At every family gathering or party I have ever attended, at least one person has asked if I’m “still doing the horse thing.” More often than not, I’m grateful for this trite attempt at conversation, because horses have always been easy for me to talk about.
I fell in love with the sport and the animals at age five and never looked back. I loved the early mornings, the horse snuggles, the smell of hay, and even cleaning tack (it’s therapeutic, trust me). More recently, however, I’ve been dreading horses being brought up in conversation. When horses are brought up, that means I have to admit that no, I’m not really “doing the horse thing” anymore. It’s not because I’ve lost interest or love it any less, it’s simply because I’m unsure of where it fits into my life at the moment.
I recently grabbed lunch with a friend I’ve known since we were both 13-year-old crazy horse girls. With both of us now in college, we were discussing how she’s in the process of selling her horses, and how weird it was for riding to no longer be consuming our lives. Then she uttered a sentence that broke my heart: “I don’t know if or when I’m going to ride again.”
The fact is that this is the reality for a majority of girls who grew up in the horse world. Trying to make it as a young career woman is more often than not incompatible with having a successful horse show career, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to private jet between Wellington and an Ivy League university.
It’s a taboo subject, your waning commitment to horses. So many people speak about wanting to drop out of school or quit their job to pursue a professional career as a groom or rider, and while admirable careers, they are simply not realistic for a majority of students or amateurs. So many riders start from such a young age, and it’s often a sport that can quickly take over your whole life.
Those who don’t devote their entire lives to the sport are often looked down upon, but the question is why? These riders still care deeply about the sport. They’re still equestrians, just ones who have realized a life outside of the barn. This was a lesson I learned firsthand throughout my freshman year of college. I attended a local state university, and went home nearly every weekend to ride extra horses for my trainers.
While I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities I received, leaving campus every weekend caused me to lose out on valuable college experiences, and I found it difficult to make friends when I wasn’t around to hang out. Therefore, the biggest lesson learned during my freshman year was not the basic principles of chemistry, or international relations theories. It was the realization that riding cannot always be the number one priority in my life, and that’s okay.
Growing means changing, whether we like it or not. This change is often painful, but can give way to spectacular discoveries and experiences. Taking a break from riding intensively doesn’t mean that I no longer wish to follow news about the top riders of the sport, or that I’m selling all of my tack. Taking a break from riding means I have the opportunity to explore passions I wouldn’t have the time for otherwise, it means making new friends who have their own unique hobbies, and branching outside of my comfort zone. For right now, I need to take some time away and remember the reasons why I love this sport.
I’m now beginning to discover interests in fashion, reading, writing, photography, and cooking, and am excited to develop these further. The soundtrack for this chapter of my life is undoubtedly Landslide by Fleetwood Mac – specifically the line, “I’ve been afraid of changing because I’ve built my life around you.” I’ve built my life around horses, and am now striving to grow into a person that 7-year-old, horse-crazy me would look up to. Horses will always be there when I’m ready to jump back in.