Middle Class Equestrian = Poor

We live in a society of the have’s and have-not’s. With my fellow equestrians, I have seemingly self-selected into a community of have’s where even reasonable wealth will still make you feel jealousy.

A large reason why I like the jumpers is the fact the judging criteria is clear. You are the fastest person on this day. You win. You have a rail? You get second.

I definitely appreciate the importance of hunters. We all need to begin on line, angle line, line, angle line. We have to have straightness, counting strides, soft equitation, and happy looking horses.

Hunters are a foundation that we all need. But as we climb up the levels, it is also increasingly a demonstration of what money can buy you, and what hard work cannot win you.

How often do we look at the top rings in the country and see the same rotating ring of riders and trainers? Yes, they are good and elite people stay at the top of the sport. But also, should it be that rare for us to see and upstart thoroughbred and a kid from the midwest competing at that level?

I have reached my own inner peace about not affording the upper echelons of this sport. As a kid, I wanted to do it all, and I got to do a good amount considering many kids never even own a horse.

But one thing stayed with me. Even on my best day in the Hunter ring, where my short-strided and fiery thoroughbred got all the leads, all the distances, and my wool coat was cleaned to perfection and my second-hand, pull-on boots were polished.

I still got fifth to more expensive and beautiful horses that chipped into lines. It did not matter how hard I worked to be my best, I would never be the best in my parent’s income bracket.

It’s a tough lesson to learn as a young teenager. You feel frustrated, and don’t quite understand why amateurs get to have 4 beautiful warmbloods that they pay your trainers to ride, when you work tirelessly to ride your hot-blooded horse every day.

Growing older has given me a lot of perspective on this, and I no longer resent others for what they have. I can watch the Jessica Springsteens of the sport and simply muse that they are great riders. Yes, they may have had more opportunities, but that should not take away my enjoyment. As well, becoming the working amateur has made me realize just how hard it is to ride and work, it leaves almost no time for other activities. Heck, if I could afford to have my horse tacked up for me after long work days, I might consider it! 😛

Upper level hunter classes are still a sore spot for me though. Not because I feel anger, but moreover because I feel boredom. I am not inspired by the stories I see in the ring like this one. I can appreciate its beauty, but it no longer causes excitement in me.

 

 

 

Sidelined

I cannot imagine how frustrating it is for an Olympic athlete (or really, any high level athlete) to train, travel, and dedicate their time to a cause only for the moment to be not right. Sport is tricky – combining the physical elements with the traditional goal seeking human behaviors encourages misalignment. The Olympics only happen once every four years. This cycle can be cruel – there are so many equestrians that are at the top of their game in between the Games, but when the qualifying and selection process occurs, they find themselves with an aging mount or a pesky injury.

One of the core conditions we accept about this sport is not only our own physical limitations, but also those of our companions. We, as riders, can feel ready to perform, but as soon as we get a shrug from our partners, we have to pack it up, go home, and try again another day.

There is no “they can push through it” or “mind over matter”. Or at least, there shouldn’t be. We are placed in the unique position of balancing our own ambitions with the health of our partners.

I doubt Kerri Walsh had to decide whether or not Misty May-Treanor was physically able to compete in any of their Olympic bouts. Even if Misty felt “meh” from her ruptured Achilles injury, she could elect to continue, because it is within her capabilities to do so as a communicative human. Horses do speak to us, but not so bold as to suggest we should ignore them when they are not feeling well.

As frustrating as waiting for a double green light can be, it is also one of the beautiful things about the sport. It breeds respect of the trust and partnership we build with these animals. As a result of this, horsepeople can be the most thoughtful and worldlessly sympathetic people I know.

Unfortunately, we are sidelined for now, but luckily it is supposed to be for short while. And thankfully, I am NOT an Olympic athlete (pick your jaws off the floor, everybody) and thus my stakes are much lower. My concerns do not have to consider pleasing sponsors or making a profit, and thus I can solely worry about my horse feeling better.

As a teenager, I think idle time was more frustrating for me, but now I get to reflect on how to improve and take a breath. It has actually been nice to have a moment to wait for summer to truly appear and wait until my friend is ready.

 

 

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Probably what we need to outfit our horses in to avoid injury… But also how cool are vacation pictures?

The Early Years

Many things about riding prepared me for the greater complexities that awaited me in adult life.

Scrutiny and the ability to accept criticism?

Thank you childhood trainer for making me cry and demanding nothing short of perfection. And don’t you THINK about talking back because then you are taken off the horse.

Hard work?

I owe this one to the 15-20 horses I turned out, fed, and groomed as a 12-year old. Or maybe to the hours spent cleaning tack? Horses I tacked up for well-to-do (but incredibly nice!) adult amateurs?

Patience?

Yes, I know you are going to spook at this plastic bag for the after bolting 15 times prior at the dog, the weird umbrella, and the wind. But I am not going to lose my marbles because I know you are a baby horse and you need a calm influence.

The power to explain?

Posting is a weird concept even for non-horsey adults. Try teaching it to non-horsey kids.

Balance?

HA, jokes on me, still can’t figure this one out.

Point being, there are many lessons that we gain growing up with these animals and immersed in this sport that transcend age. There are so many for me, it’s hard to point out one in particular. But there is one that is just a funnier experience to tell. So, storytime.

When I showed as a kid (pre-12 years old), it was humble. It was before I showed on the A’s, they were run out of local barns, and adding strides on a horse was not only acceptable – sometimes it won you the class.

In this environment, where the jumps were 6 inches below what they were supposed to be set at and wearing ill-fitting rubber boots, I became deathly afraid.

Because clearly, this was the most important moment of my life.

Never would I ever amount to anything greater than the Beginner Hunter division of the Northern Illinois Hunter Jumper Association. And it required PERFECTION.

I can laugh now, but back then I would get way too nervous. I was always a working student at these shows, so I would arrive early, feed horses, and have to go vomit in a porta-potty for 30 minutes because I was that nervous. I did not have to do this once a day, but multiple times a day I would be so terrified of messing up that I could not keep food down any days that I showed.

I remember concerned patrons asking me if I was alright when I finally surfaced, harried and red Gatorade in hand.

Yep, it was a glamorous life.

I can’t pin down one show, round, or moment that rid me of my nerves. I know it continued when I moved to the A’s, especially because then things, like, actually mattered a bit more in the context of the horse world. At least then I sort-of had a reason.

I do have a working theory that the catch-riding circuit helped. If you can ride a horse you have never met over 7-9 jumps without even picking up the reins, you can probably deal with the same shit your horse always pulls, even in a show environment.

Outside of riding though, I like to I am a cool customer. I rarely get nervous, presentations, travel, nothing. It does not stress me out. I have a resounding, it will work itself out or I will figure it out mentality.

Something like this…

Chalk it up to another one of riding’s nuggets of wisdom.