BY RENNIE DYBALL
Ever see that meme on social media with a horse and rider in the show ring along with the text, “If you are riding a horse you have already won?”
It took me 15 years of riding – and owning exactly 0 horses – to truly understand that sentiment.
I am a horseless adult amateur who rides as often as my wallet — and, to a lesser extent, my schedule (there’s almost always a way) — will allow. I was lucky enough to have parents who supported my obsession with years of weekly lessons and schooling shows, and I mucked stalls and filled water buckets for additional time in the saddle. If it was work done around horses, it didn’t feel like work. Of course, I still always wished I had a horse of my own.
After six years between a local lesson barn in Maryland and a trainer named Brian who took in a couple of us horseless kids with his boarders, I went on to ride with the Penn State equestrian team from 1998-2002. Then, immediately after graduation, I moved to New York City to work for People magazine. I did my best to keep riding, taking lessons in the city at the now-closed Claremont Riding Academy, and at a couple other New York barns accessible by train-and-bus combo.
Between a busy job in media and sky-high Manhattan rent, I ultimately had to take an extended break from riding. For many years, I was truly horseless, and would literally fall asleep at night visualizing myself navigating a course back home.
In 2014, my husband’s job took us from Manhattan back to Maryland, and after months of working up the nerve (I had a baby at this point couldn’t shake the memory of a very bad fall in college), I texted Brian to see if I could ride with him again.
For the next year and a half, I was fortunate enough to partner with Brian’s old show jumper, Wild About Harry, who helped me rebuild my confidence and took me beyond what I did as a kid. Shows for me in the ‘90s were limited to the schooling variety, and almost exclusively held at my barn.
But as an adult, I really got to do it up. Over the course of one season, I took Harry to half a dozen shows, even a couple rated ones where he got braided (literally a childhood dream) for the hunters. We also found our way around the jumper ring, where hearing that buzzer was a thrill for us both.
When I was ready to move up from my sweet Harry, who in his early 20s was starting to max out around 2’6, I half-leased a jumper from our barn— another dream come true. I got pregnant with my second child before I could show him, but he was the closest to “mine” a horse had ever been, and I treasured our time together.
When Brian relocated to California and my family and I moved to the Baltimore area, I found another stellar fit with a trainer named Katie. I’m about to begin my second-ever half-lease, on an OTTB with the kindest heart. We’re doing the low adult amateurs on Sunday and I already have my show clothes set out. (It’s Tuesday.)
This is where the big revelation comes in: There is never a day that I do not want to ride. I don’t care if it’s raining, freezing, or I’ve got ten other things to do. Even just being asked to hack a horse legitimately makes my day. I am so happy every single time I get on. It’s almost as if I love riding more now as an adult than I did as a barn rat all those years ago. There’s a silver lining in the bummer that is being horseless in adulthood: a greater appreciation for riding than I’ve ever had before.
If I did have a horse of my own, and the ability to ride a lot more often, maybe I wouldn’t be so game to lesson in bad weather or go flat that spooky gelding. Maybe it’s because riding has always been a luxury for me, something that I am not always able to do, that I treasure it so much and value every single ride.
Don’t get me wrong – I know that people who own horses experience this same feeling of gratitude. We are all so lucky to get to do this sport. But I’m turning around what felt like a real disadvantage to me when I was younger into something more positive as an adult.
Do I want to have a horse of my own someday? With all my heart. Will that ever happen? Time will tell. But for now, every opportunity to ride feels special, whether it’s a hack, a trail ride, a lesson, or a horse show. With or without braiding.