Updated: Sep 2
Self-doubt and self-loathing can steal away any joy you would otherwise enjoy in Scent Work. It's crucially important to fight against these urges and focus on what is actually important: having fun with your dog.
My first true passion was horses. I was absolutely obsessed with them. Had a dresser filled with Breyer model horses as a child, subscribed to every horse riding magazine I could, re-watched Black Stallion and Black Beauty VHS tapes until they broke. I was determined to make my life focus entirely on horses, some way, some how. My family was not well-off, so it wasn't until I was 12 before I had my first ever riding lesson. A natural clutz with a ton of physical issues, I was far from a pretty rider. But, I worked hard and wanted with every fiber of my being to be better. Enrolled in summer camps, took regular lessons, and listened to my instructor's every word...even when they weren't talking to me. This oftentimes got me into more trouble than it was worth, as I would change my position based off of advice given to another student when my position was actually okay. Looking back, I'm fairly certain I drove my instructors to drink.
A few years later, my family moved to a new state and I was promptly reminded at the new riding facility that I was nowhere near where I should have been skills-wise. It was a huge hit to my already non-existent ego and self-confidence. Every time I climbed into the saddle, it was torture. It is not that the instructor was mean or unkind, they were simply...disappointed. Slowly but surely, I found myself riding less to avoid being reminded of how bad I was. Instead, I worked and toiled in the barn, where I could still be around the horses and manage the barn as a whole, but didn't have to face the fact that I was a "bad rider".
A few years into this, a new person joined the team as a co-manager of the barn and riding director for the facility, and she was a brilliant rider at that. There were several young horses who for years had gone without much of any formal training, and now she was there to bring them up to speed. However, she would need help. She was only one person and she saw that while I was far from perfect, I did have a ton of knowledge and would be able to do well if I merely had some guidance and opportunity to practice. She recognized the potential was there, but it needed to be cultivated. She tried everything to get me to ride more. I helped her out a few times and the young horses did do well, but as soon as the owner would come by and sigh the way she did, I would go back to "I cannot ride because I need to X, Y or Z instead"-mode.
The riding director finally took me aside and said something to the effect of, "You're killing yourself doing the work of 4 people to try to convince me you do not have time to ride. You can ride. I've seen it. Hand off a few of these tasks to the employees, who all leave early because you're doing their work for them, and come ride with me." I'll never forget the expression on her face when I told her I couldn't. It was obvious I was never meant to ride.
Fast forward some more and I was now at a new facility with another jaw-dropping incredible rider and instructor. My role was simple: manage the barn. However, this woman was a sight to behold. Truly, trained by some of the greats herself, she was beauty personified in the saddle. As before, this woman recognized that I was good with the horses and she wanted me to also ride. She assigned me one of her own personal stallions. She would give me short 30-minute lessons. It was wonderful. She was patient. She was kind. She was understanding. She pointed out when I was improving. All was going well, until I decided to ride him on my own when no one was at the facility, not smart from a safety perspective. Long story short, I clenched my knees as I would oftentimes do when I got flustered, thus cuing the horse to go faster, and faster, and faster until I fell off and broke my wrist. Not the horse's fault at all. Completely my own. The next day at work, I reported what happened, just relieved the horse was okay. This amazing rider who I had so much respect for turned to me and said, "Well, not everyone is cracked up to ride. Maybe you should take up tennis", and walked away.
While I did end up riding off-and-on for a few more years after that, even after buying my first and only horse, taking lessons with other instructors and so on, it was never something I did regularly. Always hearing in the back of my head, "Maybe you should take up tennis."
How This Ties Into Scent Work
I loved being with horses. Again, it was my passion, my career, my life. It then became corrupted with self-doubt and even self-loathing. My body broke down to the point I could no longer even work at the barns and I left horses altogether. As of the writing of this blog post, I have not seen a horse in-person in over 5 years. For all intents and purposes, my passion became something I dreaded.
As if that were not enough, that one quote, "Maybe you should take up tennis", has stuck with me the entirety of my life and has reared it's ugly head more times than I care to admit.
Now in my role as a professional dog trainer, trial official and Scent Work competitor, it is still there. Anytime something doesn't go perfectly, in the back of my mind that voice jeers at me saying, "See, you can't do this either."