Why I Still Ride When It Hurts My Body (and my checking account)

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

Recently I was asked what inspired me to become an equestrian. I didn’t have a great answer. Like most of us battered adult amateurs, I’ve loved horses since before I could remember. My dad used to take me Sunday driving around the country outside the suburbs where I grew up just so I could look at horses out the car window. I begged and begged to ride until my family agreed to weekly lessons at a friend of a friend’s small barn. There wasn’t a specific moment when I woke up and thought, I should be an equestrian! It’s been essential to my core since before I even sat on a horse.

Now in my mid-thirties, I’m a long way away from the little girl that read every horse book she could get her hands on before she could ride. At this point, horses are as integral to my livelihood as oxygen. For me, a better question would be what inspires me to continue?

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

I really shouldn’t horse show. My finances don’t support it. I’m a graduate student on a single income, and work three jobs to afford training and board on top of my own living expenses in Southern California.

Riding has physically broken me. My body can’t handle it. Orthopedic surgeons describe the cartilage in my knees as “completely trashed,” and every time I get on a horse there is some degree of pain.

But riding is the only time that I can completely shut out all the murmurs in my head. When I swing a leg over my horse, I stop worrying about credit card bills, bad first dates and work drama. It all melts away. Instead, I focus on my horse’s outside shoulder. Listen to his rhythmic breathing at the canter. Attempt to control the terrible wiggle in my hips that my trainer hates. Riding is the only time my anxiety leaves.

When my husband died three years ago, I didn’t know how I was going to afford my mortgage — let alone my horse. It would have made the most sense to sell him, but through the worst of my grief it was the cadence of Simon’s steady trot that kept me breathing. When I wasn’t sure if I could make it on my own, he carried me. I wouldn’t be here today without him, and that kind of friendship is not something you walk away from. No amount of GastroGard could ever repay it (and believe me, we’ve tested these limits).

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

Riding is the only sport I’ve ever enjoyed that blends emotional bonds with the never-ending pursuit of improvement. I am, for better or worse, a type-A control freak Capricorn perfectionist. I have no natural talent for this sport (ask my trainer!), but I desperately want to be good at it. There is nothing more addicting than finally getting the feel of something I’m struggling with. Whether it’s learning how to relax my elbows at the canter or properly support my horse at the base of the jump, these little moments are better than any prize, praise or ribbon. Although if I’m being honest, I really do like ribbons.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

Despite my battered joints and sputtering bank account, I will always consider myself an equestrian. I hope it’s through showing on the back of a horse, but even if I’m restricted to the sidelines one day, I will find a way to stay with this sport. I don’t regret any of the money I’ve ever spent on lessons or showing. I can deal with the bad knees. Riding has given me back more than that horse-obsessed little girl could have ever dreamed.