As we begin a new year, Dressage Today's Lindsay Paulsen shares how her 2018 had a rocky start but ended with smiles.

This time last year I was pretty frustrated with my riding—or lack thereof. My horse had been going super well until a saddle fit issue developed that completely sidetracked our dressage training. For months I struggled to get fitters out who could really help me address the problem and I had fittings rescheduled thanks to a whole variety of life complications—winter snow storms, the flu, a death in the family, the accompanying funeral 500 miles away and more.

All of our training was put on pause until we could remedy the problem. While this one singular issue might seem like it should be easy to fix, I was—almost comically—met with roadblock after roadblock. It felt like the gods of the dressage world were just having a nice little chuckle at me, sipping brandy and smoking cigars as they drummed up new ways to complicate my riding life.

If you’ve battled saddle fitting challenges in a big way, you know how frustrating the whole thing can really be, especially when your horse is otherwise sound and healthy. On top of that, there’s the huge financial concern of it all. Even if you find the dressage saddle of your dreams that miraculously fits you and your horse, what are the odds it will even be affordable? Oh wait, did I just use the words “dressage” and “affordable” in the same sentence? Lol. My bad.

In case all of that wasn’t complicated enough, I brought the vet out to do a performance evaluation on my mare since I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a big physical issue I was overlooking in the midst of the saddle drama. It was determined that everything looked pretty good considering my mare’s age and mileage. She was sound but we decided that it would be in her best interest to do a little bit of maintenance, mostly as a preventive measure. So we went ahead with hock injections.

Wouldn’t you know that within a few days, my poor girl’s right hock had blown up like a balloon. After consulting with several vets, we concluded there was a chance that it was cellulitis but there was the much larger concern that the joint had become infected. If that was the case, we were in serious trouble. I wasn’t willing to gamble on it, so off she went to the hospital. Five days and $5,000 later, we came home with our discharge papers and the peace of mind that we successfully defeated a nasty case of cellulitis.

Here's my sweet girl, probably plotting her escape from the hospital. Luckily, the folks at the Marion Dupont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia, took great care of her and helped get us back on the road to recovery. 

Here's my sweet girl, probably plotting her escape from the hospital. Luckily, the folks at the Marion Dupont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia, took great care of her and helped get us back on the road to recovery. 

Between the saddle drama and the hospital visit, I had a lot of opportunity to ask myself the big questions that we riders so often face. Why do we do this? Why do I always feel like I can’t afford to be good at dressage? What’s the point if it always seems to end in heartache? Will I ever get to where I want to be? Will I ever achieve those goals I set for myself? Am I an idiot for spending this much money on something that is so fragile?

A year later, I still don’t have the answers to those big questions. I probably never will. What I do know is that although 2018 began with a lot of uncertainty and frustration (and vet bills), that wasn’t how it ended. We eventually found a saddle that fit. My mare and I went on to have a successful show season. We grew leaps and bounds through lessons and clinics. We earned a USDF medal. We moved up a level. We made new friends. I volunteered at local shows. We had busy show weekends and plenty of sunny hack days and quiet afternoons at the barn. There was so much good that was ahead of all that.

Even though we got off to a crappy start, this year ended up being one of our best yet!  (Photo by Rebecca Lazarus) 

Even though we got off to a crappy start, this year ended up being one of our best yet!  (Photo by Rebecca Lazarus) 

Whenever a new year rolls around, we’re keen to think that whatever we do in the first few days of the year sets the tone for what is to follow. We start diets, sign up for gym memberships, sketch out plans for our year. Those things are good and those things are important. But how many people have stopped going to the gym by February? Or have given up that healthy lifestyle by March? We know that the rest of the year is not actually determined by the proclamations we make in January. Sure, January 1, 2019, is a fresh start. But in case that fresh start hasn’t gotten off on the right foot for you, just remember that there are actually 365 fresh starts in a year, not just one. And, statistically speaking, at least a few of those are bound to be filled with a lot of good.

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