This blog post goes to all the young riders who are working their days and nights away to follow their dreams and kindle the fire of this addicting passion called horses.
Most of the time when people ask me how old I am, I always have to think too hard. I still believe that I am a 15 year old riding around on her rescue pony. Then I realize I am less than one year away from needing to make grown up decisions. While I am no longer a legal young rider, I feel my everlasting-job of being a working student + riding a plush toy pony has instilled in me an eternal belief I am barely qualified to be a grown up.
Despite feeling like all my personal skills include are sweeping and scooping poop, I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have had the mentors I have. [These mentors are of the two and four legged variety.] And while they have taught me what a correct half-pass is, or how to fix a broken fence, they have given me more life lessons and values than I can count. So, from one rider-who-refuses-to-accept-she-isn’t-a-young-rider-anymore to my true young riders, these are a few of the things I have learned over my years of pursuing my passion.
Find joy in the small things. Like finding a lost shoe in the pasture. Or a horse keeping a shoe on the first place. Or when the farrier only charges you double for putting said shoe back on two hours before the trailer leaves for the biggest show of the season.
Don’t meddle. The sooner you learn that the world is messy, and the horse world is not an exception, the sooner you can move on from the latest gossip or news. There are so many sides to every story, but unless one of them is yours, move on and get scooping/sweeping/riding. Everyone knows everyone in this business, bad news travels faster than good, and a reputation as a gossip will follow you. This business is as people oriented as any, so foster the good and distance yourself from the bad.
Show up early, stay late, always say yes, but…..know your worth. You deserve a break, appropriate sleep at least once a month, and the ability to have a life outside of the barn. No matter how bright your fire burns, you need to take care of the flame to make sure it keeps burning. Find an outlet that doesn’t have anything to do with four hooves.
Do not put your nose up to any discipline. There is something to learn from everyone, and you can learn something everyday, as long as you try. Go riding on the beach, take a bareback ride [even if Paul tells you it puts you in a chair seat], try your hand at working cows, learn how to appreciate the highest art form of every discipline.
Respect your trainer and value the lessons they have learned from their experience, but don’t treat them like a god. This is an unhealthy relationship and could hinder you from learning as much as possible. Form your own opinions; they last longer and mean more.
There will come a time that you will be incredibly jealous of every young rider who may or may not be riding in ten years that have enough money to buy a finished Grand Prix Dressage horse. Don’t resent them. Take a second to hug your own mutt and be thankful for every lesson they have taught you. But….
Ride a finished horse if you have the opportunity. They will teach you ways to feel what you didn’t know existed. Don’t worry about what people will say. Just because the horse has done Grand Prix once doesn’t mean they are a push button horse. It is an opportunity you cannot pass up.
Again, know your values, and stick to them. If you only want the ribbons, find a new sport and don’t make the horse be a victim of the vanity of ribbon chasing. The joy of getting first place or that score shouldn’t hold a candle to the feeling of peace when you hear your horses munching contentedly on hay at night check.
The more expensive the helmets, boots, or horses doesn’t necessarily make them better. Don’t get sucked into the latest fad and don’t feel like you have to prove anything by the brand or the bloodlines in your barn.
There might be moments when you question why you have spent the last however-many-years chasing a passion that largely only allows you to eat mac and cheese for dinner. Then you remember you would probably get fired if you had a desk job.
And take a minute to stand back and remember why you fell in love with horses in the first place. You weren’t a little girl or boy cutting out magazine clippings or watching The Saddle Club on repeat because you wanted to impress your peers with the ribbons you earned. You begged your parents for your very own horse for years so you could run out to the pasture to sit and read in their company, and to have the ability shower them with love and cookies. You dreamed of the relationship you would have, and not the ribbons you would win.
And to my dear young riders, whether in age or in heart, this passion will show you what you’re made of, but at the end of the day, it is supposed to be fun. Never forget where you came from on your way to where you’re going.
Off to go refuse to grow up and have fun,
Erin and the Wonder Pony