BY CAELIN KORDZIEL
Maybe it’s my age or maybe the arrival of that time in summer when the days are long and the evening fresh air just has a way of lifting my spirits, but lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on seasons. The solstices are important days in our family—my niece and my son are both solstice birthdays. Their special days always give us a great reason to celebrate and reflect.
One of the coolest parts of being an adult equestrian is that I’m not on a time crunch. As adults, we don’t have to stress about only having 2 years left of our equitation career. We’re long past our #seniorszn. As a teacher, I often reflect on how my life has changed throughout the time I’ve had the current graduating class. I teach 4th-12th grade band and I’m always amazed and thankful to my students for sharing their time and investing their talents in the program I have the privilege of guiding. Eight years ago, I wore mostly the same clothes and had generally the same professional routines and philosophies as I do today. But the class of 2022? Those kids have changed drastically. I’m so proud of who they’re becoming and thankful for the small part I’ve been in their journey. But for us lucky ones, horses are a lifelong endeavor.
While my clothing, haircut, and general feelings about life haven’t changed much, I’ve noticed seasons in life more and more. I’m finally at an age where I’m okay with it. I’m trying not to rush.
Fifteen years ago, my mom and I embarked on this horse ownership journey together. I had been a lesson kid all my life, so the riding part came easily, but I’d never been at a “hunter” barn, which is where we landed by happenstance in 2007. I watched, listened, read, studied, revolted a bit, and generally spent every waking moment I could at the barn. I was a brand new band teacher, and a brand new wife, but I managed to be at the barn pretty consistently 5 days a week.
In that season, I never went to a horse show. I couldn’t fathom spending $150 on a pair of breeches or a stall for a weekend horse show. It seemed uncanny. 22-year-old me had a lot of opinions, and not necessarily the knowledge to back it up. But it was a season. If I met her today, I’d tell her to keep learning but also not be afraid to trust her instinct.
The more I understood, the more I wanted to learn. The more I learned, the more I wanted to do. The more I could do, the more I was obsessed with this sport.
Eventually, I started to show a bit locally and figure it all out for myself. It’s incredible how many things have to go just right to get 8 jumps done well with any sort of consistency. My budget was limited, but I’ve always been a great stall cleaner, and pretty good at giving baths and keeping things organized. So I was able to be part of some shows on the ground, helping out backstage and getting kids to the ring on time, on clean ponies, and dressed appropriately. From the ground, I could see all of the pieces that I hadn’t understood before. I saw a lot of really cool things. I watched some incredible rounds in some beautiful rings and some amazing horses. To this day love watching the warm up ring of big classes just as much as I like watching the class. I love seeing the whole picture, not only the performance. I saw some things that weren’t as cool. But it was always “just the way it goes” so I just kept on. I rode a ton. It was a season. I grew.
There have been darker seasons too. Bad falls. Crippling anxiety. Injuries that never healed quite right. Unemployment. Panic attacks. Self-doubt. New trainers. Buying the young horse of our dreams who would never be fully under saddle and retired at 7 after a year of puzzling vet work-ups. But we know more because of those seasons.
I still get salty about seasons I wasted with mismatched resources. But we’re better horsemen because of the miles we’ve had hand walking, lunging, and doing ground work. I know enough now to ask questions sooner. We’ve invested in our own equine infrastructure; a trailer and the skills to drive it, saddles that fit properly, air vests and MIPS helmets. Most recently, a small farm to bring our horse home when retirement calls.
It’s so easy to get frustrated with the season I’m in currently— I long to be at the barn riding 5 days a week like my younger self. But this season is also valid. And temporary. It’s hard to say I’m an equestrian when I’m barely able to ride once a week and my USEF membership is nearly expiring because it’s been so long since we’ve shown. I’m frustrated to not be able to be at the barn. I know I’m more confident in the saddle when I ride more. I’d like to invent a teleportation device or employ George Jetson’s commuting techniques to make all of my responsibilities and riding possible in one day.
But when the opportunity arises to clean stalls and bathe ponies for a day at a horse show? I’ll be there. Those opportunities are fewer in this season of toddler-rearing, but it won’t be long before he’s our stall cleaner and I’ll be playing the lotto to find him a pony.
In the busiest times of this season, there is one non-negotiable in my schedule. “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy” is a memory verse from my childhood, but in this season of life, it refers to my Sunday Saddle Club time. 2pm. Rain or shine. A high school friend and I meet at the barn. We decompress. We ride. We chat. We groom. Some weeks we work hard on the skills we’ve worked on in a lesson. Some weeks the saddle is optional. But it’s a priority and having a friend who is also expecting me there makes me more accountable to making it happen.
Find a buddy. Set a time. Non-negotiable. Leave your phone in the car (except for selfies.) You deserve it, and you will always leave breathing easier than you arrived. The barn has a magical way of lightening even the toughest loads.
So as one season cycles on to the next? Take inventory. Stay thankful for the journey. Forgive yourself. Know that this season, high or low, is temporary and that horsemanship is for a lifetime.
Caelin Kordziel is a lifelong barn rat: a lesson kid turned horse owner, enthusiast of all things equine. By trade, Caelin is an Instrumental Music Educator for students in grades 4-12 in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. When not at the barn or making music, she’s the mom to a wild-child doggo and a toddler on the move, wife of an avid outdoorsman, and keeper of the crossrail community @crossrailgrandprix on Instagram.