BY LAUREN MAULDIN
No matter how old you get, you won’t forget the afternoons you spent alone at the place that invited you into the magic of horses. Later when you walk into spotless facilities with every frill, a part of you will miss your first barn’s imperfections. The way the ring, more pasture than riding facility, felt with its slope to the left side. How you always had to collect a little to not go racing away down the hill. Those stalls, the wood worn smooth by generations of family horses, were your foundation. It can carry you a long way.
I know it feels like you’re on the outside sometimes, but it won’t matter that you didn’t grow up showing. Try not to be jealous of the other riders who seem to have everything handed to them—the expensive breeches, winter circuits, full training and perfect horses for each ring. Their path is different than yours, and that’s okay. You don’t know their struggles. They don’t know yours, but one day you’ll connect with the shared love of horses. The differences that seem extreme now won’t matter as much. And trust me—you’re going to want to grow up riding in a backyard.
That little barn, the one without a full set of jumps or premium footing, has everything you need. Respect it like it’s just as fancy as the barns in Grand Prix village. Treat each horse like it’s worth a million dollars. This is where you’ll learn to soak abscesses, wrap the unwrappable, and curry until your arms hurt (and your horse shines like copper). Muck the stalls. Ask to help feed. And ride, ride, ride. Ride bareback in the field. Download that equitation course from Maclay finals and make bending lines with fallen logs and laundry basket jumps. Do it all with a smile. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t like the fancy show girls right now. You’re riding. You’re lucky.
I promise, if I told you the things you’ll accomplish in this sport in the future, you wouldn’t believe me.
It won’t happen the way you think. Not through an expensive horse. Not from marrying rich. Not anything to do with money, which I know seems like it makes everything easier.
Things won’t be easy for you. Ride everything you can. Horses no one would call scopey or a 10 mover. Ones that buck. Ones that don’t steer. Ones that stop. Take every opportunity, but ask for help too. Yes, you’ll fall. You might get a little banged up. Some days you won’t feel brave. That’s okay, nobody feels brave all the time. But getting back on, continuing to try, and always being willing to learn is the bravest thing you can do. You’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that’s okay too. You’ll learn. And as you keep learning, keep working hard and looking for opportunities.
Things that used to feel unattainable will start coming together. At first it’s going to your first schooling show. Then a ribbon. Maybe a clinic. Bigger fences (or not). Tri-colors. Year end awards. You’ll build it with learning to braid to pay for class fees. Working for your trainer to help with lessons. Buying used tack. Budgeting like crazy. Hustling. You’ll get tired. Be patient. Your work ethic will make the waiting hard, but you can’t rush horses (or life). Trust in the process. Celebrate every win, even the ones that might feel small and don’t come with a blue ribbon.
One day you’re going to meet a horse. He’ll look rough at first. He won’t trust you initially, but keep the faith. One day he’ll whinny as you walk to his stall, and it’ll be the best sound you’ll ever hear. Other people won’t think much of him, but ignore them. This horse will pick up the broken pieces of your heart, patch them together and carry them for you. With him, you’ll dream bigger than you did on your own. To big, fancy ribbons and victory gallops. You will fly together. He will make you believe you can do anything.
I know this all feels far away, but trust me—it’ll go by faster than you think. When you feel low, like this is all pointless and more heartbreaking than you can tolerate, remember those afternoons in the hilly grass ring. As long as you pursue this sport, you’ll never be bored. The more you know, the more there is to know. And you will make incredible, lifelong friends, along the way.
When you doubt yourself (you will), try to look back on all that you’ve done. Stop comparing yourself to other riders. Don’t focus on the unmet goals or the setbacks. There will be a lot of those. It will never come together as fast as you want it to, but it will come together. And it will be better than you imagined.
Appreciate every minute of this journey. Start now, even with so much left in your future to work towards. Remember, you’re riding. You’re lucky.
This in collaboration with the “Dear Younger Self” project, described as “a project exploring belonging as an experience, a moment, a community where we don’t have to change who we are, belonging to equestrianism is being who we are.”
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.
Read More from This Author »