Throwback 40 years. No wait – I want them all.
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Throwback 40 years. No wait – I want them all.
By Jean McLaren, MARC USA Chicago President
Forty-two years ago, I was in the exact same place I am today – competing in the finals at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. But that’s where the similarities end.
To my surprise, after years of competing my own horses in the adult jumpers, A/O and even small grand prix classes, a wonderful leased mare – a horse that was just supposed to keep me riding while my own rehabbed, turned out to be my ticket back to the finals – forty-two years later. My trainer, Scott Gentry, realized we’d be a good match and after just seven horse shows this year, we qualified for the NAL Adult Jumper finals.
To say that I’m having crazy flashbacks to my 17-year-old self is an understatement. I vividly recall how convinced I was that doing well in the Medal finals was a life or death situation. I’d worked hard my whole life to prepare for that moment and it had taken on enormous importance. Unfortunately, my horse picked up a nail in his hoof a few weeks before the finals and I had to borrow a horse for the medal. Needless to say, things didn’t go as I’d planned. No fame. No glory. And seemingly, no future. I genuinely thought my life was over.
Emotionally crushed by the experience, I stopped riding altogether, made a split decision to go to college (instead of pursuing riding as a career) and ended up finding two new loves – my patient, supportive, selfless husband John, and a fun, challenging and rewarding career in advertising.
So here’s the first lesson I want to share with all those 17-year-olds in their last year of competing at the Medal finals: Even if you blow it, your life will go on. And it will be awesome.
Twelve years after that fateful day in Harrisburg, I decided to start riding. It didn’t take long to flip that switch. I was hooked all over again. But now, as an adult, I had to buy my own horse, pay my own board, squeeze together the money for show entries and most challenging, maneuver around a demanding career to fit in my riding. Therein the dilemma: working provided the money to horse show, but not the time. If I didn’t work, I’d have the time, but not the funds. I had to juggle both.
Here’s my second lesson for the youngsters: None of us truly appreciates how grateful we should be to our parents for enabling us to participate in this incredible sport. What a gift.
During the next three decades (really? how is that even possible???) I had a series of average horses and one great one. The great one took me into the high A/O jumpers and enabled me to check a big one off my bucket list – to compete in a Grand Prix and NOT hear someone say as I walked out of the ring that I had no business being in that class. Mission accomplished. I rode in four Grand Prixs and had 4 faults in each. What a huge thrill.
Also during those decades, I progressed in my career, working for large global agencies, running large global brands. And ultimately moving to a great, independent agency, MARC USA, as President of the Chicago office.
Lesson #3: Embrace a multi-dimensional life.
Advertising taught me to be a better rider, and riding made me a better ad exec. Both rely on great teams. Teams that trust, complement, compensate for and enjoy each other are the teams that win. It’s that simple. Learning how to ride a hot, sensitive mare taught me how to curb my type A tendencies and made me a more effective, patient leader at the office. The intense focus required to prepare for a big new business pitch sharpened my ability to zero in on my plan for a jumper course and execute it well. We live in a world of metaphors. If you open your thought to the parallels, you’ll be rewarded with inspiring insights you can use in all facets of your life.
Love your years. Honor your experience.
OK, this next one is not for the youngsters. It’s for my 50-something peers and anyone who’s bemoaning their advancing age. I’ll confess I’ve looked in the mirror and wondered what happened to my face more than once. And who’s bright idea was the reverse camera on the iPhone? Does ANYONE look good in that thing? I always jump back three feet when I see myself.
Having said all that, I’m a far better rider now than I was at 17. Not because I’m stronger, or more flexible, but because I’m wiser. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s the honest to god truth. I’m not paralyzed by nerves anymore. I have empathy for my horse. She’s not just the means to my glory – she’s my partner. I have a much greater capacity to enjoy the moment rather than pinning all my joy on the outcome.
Which leads me, full circle, to the Pennsylvania National Horse Show…
In about an hour, I’ll be competing in the NAL Adult Jumper Finals. Yeah, I’m a little nervous, but it’s happy energy, not that gut-wrenching worry that I’ll screw it up. My plan, and so far, it’s working well, is to notice, enjoy, be grateful for and claim for my own every single moment of this experience. I’m going to ride my best, and while I’ll be thrilled if I do well, I’ll still be thrilled just to be in the ring. What a gift.
Note: Jean and Ava had a great ride, finishing 14th.