Most of our younger years are spent finding sports we love, art we enjoy, or music we like to play. Sometimes what we love isn’t any of those things. It might be the theater, a dance studio, or you guessed it. A barn. It seems like everyone finds a “thing”, and once they’ve found it they give their heart, mind, body and soul to it. Some people are students, some people are athletes, some people are artists and craftsmen, some people are musicians. Some are entertainers, some are performers. Some aren’t any of the above… But after trying soccer, maybe you found football. After trying gymnastics, you found dance. However you came to whatever it is you love to do, you got there. You found it.
In middle school, there are school teams to try out for. Sports begin to become more competitive. Auditions for plays become a little more intense. If you show, you move from short stirrup to the pre-Children’s division by trading your bows for some tall boots and a hairnet. Lessons become show preparation, especially if you enjoy competitions. Hockey teams begin to travel farther, reaching new teams to prove their skills. Football offers summer camps to prepare players for high school tryouts. Dance classes try new competitions with harder routines. More time is invested as we get older because we’ve created a foundation of skills doing the things we love.
We spend hours at the barn after school riding different horses, taking lessons, and practicing our position to an inch of our lives – or to the point where our calves cramp from standing on the stairs too long with our heels forced down. Instead of going to 4th period on Friday, we skip school to head to the horseshow in that hand-me-down car that is actually a mobile tack shop. Parents or no parents, the weekends are reserved for horse shows and chasing points for illustrious medals and cups that we dreamed of winning when we still had pigtail braids and bows. Every waking moment is spent in the saddle, dreaming about being in the saddle, or used to find us a new way to get in the saddle.
College is a bit of a game changer. If you live at your school, there might be an IHSA or an IDA team for you to try out. College is supposed to be some of the best years of your life… but, where do our horses fit? Lots of people are successful showing on the weekends and taking their classes during the week. Others take a break and lease their horse out to someone at home, but show during the summer. The rest of us try to drag our horses to school to fit in the moments of practice we’re used to. But it isn’t the same.
You choose your major in college, rifling through pages of suggested paths and courses you wouldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams. Um, Eng 371: Fantasy, hello! Sign me up. The dreams of becoming a professional rider, trainer, or veterinarian gently begin to fade. New paths aren’t always clear right away, but suddenly you’re three years into college and your major is Environmental Science so you can work to help others acquire clean water. Somewhere you realized that your love for your horse, for your trainer, for your sport isn’t enough. It won’t give you a job, it won’t be your livelihood… The crash of those dreams is loud and frightening.
Football players realize they’re not going to the NFL. Hockey players make it to the minor leagues before realizing their nose can only be broken so many times. And sometimes we can’t afford the thing that makes us the happiest, so we have to walk away from it as the central point of who we are, and what we do. Do you want to hear the good news?
So many of us have been there. You will fit horses in your life again, one way or another. Volunteer at a rescue, exercise ride, or learn to judge. These things may not be your livelihood, but they will ensure that your soul is fed with the gentle kisses of a sweet horse. Your competitive spirit will be encouraged to pin a class efficiently and fairly. When love is not enough, you find another way.