I remember taking some of my first pony club lessons over a decade ago. I was a competent rider who could tack my own horse and ride at all three gaits. I could manage a few 2’3 jumps without diving to the ground (most of the time), but still, I was so naive. I realize now how ignorant I was. How much I didn't know, I didn't know.
The other day I took one of my cherished lessons. They are no longer paid by my mother which is one of the many reasons they are so valuable to me. However, my mom was still there, ringside, watching my progress. A decade later and she still shows up to cheer me on. She has always thought dressage was like watching paint dry. It was probably because she started out watching me ride endless circles trying to grasp the concept of rhythm and relaxation.
My loyal mother has either watched or taught 95% of the riding lessons I have taken in my life. That comes out to be a couple hundred I am sure. She has watched me work with some of the top riders and trainers in the country. She has walked miles of cross country course to watch me work with these trainers. She's taken thousands of photos (her favorite part) and drove a couple of thousand miles to get me to all of these lessons (usually fashionably late, but always got me there). I can't even imagine how much money she has spent.
I am sure she considers it all an investment. I expect she wouldn't take back a single lesson. Not even the ones she spent in the sweltering heat or the bitter cold or the pouring rain. She probably doesn't even regret the ones where she had to socialize with other moms. Or the ones where she was the jump crew or the lessons with trainers that didn't teach the way she would.
I am sure she knows that all those hours of watching paint dry has led to a vibrant masterpiece, which continues to be improved. It is no longer the nervous thoroughbred and the clueless child that she comes to support. This most recent lesson, my mother got to see the fruits of all the time, money, and miles she's invested. She didn't have to schedule the lesson, drive the truck and trailer, listen to me complain about being late again, or pay. She didn't have to watch 500, 20-meter circles and a frustrated/bored trainer repeating the same phrase and praying that I finally comprehend. This time she got to sit shotgun, chill in the shade (still fighting off mosquitoes), and watch a well-developed rider school the finer movements of dressage. A decade after my first introductions to dressage and I'm doing fewer circles, schooling half passes, shoulder ins, and flying changes with a relaxed and rhythmic horse I produced. Who knows, it may still be like watching paint dry to her, but she's still there, ringside, investing her time in my endless endeavor.
Although they haven't been there every step of the way or able to sit ringside like my mom, I think now about the many other kind souls that have invested their time, money, and miles into my riding. All of them believe in my ability to turn those countless circles into something meaningful. If you too are on a path that requires hundreds of hands to push, pull, and lift you along - may you have the opportunity to look back and see how far you have come. May you have the opportunity to thank those who stood by you when you were less than good or great, but merely competent and even when you were far less than that. It is an overwhelming and humbling opportunity to see how many people it takes to pave the road to success. More than that, it is amazing to see how dedicated your mom (or dad or whoever it is that has stuck it out the longest) was, and still is, to your success. I hope to see my "ringside or die" ringside for another decade or two. Even if I have to get her there by wheelchair.