I just turned 30 this year. And yet 30 – while it sounds so old — feels so good. When I was 15, I thought that by 30 I would be an accomplished veterinarian, a phenomenal and competitive rider. Married with two kids, and a mega mansion with a 15 stall barn. I thought that I would be married to Leonardo DiCaprio, and that he would be both beautiful and supportive as he gave up his Hollywood career to travel around the country to my horse shows.
That didn’t happen.
And yet although my true 30 is different, it is still great. I am finally comfortable in my own skin. Confident in my relationships. Confident in my life path. Confident in my daily habits. My skin is clear, my biceps are toned, and my clothes finally fit. My bachelor’s is complete, and my doctorate is on the way. My Leo is actually named Luke, and my babies are actually labradors. And yet I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. So here is a letter to my 15 year old self:
High school sucks. Kids are mean and boys are cruel. But you still have to get through it. Stop begging your parents for boarding school. Stop responding to the bullies, further encouraging their offensive reactions.
Riding is a sport. You don’t need the hockey team to acknowledge that, the judges on Saturday are. But stay in school. Those experiences will train you for the bullies of the real world. It will give you tough skin. It will give you broad shoulders. And most importantly, it will give you the social skills needed to navigate the world.
Stop fighting with the girls at the barn. The rat race is irrelevant, whether you are riding for the Erie Hunt and Saddle Club end of year awards, or the Maclay’s. These girls that you are crying over will eventually become lifelong friends, and the boys that you are fighting over will come out as gay in 5 years.
Hug your horse. He might have bucked you off, or stopped at the water….again, but when you look back, you will realize that he was truly your first love. He might have given you some insecurities, but he also taught you how to ride. How to bandage. How to load a difficult horse. How to treat a colic. He showed you where a vein was, and let you stab him 50 times to find it in a panic. He is your best friend, your love, and your trainer all in one.
And speaking of trainers — give your trainer a hug. Apologize for turning your riding lessons into therapy sessions. Tell her you don’t actually blame her for being eliminated. Or for buying a horse that was so tough. Let her know how much you appreciate her letting you crash on her couch when you’re fighting with your parents. Let her know how well you are listening when she tells you that the boy you brought to the barn is bad news.
Get rid of the boy. If the boy can’t come to the dusty showgrounds on Saturdays, or if he says he’s scared or allergic to horses, he isn’t worth it.
Keep the next boy. The boy who comes to every show, who polishes every boot. Who shows up with a camera and takes pictures and frames them for you on Valentine’s Day. This boy is teaching you that good relationships exist, and every man in your future should treat you as well.
Send your mom a text message saying how much you appreciate her. Let her know that you understand the sacrifices she has made for her own riding career to produce you, raise you, and get you to the barn every day. Tell her that you love her cooking, and don’t understand how she gets a homemade casserole dished out to three different kids in three different area codes. Let her know that you scream at her not because of any hatred for her, but rather insecurities with yourself.
Tell your dad that you love him. Even when he is screaming at you for wrecking his car on the way home from the barn, or exasperated by you spending more of his money, grab him in a hug. He doesn’t understand these ponies, and this makes you so mad – but he keeps paying for them, something he doesn’t have to do. And that, while not obvious to you, is his way of being supportive. So hug him – you won’t have many opportunities to do it again.
Go to college. Take a break from the horses. Learn how to set an alarm and study. Learn how to do a keg stand. Go on spring break. Date a senior. Make out with someone in the back corner of a bar. Dance on the bar. Wear heels instead of boots. Do your hair so that it doesn’t always cover your ears. Wake up late. Watch the OC all weekend in your pajama’s with your head in your roommates lap. Eat pickles. Eat ramen. Get your heart broken. Fail a class.
Move to Wyoming. Ride in a western saddle. Learn how to gallop on ground that isn’t manicured. Learn to ride for the love of it again. Rope a steer. Circle a barrel. Get bucked off. A lot. Realize you’re not as good of a rider as you thought you were. Fall in love with a cowboy. Realize cowboy’s shouldn’t be loved. Fall in love with a rope horse. Realize horses are safer to love. Move back east. Feel your heart break for a place instead of a person.
Life will continue after all of that. Move again. Meet new people. Feel insecure. Feel poor. Find a job. Learn how to set up a credit card. Max out the credit card. Pay off the credit card by mucking stalls and bandaging legs. Thank your first horse for teaching you how to muck stalls and bandage legs.
The horses will always be there. And the horses will always change. But the experiences are irreplaceable. Realize that being an Olympic medalist isn’t the end-all be-all. Learn that your love and appreciation of horses is more important than the ribbons they’ve won you.
Listen to your 30 year old self. The one who tells you that you mom threw away the majority of your ribbon’s when she moved 8 years ago.
The bullies have shifted, but you know how to react.
The friends have changed, but the good ones have stayed the same.
The boyfriends have come and gone, but taught you what it means to be respected and loved.
And the education, the experiences, and the endurance ride will never leave you.
And most importantly – the ponies have come and gone, but the ride has always been there – and always will.