Should You Have a Horse in College? Probably Not, But Do It Anyway


When I prepared for my first semester at college as an eighteen-year-old freshman, I got ready in a way that many others have. I went shopping with my parents for twin sheets and accessories for my dorm room. I tentatively walked through rows of shelves in the university bookstore to pick up (and overpay for) my textbooks. I carried a tray through the cafeteria, trying to figure out the best grub I could get on my meal plan. And in-between all that, I drove out to the barn to hack my horse.

Growing up, my junior years were pretty grassroots. I didn’t horse show, I fox hunted, but I was fortunate to have privilege and supportive parents that bought me a cheap, western Quarter Horse advertised in our local newspaper. That scruffy little horse turned out to be my best buddy throughout my teen years. When it came time to go to college, I couldn’t imagine life without him.

Triangle Hunt Club in North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

My parents considered college to be half for education, and half for life experience. They didn’t give an ultimatum about what to do with my horse when I decided to attend a university local to my hometown (and the barn), but they didn’t exactly hand over a monthly allowance for his board and care either.

Since I was incredibly fortunate to have my parents pay for tuition and room/board, I didn’t dare ask for more. If I wanted my horse, I had to figure out how to make it work – and that’s when I really started to learn about life as an adult.

I never took economics, but my horse taught me about budgeting. That just because you hand someone a check, it doesn’t mean they’ll cash it immediately (shout out to my farrier who taught me all about what happens when you overdraft your checking account) and that balancing a checkbook isn’t an exercise in futility.

Nineteen and in my preferred habitat — the barn. Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

I grew up in an upper middle class household with a lot of frills, but having to pay for my horse taught me how to live without. That no, I didn’t really need half the things I thought I needed. Getting board paid on time was far more important than any designer label.

My horse taught me time management and the value of labor. I worked two jobs to pay for his board at a nice facility near campus. On the weekends, I drove out to the barn in the early morning to feed, turn out and muck stalls. It didn’t matter if I had been up until 3am the night before – the horses needed to be fed. After school, I tutored high school students to help pay for lessons and, eventually, shows.

I did all of this while working on a double major and carrying an average of 15 credits a semester, and yes – it was a lot. But you know what? It didn’t feel like a lot back then. Maybe it’s because I was young and energetic, not knowing any better. Or maybe it’s because when you’re in the early stages of your life where everything feels confusing, when you don’t know what you’re going to do in the future and you’re navigating that often painful transition from childhood to adult life… maybe the thing that helps the most is cantering bareback through the field, and the soft velvet touch of your horse’s nose as it brushes your palm for a treat.

Zip to the Star aka “Elvis.” From western to hunters. Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

No, my grades weren’t perfect, but they were good enough. I’m sure having my horse during college impacted some of my scholastic achievements, but in reality my low grades in math had much more to do with a distinct hatred for all things involving formulas. I still managed to win academic awards and dean’s roll, horse or not.

If my goal in life were to attend Harvard Law, maybe having so much to juggle would have been a bad idea. But back then, and now, my goal was to be happy and share my life with an equine partner.

Ten years later, things haven’t changed as much as I thought they would when I was eighteen. I’m in college again, this time for graduate school, and just like before… I brought my horse. He’s expensive and time consuming and lord knows he’s stressful when he so much as takes a strange breath and convinces me he’s got any number of ailments.

Back in college again… with my horse. Photo by Carey Goodwin

But he’s my quiet friend at the end of a long week. My shoulder to lean on when the world is tough. And I work hard to keep him, because I learned how many years ago.

About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

Read More from This Author »