Quintessential Kenyon: Student Life, Uncut

On Leaving Your Comfort Zone and Potential Failure: My Weekend at a Horse Show

Katie Jimenez-Gray
November 2, 2015

Kenyon is a place full of immensely talented people. Our small campus is enriched by performers, athletes, writers, artists and more — people who have worked hard to excel at whatever it is they love to do. While I love witnessing the passions of my accomplished peers, I’ll admit that I’ve been prone to occasional feelings of inadequacy. Being surrounded by such talent can lend itself to both inspiration and inhibition, and during my first year here, I found myself lingering in inhibition. 

Upon returning to Kenyon this fall, I knew I wanted to join something — I’d had a wonderful first year, but I was lacking the camaraderie that comes from belonging to a group. My roommate, who had been on the equestrian team last year, had only good things to say about it, so after a bit of her coaxing, I decided to attend the introductory meeting. It felt right from the start. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and I wasn’t the only newcomer who hadn’t ridden a horse since she was 12.

After my first few lessons, it became apparent that any past equine experience I had wasn’t going to help me here — I was simply not very good. Like many Kenyon students, I am a bit of a perfectionist. I like feeling competent, and I like doing well, so struggling was initially frustrating — until it dawned on me that I was having a great time. When I stopped judging my performance and started focusing on how much fun I had riding, my skill (or lack thereof) didn’t matter. The stakes were pretty much nonexistent. After this realization, my time at the barn became a weekly relaxation, away from the pressure of school — a few hours I could spend not caring about being good or bad at something, but just doing it.

The barn at Hickory Hills Farm, where we ride. 

The majority of Kenyon’s equestrian team simply rides for fun; however, some members spend a few weekends each semester traveling to and competing in horse shows. Given that I had decided to embrace my lack of ability, showing was not something I was even remotely considering. However, as I would learn, our show team captain is very persuasive. When I resisted her cajoling, she reminded me how much fun shows were, how there was no pressure to do well, and how the team needed a rider (me) for the beginner division. My roommate and our coach jumped on the bandwagon as well, until somehow, I assented. 

I’m still not entirely sure how they managed to convince me to do this, but a couple Saturdays ago, I was up at 4:30 a.m., dressed in show clothes (all borrowed), in a minivan with six other women on our way to a horse show at the University of Findlay. Nervous was an understatement; when I thought about actually having to ride a horse in front of people, I felt like throwing up. So I took the path of denial, avoiding the idea until 15 minutes before I actually had to do it.

My biggest fear, I think, was potential failure and the resulting embarrassment. But our coach, captain and teammates continued to assure me that everything would be fine, regardless of how I did. So, despite turbulent nerves, I got on a horse named Charlie and we started walking — until Charlie decided we were finished and stopped in the center of the ring. I got last place.

Me riding Charlie (before it became apparent that I was not in charge here).

The next day, I rode a pony named Lucky — an appropriate name, in that I was lucky I stayed on when I asked him to trot and he took off cantering across the ring (something I’ve not actually learned how to do). I finally dismounted, heart pounding and crying from adrenaline. Again, last place.

But even though I felt somewhat publicly humiliated, the weekend was so much more than the five minutes I struggled on a horse in front of people. It was time spent getting to know some wonderful teammates, learning a lot, trying something new, and having a surprising amount of fun. Despite a less-than-perfect performance, by the time we returned to Kenyon, I was grateful to my captain, roommate and coach for giving me the push out of my comfort zone they knew I needed. I’m glad I had the experience. I might even do it again sometime. 

Me, Brooke (our horse show captain), and Erica (our wonderful coach).