For as long as I can remember, horses were always associated with me. I embraced the horse girl label before I knew what that meant, and I attracted horse-crazy best friends. I liked how living on a farm distinctly individualized me from my peers. Plus, I always had the best location for birthday parties.
As I entered the latter parts of middle school, however, horses no longer felt like the way in which I should define myself. I no longer had any horse-crazy friends and I found myself indifferent to Pony Club ratings. I got motivated in school by finally earning letter grades, and pushed myself to be the best (I was the do your weekend homework on a Friday night type). I went to a close knit, all-female middle school that pushed us to try everything. We had mandatory theater, mandatory art, mandatory chorus, and mandatory team sports. Although in the moment I hated it, I can now look back and appreciate when I had the lead in our very serious seventh grade play or the exhilarating feeling of scoring a goal in field hockey. I started to find other areas of life that interested me, and my school environment encouraged me to pursue them.
In high school I circled back to riding in a more serious way. To this day I don’t know what switch flipped, but I wanted to compete (and event). I wasn’t satisfied with the idea of Beginner Novice schooling events, and thanks to having strong basics, I found myself at Training level before I knew it. As I took my riding more seriously, the people around me did too. I was no longer the crazy horse girl but more respected-rider-athlete-even-if-they-don’t-understand-what-I-do.
As riding consumed more of my time I felt myself straddling diametrically opposed worlds. My other interests, like visual art or team sports, were put on the back burner. Since I had my feet firmly in the intense boarding school world this also meant I couldn’t be the type of rider I wanted to be competitively. Taking just a day off from class would completely overwhelm me, the idea of going south was an impossibility, and therefore team goals, like Young Riders, would be out of reach for me.
I permanently felt pulled in opposite directions, with riding demanding something of me and my friends the other. When I chose to go to a rigorous liberal arts school for college I prolonged this tension for another four years. How could I justify these identities? I couldn’t explain my complicated choices to others, so I had to lean in to the discomfort.
I had to refocus my goals. Instead of NAJYRC or winning important prizes, my goal was to ride so well that people would approach me to tell me well done. I wanted to be a rider who someone else wanted to ride their horse – and that’s not necessarily the winner. I also had to let go of the idea of a 4.0. My education, almost by default, became about learning instead of grades. After years of practice I knew how to guarantee myself an A but that also meant not ever failing. And trust me, it’s a complete fallacy you can learn without getting things wrong.
Here I am out of college, and I still don’t know the best way to justify my barn identity with my other identities as traveler, writer, and learner. I still don’t know how this will fit into a certain career or read best on a resume. I still don’t know most things, but I do know I am allowed to be more than one thing and that’s enough.