I started riding when I was 10 years old. My parents, albeit supportive of my “obsessed” tendencies of wanting to learn to ride, were not accustomed to the world that is equestrianism. I was lucky to attend weekly lessons and had big dreams of showing, clearing massive oxers, leaping over 10-foot Liverpools, and galloping around Spruce Meadows or the Washington International.
However, all those dreams (my parents quickly realized) cost money. How much? Well, considering I calculated how much weekly lessons cost for a year alone and maybe one or two shows a year – then promptly burned the piece of paper with the number on it – I can’t say I blamed them for firmly stating, “NO,” when I would beg to lease or buy the pony of my dreams.
Over the course of 14 years, until I made the insane decision of purchasing a horse of my own, I had to learn to adjust – and appreciate – the value of being the obsessed horse kid that didn’t have one of her own.
In order to get my “fix,” to earn as much saddle time as possible, I would wake my mom up at 6 AM (on a Saturday) to have her drop me off at the barn. From there I would muck stalls, groom horses for lessons, learn how to show prep horses with clipping and bathing, and learned the ins and outs of what working a full-scale show barn was like. It was a ton of fun getting to play with ponies all day, and even if I was covered in Lord-knows-what and smelled to high heaven, I felt so accomplished with my days’ work and the chance to earn an extra lesson or work off my haul-in fee for a weekend schooling show.
Eventually, I got my license (much to my mother’s delight), and began assisting in managing the barn I grew up riding in – waking up at 4 AM to do morning feed and turnouts, muck a few stalls – while balancing a Honor’s course load and after-school activities. I won’t ever say that it was easy, or I didn’t feel overwhelmed, or that I was “missing out” sometimes unlike my other 984 classmates in high school; however I was so proud of my efforts and was fortunate enough to show some amazing horses at some incredible venues that it was all worth it to me.
Fast-forward after high-school graduation and heading toward my collegiate career at Lake Erie College. I was ecstatic to have my schedule full of facility management, equine business, and course-design classes. Plus, I got to ride ALL THE TIME. Between helping at IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association ) shows, riding for IDA (Intercollegiate Dressage Association) under the tutelage of Barb Soukup and showing my leased OTTB, Tego, I was in heaven.
Don’t get me wrong, it got frustrating at times, seeing all these other people around me with their beautiful horses they’ve owned over the years or even brought to school with them! However, I was able to enjoy other aspects of my college career without having to handle the responsibility of taking care of my own horse.
There are so many ways to enjoy horses, even if you can’t own one of your own. Plus, you get the biggest benefit of not having to handle the financial burden of owning a horse! Ultimately, I learned bravery and tenacity because I would hop on anything for the chance to learn or ride something new. Offering to help at the barn gives you the advantage of learning a new skill and to absorb information like a sponge someone otherwise might not have gotten. Same thing applies to grooming at shows – you become so well-connected to your local community and watching other riders.
Attending clinics by either riding in them or auditing gives you another avenue for “pony time.” Same thing applies to traveling to fun equine-related events such as tack swaps, Equine Affaire, spectating shows and more. Plus, you have so much time to educate yourself further, whether it be books on riding, grooming, or even reading stories of famous horses from previous years. You can even try something you normally wouldn’t, like a new discipline such as saddle seat, driving, or even polo!
So, if you happen to be “horseless,” try not to feel discouraged. Take comfort in the fact that the all-consuming love and passion you have for horses is a gift. That can’t be taken away from you. Whether you own, lease, take lessons, or tack up for the occasional trail ride, you’re living the dream of having horses in your life. There are an endless opportunities to being around these incredible animals, and like my mom told me – “If something matters enough to you, you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
Enjoy the ride,