By Kaitlyn Julio – Cockeysville, MD

It seems very fitting that the title of this article is also the competition name of my 6-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred mare. She certainly is something to talk about.

I took a pretty hard fall off of her recently. Luckily, I’m just bruised – both on my ego and my bottom. I know I love horses because, despite these setbacks (which in my mind are always melodramatically thought of as huge failures), I still get up, brush off my pants and get back on the horse.

I was crawling around pretending to be a horse before I could walk. The love affair had its ups-and-downs with some very passionate time periods and some cooling periods, but it’s always been there. It has been an integral part of my life. It’s more than just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle.

julio3I begged my parents to let me take lessons for years. When I was finally allowed to, I was so excited I could barely contain myself. Imagine my disappointment when all I did the first lesson was learn to brush a horse and walk around with a lead! Are you kidding me? Didn’t they know I was destined for greatness!?

Now, I’m not under any illusions that I’m going to the Olympics, or in the sport of eventings’ case, to Rolex. But I had, and still have, big dreams. No different than anyone else.

When we dream big, we put so much pressure on ourselves. We sometimes overestimate our abilities. I quickly learned just how hard it was when, week after week, I was told everything I was doing was wrong. What happened to the floating horses on TV and in the pictures I have cherished for years? You know, the ones with riders sitting so effortlessly on a horse’s back? This was NOT the same. I learned my first lesson: not everything is as easy as it appears to be. Do not judge a book by its fancy, floating cover.

I walked away from horses for a while in my teenage years when other things seemed more important. More than likely, I did it because it seemed too hard. It took more effort than I could ever have imagined and it took a toll on my self-confidence.

But I couldn’t stay away and am quite stubborn, so I began to ride whenever I could. I was lucky, and learned so much from horses that many kind people let me ride – even the ones I had no business being near. Despite developing vices my current instructors cringe at, I discovered what made me, well, me. I gained my confidence back and somehow used my failures as the building blocks to a stronger me.

julio4Let me tell you…I fell a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean just about every-other ride for a while. It’s truly amazing looking back, how well I bounced and recovered both physically and mentally. It really is miraculous how resilient you are when you’re young and don’t have all that baggage yet.

When I was that kid, I just got back on. If I cried a little, it was always followed by laughter and ridiculous amounts of carrying to release the negativity. When you’re a kid, looking ridiculous is so much more acceptable. Somewhere along the way while growing up, you lose that capability to brush things off so easily.

Falling off “Something to Talk About,” whom I call Tillie, is not an uncommon occurrence for me. I have fallen off her twice in less than an hour during a ride. I was mortified. My trainer witnessed the entire chain of events with a blank stare and an expression indicating I should say nothing, get back on and try again. So I always do just that – get back on and try again.

I got Tillie as a 4-year-old from After the Races, a racehorse rehabbing and rehoming organization. She had been adopted once before, but was returned because she had an attitude and rearing problem. Why on earth I thought it would be a good idea for me to take her as my first horse I have no idea.

Tillie has challenged me and pushed me past my limits, more than anything else ever has (she and my husband are neck and neck on that one), but she is also my escape and my distraction when things get tough.

Even when it gets tough with her, at the end of the day I take comfort in knowing she doesn’t really expect anything from me other than being fed and sheltered. She has made me want to walk away altogether at times. Between her major health scare, red-head mare attitude moments and the amount of money I pour into her, I wonder if we will make it. Make it to what? I’m not sure I even know the answer to that.

julio5I take as many lessons as I can now and still get told I am doing it wrong at times. I push every day to be better because I also teach lessons at Graham Equestrian Center. I want to give my students the best example possible so they can see it’s not easy, but as long as they try it’s a  win.

I am blessed to have such an amazing support system in my friends, family and my husband. (who, after being married to him for four years, is only just starting to understand how deep horses are a part of my life). I would never have met them if it weren’t for horses. They are are the people who know my darkest moments and somehow still celebrate with me in the brightest ones.

I am probably still way too close to the situation to truly reflect on it, but my experiences are not all that far off from anyone else’s. We all have times we think we fail. Just channel that inner kid who brushes off their pants, laughs a little too hard about it and tries again.