There’s busy… And then there’s commuting back and forth on a ferry to go to college while getting a horse fit for eventing season – and working part time. I was eighteen, and possessed a charming naivety that made me believe that I could, in fact, do everything at once.

In all the mayhem, the thing that I was most stressed about was not homework or exams – it was worrying that the horse I was free leasing, Brad, would not be fit enough to make the move up to Training level cross country. He had a heart of solid gold and athletic ability to match, but was still a little green… and I wasn’t giving him as many regular, long-and-slow fitness rides as I wanted. I spent class time plotting, picking specific hills and durations and days of the week to maximize the small amount of saddle time that we were getting.

These worries quickly melted away (as they always do), as we burst out of the start box for the much anticipated first try at Training cross country. I still grin when I think about that round – the joy of having a horse who is all heart just tow you around, leaving you time to smile and feel the wind on your face. The only (small) hiccup occured when Brad was not quite sure what a chevron was. It may not have helped that he was just under eighteen hands – I could feel an earnest confusion as we were approaching the jump: I think this thing is narrower than I am. He made his best effort, high and scopey and just a little off-centre – but over it.

Coasting over the finish line, I noticed that we were, indeed, coasting. Brad was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and barely breathing hard. He was definitely not exhausted. After grateful hugs and pats and kisses, I got off and walked to cool him out, discussing our round animatedly his Brad’s owners. I had a slightly shaky, woozy feeling, which I dismissed as the remnants of adrenaline rush.

After a few minutes, it became clear that it was something else entirely. I could feel my breakfast assertively galloping up the wrong way. Shoving Brad’s reins hastily into the nearest set of hands, I made my way to the nearest bush and… Upchucked.

Once I got over my acute embarrassment, I realized something very important and ironic: in fretting and planning obsessively over the fitness of my horse, I had completely neglected my own. Despite being busy, the large majority of my days involved sitting on buses, sitting in cars, sitting in classrooms, and very little exercise at all. I had gained weight as a result, and my body was simply not ready to cart my (bigger) butt around a cross country course. While we had actually done very well at the event, I had the sinking feeling that it was by the skin of my teeth and heavy reliance on the raw talent and honesty of Brad.

I had another two events coming up in the next two months, and no more time in the days. I had, however, moved Brad into the city so that I could ride every day. I adopted a mantra of a little bit is better than nothing. I took the train every morning to ride, so I started running up stairs instead of taking the escalator, and standing as much as possible, even when there’s were seats open (this took an immense amount of willpower, I will have you know).

The love-hate relationship with gyms, and motivating oneself to go to one, is well documented. Taking advantage of the proximity of mine to my apartment, I made a rule that I needed to go every day, even if it was just for ten minutes. Yes, ten minutes. I would usually stay for longer, but it was that attainable amount of time that helped me get over the mental block of being “too tired” or “too busy.”

And it worked. All these little grains of sand of fitness added up, and by the next time we entered the start box, I felt strong and much happier.

And yes, I did manage to keep my breakfast where it belonged.