Three cheers for the (professional) amateur rider
My alarm went off at 5:15am this morning, and as I drug a brush through my hair and threw food into my dog’s bowls, I began to wonder why it is that I do this? While everyone else is enjoying a Sunday on the couch watching football, or doing a girls brunch with a mimosa, I am layering long underwear under my breeches in order to spend another frigid day at a winter schooling show.
I drove to the barn in the dark, slurping coffee and listening to sad country songs. My high beams on, my truck and trailer the only rig on the back country roads to the barn. And as the caffeine began to seep into my veins, I started to feel the same adrenaline and enthusiasm that come along with every other morning like this. The excitement over the possibility of the perfect round, the perfect test, the flawless transition, or maybe even the simplest happiness – like observing a horse putting equal weight on all legs. And I realized: THIS is why I do this. Not for the fame, not for the money (HA), but simply for the love of the horse.
This weekend I went to a local hunter/jumper show, and realized that not everyone is like me. Horses were warmed up by trainers, and handed off to competitors. Everyone had at least two people on the ground, and one to hold a crop or a blanket. And smiles were not exchanged as we trotted past each other; everyone consumed by the drive to obtain that $3 ribbon. It didn’t seem like many others were in it for the love, at least, not the love of the horse.
I knocked a rail in warm up and had to get off my 17hh horse to put it back up even though 10 people stood around the fence. It was no big deal, rather a small inconvenience, in which I took the chance to tighten my girth and check my horses boots. But I asked someone about this phenomena, and she politely asked me who I was riding with, and where was my trainer? Why did I not have someone to set my fence? To hold my crop? To cool out my horse? I stared dumbfounded at her, wondering what happened to the horse showing world. Where did the strong-willed, independent horseman go? The person who worked 9-5 all week just in order to be able to show on the weekend. The amateur.
And this got me to thinking. I am surrounded by some pretty amazing men and ladies. They are not only phenomenal riders, but more importantly, they are amazing horsemen. And do you know what they all have in common? They are all amateurs, like me, and yet devote their lives to these animals like professionals.
In my mind, these people are not any lesser of a horseman than a professional when I think of general animal health, or passion for the sport. In fact, at times, I believe that they actually love it more. They don’t have to be A Professional Rider to be The Most Professional Competitor. And they certainly don’t have to have stars next to their names or money in their bank accounts to be accomplished horsemen.
These metaphorical professional amateurs are the first that I call when I need to ask for advice. They are the first to lend a hand at a show. They are the first person that I know I can count on after a bad ride or a bad day. And they are the first I would reach out to if I ever needed help. They are usually the first person at the barn, and the last to leave. They are the one who knows that their horse is off three days before he takes a lame step.
They are the Amy’s of the world, who braid everyone else’s horse just to afford to show her own. Or the Sarah’s, who ride in the dark at 6am just in order to work full time to support her habit. Or the Leah’s, who hauls other peoples horses to Aiken just to get to train with a big name trainer. The Kelly’s, who wake up an hour early just to get her horse his second dose of SMZ’s. And I guess, they are me, the person who shows yearlings, body clips racehorses, and pulls manes just to afford the two events that I get to do every year.
You can usually find these people at the shows quite easily. They are the ones smiling at their fellow competitors, whether they know them or not. They are scurrying to their friends trailers, holding a horse or lending a hand. They are sitting ringside at warm-up, giving thumb’s-up to their friends as they take a big over. They are sprinting to the stall to grab a medical arm band or a crop. And they are high fiving their “competition” as they leave the ring while entering themselves.
And why are they like this, these mutant show people of the world? Well, its quite simple. They’re like this because they actually love it. Every. Single. Moment. Of. It.
So at your next show, don’t look over at the lowly amateur, standing alone on the ringside, and judge her. Realize that that person has sacrificed so much of her life to be able to stand by that arena. And don’t think that just because she doesn’t have a famous last name, or is standing by a big name trainer, that she is any less than you. In fact, maybe, just maybe, she might actually be the best. The best at braiding a mane, the best at packing a trailer, the best at putting on a spider wrap, the best at pulling on a bell boot, and the best of all? She might just become your biggest support system. Your biggest ally. Your biggest fan. Your best friend.
So I ask all of us – lets not judge those amateurs. No no. Instead, lets give three big cheers to the most passionate people I know. The ones that do it for the true love of the sport, and not the fame or the money. Because, quite honestly. these people are the most (professional) riders that I know.