For the vast majority of amateur riders like myself, a riding helmet isn’t the only hat that we wear. In fact, on any given day I find myself donning four or five different ‘hats’ – and I know I’m not alone.

Andrew Ryback Photography

First and foremost I am me, making my way in the world as a husband to my other half, Collin, and a part of my incredible family, a wedding planner, a managing partner of my family’s Gene & Georgetti restaurants in Chicago; and the wedding and events venue in Rosemont, IL; and of course, I have the horses.

I often feel like I spend time running from one thing to the next, quickly swapping one hat for the other, and, as I sat down at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show and prepare for the Amateur-Owner 3’6” Hunters here and at the Washington International Horse Show, I realized that, when I got my acceptance to that year’s indoor horse shows, it could have been easy to turn it down and use the time to take a little breather. But that’s not me.

Me and my team: Caitlyn Shiels with Lucca at the Washington International Horse Show. Photo by Fine Art Horses.

As amateur riders, I know many of us can say, “I’m too busy. Now’s not the right time because of x, y, or z.” But when will be the right time? At the time I was getting married the following January, and we had businesses to run at home. I did not know exactly where I would  be in a year. So instead of putting off pursuing my passion amidst the craziness that is life, I found a way to make my passion a priority and to let it positively impact my careers, my relationships, and all facets of my life.

Make Every Moment Count

Two of the most prominent lessons that I’ve learned as I’ve gone through the past few years of horse showing are 1) be prepared for not a lot of sleep and 2) you have to make every moment count. The second one has been huge for me, as I strive to utilize as much of each day as I can.

And me, at work in Milwaukee at a wedding . Photo by Collin Pierson Photography.

My horses are kept with my trainer and rider Caitlyn Shiels at Canterbury Farm – 47 miles from my house. I strategically schedule the majority of my conference calls for that time spent in the car, but then, when I get to the barn, my phone goes in the tack trunk and remains untouched until I’m ready to leave. Because for me, making every moment count isn’t just about fitting in as much as you can, it’s about enjoying the moment that you’re in and trying your best to focus solely on the task at hand.

I know they say, “Man plans; God laughs,” but I try my best to plan and schedule out my days to both maximize what I’m able to get done and to set boundaries as to what I am doing when. Caitlyn knows Wednesdays are never a good day for me to ride because I’m in the office. But my teams at work know, Thursday through Saturday, if I’m not working a wedding, those are my barn days.

For me, riding is the greatest therapy because it really drives home the idea that I can only focus on one thing at a time. I’m a multi-tasker by nature, and riding really forces me to just be in the moment with my horses.

Set Small Objectives and Work Toward Big Goals

I’ve found another important component of making every moment count is being very intentional and goal-oriented with how I spend my time.

My dad has been a multi-tasker and goal-setter my whole life, and he taught me to set a goal, work to achieve it, and then springboard off of it to a bigger goal. I’ve always used goal-setting at work, and I transferred the same approach to my riding as well. I break down my goals and take things one step at a time toward a larger objective.

My husband is my biggest supporter. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography.

I continually struggle with my confidence and with anxiety when I ride, so when I started back toward where I am today – competing in the 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunters – I didn’t overwhelm myself with “I’m never going to make it in the 3’6” ring!” Instead, I focused on “Today, I’m riding in this three-foot class, and my goal is to do well here and now.”

Even little, seemingly insignificant things are goals that I set for myself. Caitlyn will get on a horse to flat, and she’ll trot for 25 minutes and not even be winded. She’s a machine. At one point, I started thinking, “That needs to be a goal to help my fitness.” I’m a little older; I’m not a size four, and I could use that work. So I started timing myself, and I eventually got up to 25 minutes like her. Those really small goals all help toward my bigger ones.

One of those bigger goals these past few years has been competing at indoors, and what I like most about these horse shows is where they fall in the year. They are able to act as our year-end finals, or, as I refer to them for the non-equestrian members of my family, as “nationals.” With indoors as a goal, I’m able to sit down in Florida at the beginning of the circuit and say, “It’s a new year, and this is the goal I want to work toward this year.” Putting that goal in place then sets up my whole year.

With that goal always in mind, I never make excuses like, “I don’t feel like going today because I’m too tired or too busy. I worked a 400 person wedding for 14 hours yesterday. I don’t want to get up and go ride.” It keeps me going, because I know I’ve set this goal, and I know Caitlyn is getting up every morning and helping me and putting in the time to keep me confident and to train me. The grooms are helping my horses be able to achieve that goal. When I know we’re all working toward this objective, and I have all of these people helping, I know I’ve got to get up, and I’ve got to show up and do my part.

Be Grateful for the Opportunity 

For the past year, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve shown up and given my best. And that’s what I did as I went into the ring at Harrisburg and at Washington.

I may or may not have been breathing when I went in the ring. I probably ate 10,000 mints because a doctor once told me that mint could help with nausea, and let’s be honest, jumping around at indoors can be quite nausea-inducing! But I gave it my best, and at the end of the day, I was so incredibly grateful.

Caitlyn and I took a moment to take it all in at Washington, DC. This moment was so incredibly emotional for me, I was in tears as I hugged her.

Michelle Durpetti and Caitlyn Shiels with Lucca. Photo by Fine Art Horses.

Being involved in this crazy, beautiful, unbelievable sport is such a privilege and one that I’ll never take for granted. And whether it’s juggling work and riding, or processing and overcoming fears and anxieties, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to continue the privilege of pursuing my passion.

And that moment I wrote about earlier when I didn’t know where I would be in a year? Well, let me tell you this – in 2018 I qualified yet again for indoors but could not go because of my schedule and as I sit here typing this blog, I have not seen my horses for almost 8 weeks. This is the longest I have ever gone without riding (aside from two instances where I was injured). I have been missing it more than I can describe, and when I re-read the parts of this entry that happened a year or two ago I am grateful all over again that I do my utmost to live life as much as I can in the moment. The exhaustion, fear, frustration, effort, and work that it takes is all so incredibly worth it. My friends – if you dream of something, go for it, please. Life is just too short and too unpredictable not to. And soon enough, I will be writing a new blog about the competitive goals that my horses and I are accomplishing. xo

This piece was originally found in The Plaid Horse, read it here

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