By Jorna Taylor
There is a series that The Chronicle of the Horse does called “Amateurs Like Us” and it is designed to put real faces to the elite world of hunters & jumpers. Some of them I can relate to – like the women who clearly change in their car on the way from work to the barn so they can squeeze in a lesson before dark. But others play a bit out of my league, like those who have managed to eat ramen noodles long enough to pay for Devon. I applaud the effort and appreciate a more realistic take on life from those of us struggling to live it.
However, I also feel like there are a whole bunch of “Amateurs Like Me” whose greatest accomplishment in a year may be winning an equitation on the flat at a local circuit show, or moving up from the 2’6” division to the 2’9” without scaring themselves half to death! (Not to mention their loved ones, horse and trainer.)
Now, I don’t mean to negate the accomplishments of anyone. Ever. Heck, this is one seriously complicated sport that requires perseverance, dedication and the utmost trust in another living being to get you safely to the other side. So I do not in any way make light of the hard work every single rider of every single discipline puts in.
Every. Single. Day.
BUT…. I know there are a bunch of amateurs just like me out there, who may be able to relate to my trials, tribulations and triumphs. Riders who tonight picked between heading to the grocery store to get the fixings for a healthy salad or to stop at Chipotle on the way home from the barn, as it is right next to the liquor store where you can grab a bottle of cheap red wine… I always seem to write more when I’m drinking, funny how that works!
Still, I want to share some of the things I love about being an amateur – a hard working, dedicated to my sport but need to pay for it kind of amateur. An amateur who puts her horse before her self and loves every minute of it. And hopefully you relate to a thing or two .
Amateurs like me are planners. Maybe we have become proper preppers in our older age, but more likely we are just nervous and need to put that energy to good use somewhere and it sure isn’t going to be cleaning the house (perhaps the tack room, and some stalls). Still, we start packing for the show no later than two weeks before the trailer pulls out of the drive. We arrive at the horse show with rolled wraps and organization that is borderline OCD because what if our horse is wild and we need a lunge line STAT. Trust us, we know exactly where it is.
Speaking of planning, amateurs like me are uber-prepared. By this I mean we take absolutely everything we own. From horse clothing to human outfits, we are ready for anything. Weather forecast says it will be 95 in the scorching sun for the next 10 days? Don’t worry, we brought that 20 year old wool cooler for the horse, just in case. And a rain sheet. And mid-weight. Someone forgot a hunter show pad? We can lend you one of our five, even though the show is only two days. From poultice to fly spray to an extra show shirt for equitation (in three sizes), we will always have you covered. And then some.
One of the best things about being an amateur like me is having a trainer that understands my horse. I mean me. No, really, its my horse. Trainers will look at a schooling ring full of crazed pony kids and frantic junior jumpers – yes, at the same time, dear lord! – and suggest that perhaps we don’t want to “have a bad experience” for the old schoolmaster and let us go hack in the empty ring alone for hours until its quiet enough to navigate toward a jump. Then have us do one course to practice and call it a day.
Amateurs like me love beating the kids. I mean, seriously, they deserve it. Because amateurs like me remember when they were just like those kids who scoffed at the outrageous possibility someone so old could even stay on the horse. It’s a miracle! Let alone that we could ever equitate. So those snotty juniors on their fancy horses that they ride every day, often without stirrups and sometimes even without a saddle – yeah, we just totally schooled you in the warm up so take that.
Amateurs like me don’t mind that the laundry load of underwear and socks got thrown in right after the standing wraps and schooling pads. Why does it matter, we used some bleach to get the stains out, seems good enough. Now, in fairness, juniors like me didn’t care either, but that’s because we didn’t do our own laundry. And likely fathers like mine were a little less thrilled about the prospect, but mothers like mine didn’t care 🙂
Sometimes amateurs just like me go to the barn and never get on their horse. And that’s okay. As a full-fledged adult, there are days when it is more important to putter around grooming him and shoveling treats down his gullet with some twisted sense of guilt (like he is some how insulted that you are there but not riding – ha!). Because we all know that the real world catches up with you at times and as much as the ride can be an escape, the mental fortitude it takes to change into your breeches and haul all your tack out is just too much. It’s too much. You get me.
Amateurs like me are terrified of courses. For some it may be the fence heights, but for the rest of us it is the pattern. A regular hunter round that throws in a single on the quarter line is cause for a light sweat, but dear-god-why-does-the-classic-round-go-on-forever?! At the last horse show I went off course because there were two singles on the diagonal across the middle. Course designers can be such sadists. A medal course? Ack – hopefully there is a flat test. And jumper courses. Just stop. Give us at least an hour head start and do not expect us to memorize anything more than our first round. Please know that all bets are off should we somehow be lucky enough to make it to the jump off.
If you are an amateur like me, you hold on tightly to small bastions of your youthful equestrian days. For me, I sport two nameplate bracelets just about every day in the office. It is a conversation starter, to be sure, but somehow wearing my horse’s name on my wrist reminds me of my happy place, where I’ll be as soon as I’m out of whatever boring meeting or have completed whatever mindless task in front of me. As if the bay hair covering my white dress and arena sand in my favorite flats wasn’t enough.
Amateurs like me love other amateurs who are like us – the ones who post hundreds of photos on facebook of their horse show. The ones who chronicle the ups and downs of their horsey filled life. I find satisfaction in publicly admitting defeat or posting that picture where I nearly fell off. Why? Because it makes it all real and if one other person sees that and can relate to my struggle, therefore is more forgiving of herself, well then it is all worth it. Let’s face it, not every ride is blue ribbon. In fact, many of them are not in the ribbons at all. So amateurs like me have to have a serious sense of humor, because we spend way too much money to hate what we do.
Speaking of money, amateurs like me never begrudge a single penny spent on this incredibly expensive sport. Even the repeated vet bills, monthly farrier, supplements, equipment, lessons… while we may bemoan our bank account levels, we never actually consider it money down the drain. Amateurs like me have a choice and we choose the happiness, well being and quality of outfits for our equine partners every time over our own. Every. Single. Time.
But amateurs like me are probably your biggest cheering squad ringside. Yes, even for you juniors looking down your noses at us (we remember being you… longingly…because that hot dog and fries we just ate from the food stand is not going to help us fit in to our new breeches). We are so grateful to have figured out how to keep doing this sport we love, at every level. We are masters at juggling career and family and all sorts of adult obligations. Sure, we dream of winning the lottery and doing nothing else but showing horses, however, until that day comes we are elated just to be there in the moment. We will always have a kind word for you as you come out of the ring, no matter what happened. And all we ask is that you do the same for us.
So bring on the rain, dust, schooling rings, yapping dogs, people with umbrellas, masochistic judges who ask for an extended sitting trot both ways… oh wait, where was I…
Anyway, just know that at the end of the day, amateurs just like me, and just like you, are going to gleefully collect their ribbon with a huge smile on their face. Because today we managed to do what we love and we did not die.
And that’s more than enough. For an amateur like me.
Read more of Jorna’s posts on her blog.