Category Archives: Guest Blogger: Candace Potempa

CANDACE: An amateur rider’s struggles with fitting full-time job, studying for second degree as an adult, shows, training, horse time….

 Dear Aspire,

It’s been a long time since I was able to write last and all sorts of things have happened. While I can say that Flirt has, so far, been enjoying her summer and is quite happy and spoiled with treats, today I want to take the time to reflect on a topic indirectly related to horses and, I’m positive, very near and dear to every amateur’s heart.


I’m not going to shock anyone when I say that I consider myself quite good with time management. I’m fairly efficient and usually manage to get everything important done. Well, this year, since I started business school in addition to my full time job, I will admit that I have been struggling. I love the classes I am taking and the things that I am learning. I feel my horizons opening as I discover new questions to ask and see the implications of decisions being made. It really is absolutely amazing. But all that definitely comes with a price. I choose to go to school to learn, but also to open the opportunities for my future. I am ambitious and like to do well in all things. And so, to me, school must be a priority. But then, when school requires up to 8 hours of homework per week – how do you fit that in to your already very busy schedule? What must I sacrifice?

IMG_0444First, I tried not sleeping.

Aspire, allow me to be the first to NOT recommend this choice. It lasted less than a month. I started falling asleep in strange places and, what’s more, didn’t have the energy to do anything or care about much.

Second, I started to give up all the “me” time.

An hour to relax? Now study time. Extra time to exercise and stay fit outside of the barn? Now study time. Blog post writing? Now study time. You see where this is going. However, this approach didn’t last very long either. The problem with working all the time is that you are just as exhausted as before and your brain has no time to re-charge. I became cranky and started lashing out at people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (aka – in my way). In addition, all the stress really started taking a toll on my body. I was gaining weight, getting headaches, and started to feel sick all the time.

My third attempt at fitting school into my schedule was perhaps the most regrettable.

I did what everyone seemed to expect and cut back on the time at the barn. It’s the easiest thing to cut out, right? Ride less = more time for studying. Well, the issue is – you don’t know how much you rely on something until it’s gone. I learned very quickly this year how much the barn stabilizes me mentally and emotionally. Forget any physical benefit – without the barn, I was absolutely depressed and even more stressed out. I started having these crazy mood swings where I would be so happy one day and absolutely miserable the next. Although there were many more miserable days than happy ones…

It’s now the middle of the year and so far, I’ve been just functioning. I went to the doctor because I still felt miserable physically and after all the lab tests are done and the appointment concludes, the grand diagnosis is: stress. I have to get the stress in my life under control or I will be heading down a bad, bad path. So then you start thinking about all sorts of things… and here is some of what I learned:

-I care so much about horse shows that I get totally stressed when I’m there. Why? Aren’t they supposed to be fun? Who says you can’t just ride? – well, apparently you can. Once I came to this conclusion and just relaxed, Flirt and I won every single class we walked into save one at the next horse show.

-I worry so much about this large animal under my care. And that worry isn’t going to go away. So what can I do to help ease the burden? Well, for starters, I need to stop taking time away from her because the rest of my life is difficult. If the barn really is my relaxation time, I need to own that time. Every. Single. Minute. I should spend the time I need to work with Flirt, keep her fit. And I do not need to feel guilty about it. If I need a night off, I have a huge support network to help. And if it really is too much, I can take a day to just visit. Even a few minutes petting her, grazing – it can sooth my soul.

IMG_0468 (1)

-What are the little things in life that cause me stress? How can I eliminate them? Maybe hiring cleaning ladies is not a luxury anymore – they are something that I need for myself. No one cleans my car as well as I do. But if taking it to a car wash helps me while I multi-task with homework, that’s OK. It’s also ok to pay a little bit extra to get the good plane tickets or the good food.

-It’s OK to say no. You want to please others so much and see your friends and help everyone. But the honest truth is that you can’t. At some point you have to pull back and take care of yourself. And that is not a bad thing. But also, be a good judge about when you say no. Your friends are very important and deserve every bit of effort when it’s really needed. In turn, any true friend will also support you when you need them – I guarantee it.

So yes, Aspire, I came to the same conclusion you probably already knew at the beginning. I MUST take care of myself and I cannot – and should not – feel guilty about that. So how do I balance? The simple answer is that I’m starting to learn what is actually important and what is not.

At work, I prioritize to meet the key deadlines. Things are not getting done as quickly as I would like, but I am honest with my co-workers and try to be efficient while I’m there.
At the barn, I try to go out for 1-2 hours 5 days a week. This is my time. And Flirt’s time. And I do what I want to do – whether it’s work to get to that goal or days that I just ride through our fields. I cannot give much of this up and remain a happy person.
Socially, I accept the invitations that I can and enjoy the time. But I also reserve the right to “me” time alone in my apartment. Because I have learned about myself that, as much as I enjoy talking to people and being with people, I re-charge by being alone. And when I’m cranky, it is probably better to be alone!
At school, I now try to spend more time before the midterm and the final and perhaps a little less in between. Not the ideal situation and not the honor-student I’m used to being – but a necessity in my life. What’s more, while everyone pushes me to speed up my pace and take more than one class at a time (5 years is such a LONG time to get a degree!) I am exercising my right to say no. I cannot balance more than one right now and that needs to be OK. For goodness sakes, I just learned to balance my life! Why would I want to mess it up again? I trust myself and peer pressure is not a good reason to change that.


Overall, I don’t suppose this blog post has any great conclusions or profound moments. But I hope it gives you insight into the struggles I’ve been working through these past 9 months. I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself along the way. In the future, I’m hope to apply these nuggets of wisdom in order to keep up with the important things (blog posts included!) and to not lose so much of myself along the way. If I can provide any final words of encouragement, it’s to trust yourself and what you know to be important. Set your priorities, do your best, and life will teach you. Much like riding with Aspire Academy – you just have to be open to listening and learning and it will all come together eventually.

With love,


Guest Blogger Candace about big changes, anxiety, dreams and hope…

Dear Aspire,

hidingAgainst all logic, I’ve spent the last week battling a constant anxiety that sits in the pit of my stomach like an ulcer. Occasionally, the anxiety turns into this paralyzing fear that something terrible is going to happen to someone I love… and when the fear is triggered, I can’t help sobbing and I don’t want to do much of anything. To be honest, I was beginning to think that my instincts were warning me about some accident, some devastating tragedy that I couldn’t control.

Then I spoke to my mom. She described with striking clarity a similar feeling she battled the year before starting medical school. According to her, the fear is likely associated with a major upcoming life change. You are a little bit excited but also terrified of all the unknowns. That is a much better prognosis and one that makes a lot of sense. You see, Aspire, in less than a week, I will begin classes at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Needless to say, my life is going to change in a very meaningful way. I will spend the next 3 -5 years earning my MBA part-time, while still trying to balance full-time work, friends, family, and Flirt. I truly believe that this new education will be a wonderful thing for me and for my future – but change is hard for me. I hide that better now (I’ve been working on it) but I am still scared. Very scared.

It’s funny how it all ties together. Wiola mentioned in her blog that if your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough. So I must be doing something right… although I have to admit I did not expect to have such a sustained emotional reaction. After all, my dreams have not changed and the past few months with Flirt have been the standard roller-coaster of equestrian sports.

We had an abysmal showing at Zone Finals, followed by the realization that Flirt needed some veterinary maintenance. Then we had some great times – followed by some more trouble. We changed her bit to a variation of a Myler snaffle that both she and I love. In the past month, I have been working to adjust my body position – keeping my hips balanced and back while remaining elastic with my arms. I’m learning to ask her to move forward from my half seat. And as all the adults in the world can relate – it is very difficult to get your body to do what your brain wants at this age! Flirt has jumped from places she never would have before and I’m still working on improving my accuracy over bigger jumps… because when you have a little horse, accuracy really matters.

Early in December, I rode in a clinic with Kevin Babington, a show jumping Olympian from Ireland. During the clinic, I rode very well through some difficult and technical exercises. Yet I left feeling like a failure – comparing myself to those around me and feeling as if I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t doing the things I wanted to be… yet when all was said and done, I did have trouble the last day. In my mind, all I could think was “I was wrong – even though I try so very hard and I work my butt off, I truly am still a “novice.”” I sincerely tried to be proud of the things I did well. In the end, I just felt sad.

The following weekend I attended orientation for my MBA. There, an adventure racer spoke to us about teamwork. She told us that when you are miles in, exhausted, and at your limit – the only way to succeed is to take the ego away and ask for help. This resonated with me in a startling way. What happens when I take the ego out of my riding? I’ve been reminded several times that I have set some very challenging goals for myself. So is my stubborn insistence holding me back? Am I convinced that I’m better than I truly am? If I were to sit back and take a realistic look at myself and my riding – what would I see?

candace and flirt show

So began a long hard look at myself and my partnership with Flirt. There are a lot of good things that should not be forgotten. But there is also the realization that, as much as I don’t want it to be true, I may not be able to achieve my goals with this horse. I have no doubt I can do it all one day – but perhaps that day is with my next horse several years down the road. Flirt has taught me a tremendous amount and made me the rider I am today. She is mine and will continue to be mine until she is ready to go into retirement. But realistically, I may not be able to achieve my lofty, challenging goals with her. I am not afraid of a challenge, I am certainly not good at being patient, and I will keep trying each and every single day to reach for the stars. I am driven and determined to give these goals my best shot and every inch, every lesson that Flirt teaches me will be repaid ten-fold in the future. But recognizing that it’s OK to not achieve these goals with her – that is a huge step forward. So much pressure is gone.

Fast forward to last week. A movie I watched one morning triggered an acute episode of depression and I was in a real funk. I made it to the barn on time for my lesson but was seriously toying with the idea of canceling so that I could go home and crawl under a blanket. Instead, I sucked it up and I was given a gift I will never forget. The jumps were big – bigger than I had jumped in a long, long time. And Flirt and I jumped around perfectly. Not “the perfect trip” – no, with mistakes that we were able to overcome as a team. I still dream about the power she displayed over the big oxers and the feeling of being completely with her in the moment… I left the barn that day with my mood completely turned around.

Toni Robinson wrote “Horses change lives. They give our young people confidence and self-esteem. They provide peace and tranquillity to troubled souls, they give us hope.”

On that day, in that moment, all the trials and difficultly was worth it. I was the troubled soul and my horse gave me hope. The triumph of success – accomplishing that with Flirt, knowing that feeling when I needed it so badly – it still means a lot.

Is it significant that just as I let go of my egotistical need to keep up, I feel as though I’ve taken the first real steps toward improvement and success? Perhaps I was holding myself back all along? I don’t have the answers to those questions and I don’t think I want them. But as 2014 begins, I want to share with you two quotes that have inspired me:

“Courage is not the absence of fear – but the ability to overcome it.”
– Personally, I value courage above many other traits for exactly this reason. It’s OK to be afraid; courage itself can take many forms but is always a true accomplishment of the heart.

And “Dreams are like stars. You may never touch them, but if you follow them, they will lead you to your destiny.”
– Far more fantastical than the first, I love this quote because it reminds me that things change. Dreams evolve with me as a person and as long as I keep going and do the best that I can in every moment, I will get to where I am supposed to be.

All this being said, I can’t promise exciting stories of glory or even frequent posts about my challenges as a rider. But I do promise a year in which I will chronicle this new adventure for all of you. I will write the ups and the downs and I will share my heart with you. To me, that seems like a pretty good new beginning.


Candace: Reflecting on partnership. The Importance of Foundations, Confidence and Trust

Candace and Flirt

Dear All,

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
– Mark Twain

I hope you’ll indulge me today as I spend some time reflecting on partnership. It’s something that has been on my mind a lot this summer and I think now is the perfect time to write about it as Aspire is launching the “My New Horse” program. Yes, I know I’ve owned Flirt for about 3 and a half years and she’s not exactly “new.” But with everything that has happened in the last year, we did have the opportunity for a new beginning. Now I find myself continually staring at her and taking so much pride in how healthy, fit, and simply happy she is – such a change from even one year ago!

In many ways, Flirt and I are very fortunate – a lot of partnerships that encounter as much trouble as we had do not end so well. I often see other riders who fix problems by selling one horse and buying another. But does that teach you or simply put off the issues to a later date? I tend to believe the latter and have gained such a sense of accomplishment from working through the steps and ultimately finding ways to improve. Prior to my accident last summer I was on the toughest plateau of my life. And while I can’t recommend a major trauma incident to anyone, in a way it was just what I needed to move forward. The second time around, Flirt and I built on a stronger foundation and we finally have a partnership that we can be proud of and confident in.

Candace and Flirt

Speaking of accidents, it’s important to note that first and foremost – health is key. If you or your horse is not healthy and pain-free, you’re in trouble. Flirt was injured last summer and managed to hide it too well… we had so much trouble and were so angry at each other… and I feel so guilty that I thought she was being bad, that I didn’t see it sooner, but she only ever felt stiff and then trotted sound. However, I can certainly promise that I will not suppress the instincts that told me something was wrong again! On the bright side, Flirt’s rehab from the injury triggered bi-monthly visits from the chiropractor and monthly visits from the body worker. And now, one year later, wow does my horse feel good. So out of the bad came exactly what Flirt needed to feel her best.

Then came my own accident.

Continue reading Candace: Reflecting on partnership. The Importance of Foundations, Confidence and Trust

GUEST BLOGGER: CANDACE. “Honestly, I’m still in disbelief that we did it… but wow.[…].”

Dear Aspire Readers,

It is with great excitement that I write to you today to announce that Flirt and I – at our first show back since being injured last summer – have won our very first Classic! For the first time in my life, I earned the cooler, the ribbon, and had my very own win photo taken! And let me tell you – the feeling is even better than advertised 🙂

Candace & Flirt
Candace & Flirt

The entire show was a novel experience for me in many ways. Every time I went into the ring, I thought to myself – there is nothing here that I can’t do. Jumps looked tiny – meaning I wasn’t afraid of any distance I might find.

Continue reading GUEST BLOGGER: CANDACE. “Honestly, I’m still in disbelief that we did it… but wow.[…].”


Dear All,

I write to you now as Flirt and I prepare to re-enter the show ring for the first time since June last year. This, and some recent events at work, have inspired this month’s post.

If you’re like me, you have been required to sit through several motivational speakers over the years. Some have been good, but more often they end up being rather lackluster. As such, I have to give my current employers a lot of credit because in the last two years, they have brought in some truly exceptional speakers with messages that resonate.

Blog Candace