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?