By Langston Hughes What happens to a dream deferred?

  • Does it dry up
  • like a raisin in the sun?
  • Or fester like a sore—
  • And then run?
  • Does it stink like rotten meat?
  • Or crust and sugar over—
  • like a syrupy sweet?
  • Maybe it just sags
  • &like a heavy load.
  • Or does it explode?

With countless highly anticipated events in limbo or already cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, junior riders in particular are facing mounting uncertainty.  Riders in their last year of eligibility are the most discussed sector. But there are also pony riders who will be either too old or too tall to pilot their diminutive mounts next year and leased horses that will have to be returned at the end of contracts.  As our governing bodies work to make decisions regarding the fate of Medal Finals, Junior Hunter Finals, Pony Finals and so on, it’s safe to assume that there simply won’t be a solution that addresses each rider’s unique set of circumstances. 

For many junior riders, 2020 will be the Year of Dreams Deferred. As trainers, it’s our job, to guide our young riders through this tumultuous time and help ensure their dreams are not left to dry up.

In the easiest cases, a Dream Deferred can be just that—a dream delayed by a year or so. Hopefully 2021 will bring stability back to our championships and finals and the riders who are still eligible and suitably mounted to compete will get their opportunity. Of course, we will use the extra time to continue to improve our riders and their horses, but it also may be necessary to introduce some intermediate goals. Depending on the location, it may be local finals, or even personal goals outside of the show ring. 

In the more difficult cases, a Dream Deferred may have to be a Dream changed. While it’s hard to let go of a goal that has been years in the making, if junior riders who are on track to age out this year are not given an eligibility extension, they may have to do just that. As trainers, we played a critical role in establishing those goals, now we may have to find ways to help our young riders make sense of a career that won’t end the way they imagined. Many of us have been in this position before, due to injuries to horses or riders, or just sheer bad luck. Draw from those experiences, consider the highlights of your own riding career, talk to your riders to get a sense of what they value and enjoy about riding. The new goal could be learning to jump a 4’ course at home, or having a lesson with an equestrian idol. I get it, these consolation prizes may pale in comparison to the original dream. But we may not have a choice. 

As trainers, we have to forge ahead with sustained enthusiasm and positivity. What happens to a dream deferred? It very much depends on the way we approach the next six months.