We recently asked our readers to write about a moment or realization they had where they truly felt horses were where they belonged – their “Made It” moment. We’ll be bringing you their entries over the coming weeks. Click here to see the winner announcement post.

By Aleema Garfinkel

I have never, in all of my three years in the saddle, doubted why I do what I do. It has always been a matter of how can I improve or what can I learn, not why I ride. It just never occurred to me. It was fun and I loved it. But what motivated me? What kept me going? I have always been very competitive against myself, so even after my best rides I tried to analyze how I could have done better and that’s how I kept going.

My “made it moment” happened last month, actually. When I heard about this contest, I thought of this moment so quickly, I knew I needed to enter and write about it! I compete on the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) circuit. This was my first year doing it and I qualified for regionals! I stressed about it for so long, and no matter how much I told myself it would be fine if I didn’t qualify for zones, as it was my first year, I still knew I really wanted to. I ended up being in the largest class I have ever competed in, and against some really amazing riders. If I got third or higher, I could go to zones in Los Angeles.

In IEA, you draw at random the horse you ride. All season I had been drawing big horses, which was fine, but as a 4’11” rider, I really wanted to draw a pony. I finally ended up on this tiny guy named Boxter, whose riders throughout the day were doing pretty good on him. Now it was all up to me and the pressure was really on. Walking into that ring, I sat as tall as I could and tried to think of every single thing I have ever learned. I was doing pretty well and I really loved Boxter. At one point, I recall cantering and the wind picked up. Boxter was doing really good, and so was I. I smiled and relaxed. The thought went through my brain: “This is why I do what I do.”

I ended up placing 4th, a place away from zones. But I was right, there is always next year, and I learned so much this season. Most importantly, that I don’t always need to ride for my materialist goals, but because I love doing it and at the end of the day, that is what mattered.