A little over a year ago, I received a Facebook message from a girl named Caroline.
She started by saying that we had been introduced via her boyfriend, whom I had known for years, and then quickly began her line of questions. She wondered if I taught lessons, and if I had lesson horses available to take those lessons on.
She explained that she had just committed to taking a Horse off the track, and although she had been an avid rider in Ireland during her childhood, adulthood had kicked in, and as she rose up the ranks of the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry, her riding career was placed aside.
I truly had a negative answer to both—as I was neither an avid “trainer” nor did I truly have lesson horses, but seeing something so similar to my own situation in her, I said yes.
We met at a local riding park and I tossed her up on my Mak-a horse that might run around the 1.10m with me one day, but can be used in an up/down lesson the next. Walk, trot, canter, and over a few fences we went.
I quickly realized that she was a better rider than she gave herself credit for, but that her confidence was shot.
But I knew that feeling.
That had been me. That had been 2011.
I hadn’t competed in an event since 2003. I hadn’t jumped a fence since 2007. I hadn’t polished a boot or braided a mane in as much time.
But just like Caroline, I was friends with people who had. And for one blissful summer, I reimmersed myself.
And just like Caroline, my goals in 2011 were limited.
I just wanted the escape of a horse; to feel the adrenaline of a good ride over a nice course. I wanted to compete at beginner novice max, and just not make an ass of myself.
I didn’t know if I could afford even the ownership on one horse, nonetheless 3. I had an old Crosby, a borrowed trailer, pull on tall boots that were purchased at Schneider’s in the year 2000.
And I had a BLAST.
Flash forward 7 years and I now own 3.5 horses. I am hoping to move up to preliminary on one, and 2nd level on another.
I look back at those pictures and am horrified of a lot.
My lower leg. My terrible braids. My jump saddle in a dressage ring. My ghetto fabulous illfitting cavesson. I note my brush boots on my XC schools, my child sized safety vest and my sombrero like helmet.
And a few months ago, Caroline lamented of these same inadequacies to none other than my boyfriend.
She told him that she felt like she would never get to the point where she could afford that trailer, or that dressage saddle. She said that she just wanted to go beginner novice and not fall off. She felt like she would never get “there,” that mythical land of comfort, confidence, and ability.
And Luke just turned to her and laughed.
He told her that those words sounded so similar to a girl he used to know. One who cried herself to sleep because she didn’t think she could afford one single horse. The girl who had to gulp 3 beers before being sent out on her first BN XC course in 10 years. The girl who never matched. Never had the newest tack. The one who arrived slightly disheveled but smiling.
Because while that girls tack was older, and her stock tie was askew, one thing was always there—and that was her smile.
7 years later, it’s still there.
If someone had told me 7 years ago that I would be considering a move up to prelim, I would have fallen to the ground laughing. If someone had told me 7 years ago that I would sacrifice every dinner out, vacation, and new fashion in order to afford a truck, trailer, board, and entry fees to make that possible, I would have rolled my eyes.
But if someone had told me 7 years ago that I had finally re-introduced myself to happiness, I would have agreed.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it can be viewed at any stage of your life. You might not see the future that lies ahead of you, but know that if you’re truly passionate and loving every second of the journey, that the road ahead is lined with things you would have never thought imaginable—or possible.
My path has been far from linear, but oh so enjoyable. And the best part is getting to watch others follow in the wake of it. People like Caroline, who are in the beginning of that secondary journey, or even the many who I know who are beginning their breaks.
Horses are always, and will always be, something you can come back to. It might seem far off. It might seem impossible. But while the future is blurry, it is possible. Hindsight is 20/20, but the road ahead is nicely laid with ascending oxers and passage.
You might not be able to see that futuristic place ahead, but just know that it’s there. All you have to do is keep your eyes up, your shoulders back, and keep kicking.
This was a perfect read for today. THANK YOU for sharing the struggles that most of us have, and aren’t quite sure how to work through/move past. This is what I needed today. Perfect.
been there done that! It took me 13 years to get back into the “sandbox” with a retired OTTB I trained myself (read puttered around with) from a 3yr old, I’m 50 and all I wanted was to put the OLD woolen jacket back on, (wouldn’t need the Ebay body protector this time!) and just complete a Walk/Trot test, but we managed (somehow, with a lot of help from my awesome trainer) to finish Training Level Champs in our first year out! (and I bought myself a new show Jacket! to celebrate!) It can be done.
As always, a perfect post with perfect timing!
You are an inspiration as an ammy trying to dig her way towards competing. With luck, I may run into you at a horse trial if all goes well!
This article could not possibly have been more timely as I am working towards getting back in the saddle after seven long years battling illness.
Just like you saw a bit of yourself in Caroline, I see myself in you as well. Much of your story mirrors my own in so many ways, which is exactly why I have been following your blog all this time.
Thank you for this much needed nudge, I really needed it!
Thanks for an inspiring story. I’ll be 60 this year and I hope to participate in my first STARTER events with my 4 year old OTTB this summer. We are learning together and having a blast.
Thank you for this, which has left me with tears in my eyes, for this reminder that hope can revisit us most unexpectedly. It’s been a rough…many years. Financially, emotionally, life-ly. That have stripped away even my ability to write about it. But I have an about-to-turn-4 year old who just arrived on the farm (who naturally already hurt himself, but is healing) who has something very special about him and after he grows some new feet and gains about 150 pounds, I can’t repress the excitement daring to flicker in my head for what he could be. It’s frankly terrifying pondering the risk that comes with these hopes, but at the same time, I remember the incredible joy of a gallop and it’s even more risky to not try and find it again.