICH BRINGS ME full circle to what’s going on in these pages. Horse&Rider will now absorb the subscriptions for American Cowboy and The Trail Rider magazines. Horse&Rider has been blessed with a diverse group of readers, and I can tell you editor Jennifer Paulson and her staff are taking the responsibility of serving you seriously. You’ll see a new look, an unexpected content mix, some familiar faces, and a forward-thinking approach to magazine publishing. Their “lane” is faithfully serving you, their reader.
Please provide them feedback, ideas, and constructive criticism so that mission can be fulfilled. A magazine, at its core, should serve as a voice
for a community, not to a community. It’s not an oracle in print form. Instead, a magazine should be an aggregator of information and a reflection of the interests and values of the community it serves. As such, the communication can’t be one-sided. There’s no desire to isolate and pursue selfish desires in these pages. We want to serve your interests. Let us know what they are, and you’ll be doing us a great service. Send your thoughts to Horseand Rider@aimmedia.com.