Victory smells like sweat. It tastes like dust in your mouth, dust caked in layers on your face. It feels like blisters, purple bruises, muscles so sore you cringe to move them. Victory sounds like the alarm going off at 5 a.m., your car starting to head to the barn for just one extra ride before the show. It sounds like your feet hitting pavement, because you hate to run but you love to ride; and you know that running will help your riding. Victory is working harder than your competitors, never stopping at “good enough” or “that’ll do.” Victory is working yourself harder than your horse, because it’s your dream, not his. Victory is trot circles, walking hills, tiny shifts in leg position, riding every horse, any horse. Victory is accepting criticism, embarassing yourself in front of better riders and big name teachers just for the chance to participate. Victory is exchanging how it feels now for how it’s going to feel then.
Someday, when someone hands you a pretty ribbon and says, “Good job today,” you’ll smile and think of all the days that led up to this day. When you hang the ribbon on your wall, you’ll think of early mornings up before dawn, landing in the dirt, moments of self-doubt, icing sprains and strains, and wondering whether all the time and money you’re spending is worth it. But when you hang the ribbon on the wall, and some random houseguest says with mild interest, “Oh, you ride?”, you’ll smile more to yourself than to her and reply, “Why yes, I do.”