Reflection on the Seasons of Riding and Life

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel


Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s the arrival of that summer time when the days are long and the cool evening air lifts my spirits, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the seasons. Solstices are important days in our family – both my niece and my son are solstice birthdays. Their special days always give us a great reason to celebrate and reflect.

One of the coolest things about being an adult rider is that I’m not pressed for time. As adults, we don’t have to worry about only having 2 years of riding career left. We have long since passed our #seniorszn. As a teacher, I often reflect on how my life has changed throughout my current promotion. I teach group grades 4-12 and am always amazed and grateful to my students for sharing their time and investing their talents in the program I have the privilege of guiding. Eight years ago, I wore essentially the same clothes and generally had the same work routines and philosophies as I do today. But the class of 2022? These children have changed dramatically. I am so proud of who they are becoming and grateful for the small part I have been in their journey. But for us lucky ones, horses are a lifetime endeavor.

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

Although my clothes, haircut, and general feelings about life haven’t changed much, I’ve noticed the seasons of life more and more. I’m finally at an age where it suits me. I try not to rush.

Fifteen years ago, my mother and I embarked on this adventure of horse ownership together. I had been a yard kid all my life, so the riding part came easily, but I had never been to a “hunters” barn, where we happened to land in 2007. I watched, listened, read, studied, revolted a bit, and generally spent every waking moment I could at the barn. I was a brand new band teacher and brand new wife, but I managed to be at the barn pretty regularly 5 days a week.

At that time, I never went to a horse show. I could not breaststroke spend $150 on a pair of breeches or a stall for a weekend horse show. It seemed strange. Me, at 22, I had a lot of opinions, and not necessarily the knowledge to back them up. But it was a season. If I met her today, I would tell her to keep learning but also to not be afraid to trust her instincts.

The more I understood, the more I wanted to learn. The more I learned, the more I wanted to do. The more I could do, the more obsessed I became with the sport.

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

Eventually I started showing a bit locally and figuring it all out on my own. It’s amazing how much it takes to get 8 jumps done right with any sort of consistency. My budget was limited, but I’ve always been a great stall cleaner and pretty good at giving baths and keeping things organized. So I was able to be part of some of the field shows, helping out behind the scenes and getting the kids to the ring on time, on clean, appropriately dressed ponies. From the ground, I could see all the parts that I hadn’t understood before. I saw a lot of really cool things. I watched amazing rounds in beautiful rings and amazing horses. To this day, I love watching the big class warm-up ring just as much as I love watching the class. I like to see the whole picture, not just the performance. I saw things that weren’t as cool. But it was still “just the way it goes”, so I continued. I rode a ton. It was a season. I grew up.

There have also been darker seasons. Bad falls. Paralyzing anxiety. Wounds that never healed well. Unemployment. Panic attacks. Self-doubt. New trainers. Buying the young horse of our dreams who would never be fully under saddle and retired at age 7 after a year of confusing vet tests. But we know more because of these seasons.

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

I’m still salty about the seasons I wasted on unsuitable resources. But we’re better riders because of the miles we’ve put together walking, lunging, and doing ground work. I know enough now to ask questions sooner. We have invested in our own equine infrastructure; a trailer and the skills to drive it, properly fitted saddles, inflatable vests and MIPS helmets. More recently a small farm to bring our horse home when retirement calls.

It’s so easy to get frustrated with the season I’m in right now – I fancy being at the barn riding 5 days a week like myself younger. But this season is also valid. And temporary. It’s hard to say I’m an equestrian when I can barely ride once a week and my USEF membership is about to expire because it’s been so long since we’ve shown. I’m frustrated that I can’t be at the barn. I know I’m more confident in the saddle when I ride more. I’d like to invent a teleportation device or use George Jetson’s movement techniques to make all my responsibilities and my commute possible in one day.

But when is the opportunity to clean the stables and bathe the ponies for a day of horse shows? I will be there. Those opportunities are fewer this toddler raising season, but it won’t be long before he’s our stall cleaner and I’ll be playing the lotto to get him a pony.

Photo courtesy of Caelin Kordziel

In the busiest times of this season, there is a non-negotiable in my schedule. “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy” is a memory verse from my childhood, but in this season of life it refers to my Sunday Saddle Club time. 2 p.m. Rain or shine. A friend from high school and I meet at the barn. We decompress. We drive. We are chatting. We groom. Some weeks we work hard on the skills we worked on in a lesson. Some weeks the saddle is optional. But it’s a priority and having a friend waiting for me there also makes me more responsible for making it happen.

Find a buddy. Set a time. Non-negotiable. Leave your phone in the car (except for selfies.) You deserve it, and you’ll always walk away breathing easier than when you arrived. The barn has a magical way of lightening even the toughest loads.

So, how does a season follow one another? Take inventory. Stay grateful for the journey. Forgive yourself. Know that this season, high or low, is temporary and riding is for a lifetime.

Caelin Kordziel has always been a barn rat: a lesson child who became a horse owner, passionate about all things equine. By trade, Caelin is an instrumental music educator for students in grades 4-12 in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. When she’s not at the barn or making music, she’s a mother to a wild child pooch and an on-the-go toddler, wife to an outdoor enthusiast, and guardian of the crossrail community @crossrailgrandprix on Instagram.

Clyde P. Johnson