BY EMILY SHEVELAND
Receiving the Hamel Family Foundation Scholarship is just one more example of how the hard work and dedication I’ve acquired through riding has been a true blessing. A sincere thank you goes out to the Hamel Family for their generous donation, their desire to give back to the equestrian community, and the value they place on education. I would also like to thank the USHJA Foundation for their efforts in helping members further their education and for giving great consideration to my application. I feel honored to have been selected to receive the 2018 USHJA Hamel Scholarship, which will be very helpful as I continue my education at the University of Wisconsin. The next four years, I will be completing course work through the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine, a program specifically designed to train doctors to enter the work force in underserved rural areas.
The USHJA Hamel Scholarship was designed to encourage equestrians to pursue higher education, but horses impacted my education much earlier on. At age 7, I was diagnosed with Dyslexia. I didn’t understand why reading was so hard, but was determined to overcome this challenge. Knowing my love for horses couldn’t be contained, my father challenged me; an “A” in reading in 5th grade will get you a pony. That was the kind of challenge I was up to!
My riding started riding ponies with Emily Elek. Emily instilled in me the importance of hard work and determination if I truly wanted to stick out this riding thing that I was trying to convince my parents of. Unheated Wisconsin barns were cold, but Emily knew if there was a pony to ride I would be there. The confidence I learned riding ponies with Emily also helped build my confidence in the classroom as I struggled with my dyslexia.
After finishing my pony career, people couldn’t believe that I picked an overweight, young, unexperienced horse to follow my junior riding dream with. At age 6, Lyla wasn’t the greatest horse, but she was what my family could afford. I loved her, and was determined to turn her into a champion. My dream was to compete at Pennsylvania National Horse Show as a junior rider. The challenge was twofold. First, I had to develop the riding skills needed to be a strong rider and then I needed to train Lyla to jump clean at the required height. Fortunately, Aaron Vale gave me a thumbs up when I inquired on training at his barn in Florida. Aaron also taught me more than riding skills. He emphasized the importance of perseverance and thinking outside the box.
While riding with Aaron, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The life skills Aaron taught me not only got me to the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, but also helped me manage my pain from my arthritis. Making it to Nationals was a dream come true. I was 6th to go out of 40. As I finished the course, with a huge smile, the announcer came on, “By an unheard of 3 seconds Emily and Lyla take the lead!” Holding on to 1st place as the last rider entered the ring was one of my most memorable moments. Lyla strutted into the ring knowing she had done well as we accepted our 2nd place award. This dream taught me the importance of setting goals and developing a plan to achieve the goals.
Today my dyslexia, riding career and Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis may be a large part of who I am, however it is how you play the cards you are dealt that truly matters. They have each taught me the importance of managing external situations that create problems for me, and the importance of changing my behavior or beliefs to manage different areas of stress. Horses have been compared to mirrors as they reflect our true selves. Over the years, I have seen myself change and grow through my relationships with many different horses. I was taught patience in training horses, responsibility in caring for them, and determination in reaching my goals even when people doubted my abilities. These are just a few of the ways riding has prepared me for my future goals as a doctor.
I wouldn’t change a thing about my adventure with horses, but it is time I trade my boots and spurs in for scrubs and a stethoscope while I pursue a career in medicine that will allow me to continue to enjoy horses without the financial help of my parents. You don’t have to be the number one rider to be successful, you only need to complete the goals you set for yourself. When faced with a struggle sometimes the best thing to do is just keep kicking! I will never forget that A in 5th grade that started it all.
I am grateful for my trainers who taught me more than riding skills and the USHJA and USEF organizations for their dedication to helping riders at every level succeed, I am only one of their many success stories.