Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Road Not Taken

As I begin my first real foray into the career I hope to have when I graduate, I find myself reflecting more and more on the past several years, and the choices that have led me to where I am today. Driving in traffic for two or more hours every day has given me a chance to reflect about how the choices we make become who we are. At the same time, it is so easy to look back, second guess yourself, and regret.

I will never be a professional horseman. From the age of nine, I was positive that I would be a jockey and win the Triple Crown. I geared my entire life towards that goal, including attending U of Kentucky for college, locating myself in the horse capital of the world. Finally, at the age of nineteen, I accepted what had been staring me in the face for years. I was just too big to be a jockey. In order to make weight, I'd have had to reduce my eating habits to unhealthy levels.

At this point, I came to the first fork in the road. Should I sacrifice my health in order to achieve my dream? The cost (and self discipline) was too much. I gave up my dream.

For a while, I had no new dream. I toyed with the idea of being a bloodstock agent or an equine lawyer. Then, just as I graduated, I was able to purchase my first horse. Suddenly, I had direction. We won our first event at Beginner Novice two weeks after I graduated and I decided to give a career of eventing a go.

I became a working student. That was an enlightening experience. For all those young hopefuls out there, if you truly think you want to be a professional eventer, go be a working student. It was the most exhausting, yet edifying experience of my life.

Generally, working students tend to either love it and never want to leave, or turn sour on horses after too much exposure. The former are those who tend to end up successful in a career in horses. The latter become resentful of the whole situation, mentally depressed, and burned out on horses. I was the latter.

I hated horses, I hated working with horses, I even hated spending time with my own horse. This wasn't the way I wanted to spend my life, burned out and resenting the animals I had once loved. I thought hard about my future career paths at that point. I had to make a decision. Would I have lots of time to work with horses, but no money, no life, no guarantee of success at some point, and miserable the entire time? Or would I go back to college, get another, more useful degree, and eventually become an amateur who has to juggle riding her one horse with a full time job? Each path had its pros and cons, but ultimately, I chose the path that would allow me to always enjoy horses. I chose to become an amateur.

Now I'm poised on the edge of actually emerging out into the world and having to balance all the elements of my life. Up until now, balancing college with competing has been a relatively painless and almost pleasant experience. Next year, I will be working 8-5 (or hopefully 7-4), then commuting to the barn in the evenings to ride every day. I will fall into bed each night exhausted from a long day and do it all over again the next. I will have the money to pursue the sport though, and I will have the joy of seeing my lovely horse each day.

Obviously, not everyone burns out the way I do. My friend, Jessica Pye of Pye Equestrian, is at the same stage of life as me, but has chosen the other fork in the road. No matter how tough it is, between injuries and lack of money, she never tires of seeing her horse's face peek out from his stall. We are reflections of the choices that each young aspiring rider must make.

I will never ride in the Olympics, or represent my country. I will never win Rolex, and probably never compete at even Burghley or Badminton. I mostly aspire to ride around Rolex, and complete. Dressage is a constant struggle for us, and show jumping is tricky for me. I will never have the time to ride five horses a day and practice my dressage so much that it becomes world class. I hope to improve with every ride, but some days I slide backwards. I only have time for one horse, so when he is on vacation, so am I. This makes it tougher to start up again for the next season, because we are both out of shape.

These are all the negatives about being a working amateur. The positive? Every day, when I see my horse's face, I am filled with content. After all, who could frown at a nose like this?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Amateur Side

Well, Dante is on vacation until the end of June, which leaves me at loose ends...on the horsey side of my life anyways.

In the summer, Dante and riding generally get put on the back burner because one of these days, I need to get a real career (instead of that of prolonged scholarship). In order to obtain this career, I have to do internships in the summer while I'm in school, which means working 7:30a to 5:30p Mon-Thurs, with a half day on Fridays. Now, eventually I don't foresee this being a problem, I will ride late at night. My s/o is in med school, so he won't exactly be mad at me for being super busy.

However, here in Texas, riding in the evening during the summer is unpleasant. Actually, let me rephrase that. RIDING in the summer is unpleasant. Riding is least unpleasant from the hours of 6am to 9am, when the temperature is a mere ninety degrees. Riding is incredibly unpleasant from 3 pm to 8 pm, when the temperatures hit one hundred and more.

Guess what time I'm available to ride during this internship?

However, I'm actually very excited for this internship, which will be for an international engineering company (although I am staying in Dallas) designing and building HVAC systems. Eventually I would like to work in green construction and LEED certification, and I think this is a great first step towards this.

To make matters more complicated, I am also taking a summer class. I normally wouldn't try and do this, but the class is not being offered during the school year, is taught by my favorite teacher, is a fun computer class, and satisfies an important requirement for my degree. However, this means that for five weeks, I have class on Mon-Wed from 6:30p to 9:00p. This class ends in the second week of July, so at least I only have to do this for a couple of weeks while trying also to ride Dante.

Speaking of Dante, he should start under saddle again the first weekend of July. I'll only be able to ride Thurs-Sun, but it will be fine. Then in late July, we'll get back to riding full time, in August we'll gear up and start fitness work, and at the end of August we'll head up to Richland where we'll run Intermediate.

I've been thinking a lot lately how I'm going to balance riding and work once I graduate, and I have a preliminary plan thought out in my head. It might change, it might not, but I always feel better when I have a plan.