BY LAUREN MAULDIN
Poor is a relative word, and horse people know that. I can’t deny the huge luxury it is to have a horse, any horse. In a country where many struggle to afford healthcare, grocery bills and safe housing, no equestrian should ever complain about being poor. The fact of the matter is that in the grand scheme of things, one who rides cannot be truly poor. However, it sure feels that way sometimes.
I walk within different circles in my life. At school in my graduate program, I’m pretty wealthy. I’ve got stable income, own a house, have some savings. But in the hunter/jumper circuit world, I’m the tiniest of peons. An insignificant gnat who locally shows OTTBs and has no plan (or desire) to ever get to the AOs. And I’m never more aware of that than when I go watch an AA show.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore a glamorous circuit. Seeing Wellington for the first time opened my eyes to the hunter/jumper world more than any book, video or blog. I’m extremely fortunate to live a short drive from the HITS Desert Horse Park, and love heading to Coachella for long days watching exquisite hunters in the sun.
But I can’t deny that it’s a little unsettling watching the AO hunters and realize that I could sell my house and still not be able to afford most of the horses in the ring.
In a sport that undeniably functions with extreme wealth, it’s hard for a “poor” equestrian like me to feel significant. My once a year splurge for new Tailored Sportsman breeches is my peer’s impulse buy at the tack trailer they passed on their way to VIP. I’ve been showing in the hunter/jumper (admittedly, local) circuit for close to fifteen years now. The disparity is hard for me to swallow at times.
I know plenty of people that have more than me. They’ve imported fancy, fancy horses. Board at places with chandeliers and treadmills and eurosizers and all kinds of frills. They’ve got full closets of the latest fashions.
Am I jealous of what they have that I don’t? Of course I am. Especially as I start the long and arduous process of horse shopping, I can’t help but wish I had four times my budget to play with. I want the things they have. I’m not afraid to admit that, but there is a difference between being jealous and being bitter.
Many of these people who have so much more than me have busted their ass for it. They’ve put in long, hard hours at jobs far more demanding than mine will ever be. Even if they haven’t, many of them are kind, lovely people. Why should I try to steal their joy just because I wish I had more?
And I can’t ignore the other side of things — that I have more than many. The horse budget I’m scraping and saving for is more than tons of equestrians could ever play with. I was able to take my horse to shows, while many are stuck at home. Even while I watch the sleek hunters I can’t come close to affording, I know there are plenty people out there who are jealous of me.
My dad told me once, “If you’re upset that someone has more than you, you will always be upset.” It’s sound advice, especially in the horse world where there seems to be no limit to wealth. The people I know with the fancy imports and luxury look at others with more and say, Wouldn’t it be nice?
The trick to surviving an AA show when you’re “poor” is remembering the key thing that brings us together regardless of wealth, the horse. I have had amazing memories on my free and cheap horses. They have taught me as much, perhaps more, than a fancy import could have.
Through loving horses my entire life, I have a huge community of equestrians that I’m lucky to call friends. I’ve been to incredible shows, perhaps not always to ride, but to photograph and spectate. I’ve been able to call several horses my own, which is a gift that many adults my age are still hoping to work out. Above everything, I’m able to keep riding and doing what I love.
By the standard of the horse, which is the only one that should matter to us all at the end of the day, that makes me very rich indeed.
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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.
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