What I’ve Learned as a Horseless Adult Amateur

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.

A horse crazy kid. Photo courtesy of Rennie Dyball

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.

Rennie and Harry. Photo courtesy of Rennie Dyball

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.

Rennie and Harry at Washington International Horse Show Local Day.  Photo by Shawn McMillen

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.

Harry and Rennie. Photo by ESI Photography

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.

Photo courtesy of Rennie Dyball

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.

Photo courtesy of Rennie Dyball

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.


About the Author: Rennie Dyball is a freelance writer, editor, and the author of several books. She currently leases the world’s cutest OTTB and competes in the low adult hunters and equitation.

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