When I first started working with the LOPE horses, I felt at a loss much of the time. Although I admired the ex-racehorses and wanted to be useful to them, I didn’t have much training experience or advanced riding skills. And my response to unexpected veterinary situations (colic symptoms, lacerations, any sign of blood) was to be squeamish and inept. Every day brought a new challenge to be met or difficult decision to be made — by me, the least qualified racehorse wrangler ever.
During that time, I often heard a particular phrase in my line of work. It came from prospective adopters as they perused the horse listings or visited our ranch. Colleagues in the equestrian world repeated the same phrase while facing tough dilemmas about their horses. Frequently, it came up during clinic and lesson discussions. Most often, it emerged from nearly everyone I consulted about fundraising or nonprofit charity management.
What is the phrase? “If it is meant to be…”
I thought this must be a good motto — since so many in the horse world seemed to follow it. The slogan had a pleasingly Zen vibe that seemed peaceful (and asked little of me). So I repeated it to myself whenever faced with the uncertain situations, delicate judgment calls, and horsemanship challenges that seemed to crop up daily at LOPE. And I waited to be filled with serenity, wisdom, and confidence as all of my knotty dilemmas vanished because of what was meant to be (or not).
Well, none of that happened. Why? The motto doesn’t work — because it’s actually a form of philosophical punt. As I realized this rather uncomfortable insight, I began observing with more clarity how the phrase was used (by myself and others).
Most of the time, we say it wistfully — as if we have no role in whether “it” is “meant to be” at all. We are waiting for signs from the universe — perhaps in the form of ease in circumstances (such as unexpected cash) — that the road to what we want won’t require much from us. So therefore it is meant to be.
I was a little embarrassed when I saw this larger picture — and felt that I had been letting the LOPE horses down by following a pop slogan instead of stepping up and putting in the real effort they need from me.
At LOPE, I work with horses off the track, retrain them, find them new homes, and educate the public about how wonderful these horses are. It requires me to run a farm, care for the horses, provide retraining and rehab to a variety of equine personalities, match the horses to the right adopters, outreach to the equestrian community, and fundraise for the financial support that makes it all possible.The horse needs us to take responsibility for our actions as a rider and as a steward — and to commit fully in both roles. Just because something requires hard work or has some obstacles in its path does not mean that it is not meant to be. It just means that you need to decide if you truly want it and then commit to what it will take to reach your goal.
These are LOPE’s responsibilities as a charity, as stewards to the horses and as horsemen. Wishful thinking and unrealistic hopes play no part at all. The LOPE team must figure out how to make the right things happen — rather than leave it up to kismet to tell us whether or not to proceed.
The reason I feel strongly about this is because of the nature of my work. Horses don’t know or care about whether things are meant to be. If I were to approach every first off-track ride on a young horse with the thought, “well, if it is meant to be, I will have a good ride with this green horse,” I would soon find that the universe was letting me get bucked off into the dust. As well I would deserve to be, if I left the primary outcome and responsibility for the ride up to my vague notions of fate.
The horse needs us to take responsibility for our actions as a rider and as a steward — and to commit fully in both roles. Just because something requires hard work or has some obstacles in its path does not mean that it is not meant to be. It just means that you need to decide if you truly want it and then commit to what it will take to reach your goal.
As Jim Rohn wrote, “Don’t wish it was easier — wish you were better.” At LOPE, we strive to be better — especially on the days that aren’t easy in any respect. It isn’t always the smoothest process, but at least there are good role models to emulate, like Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and all the others who follow in their footsteps.
I’m pretty sure that none of them ever answered, “if it is meant to be” when it came to questions of horsemanship. Instead, they encouraged people to build the skills, make the tough decisions, and put in the hard work it takes to one day become horsemen. When you go down that road, you develop the kind of experience and knowledge that makes the biggest difference to the horses. You truly learn and embody what it takes to understand what a horse may need in a given situation — and no longer need to wish or hope that helping that horse is “meant to be.”
So I have put aside that motto and traded it in for a much better six word philosophy from Ray Hunt: “Confidence is knowing you are prepared.” It makes me work much harder than the other slogan — and keeps me on that long, slow path to one day becoming a horseman.