One of the most satisfying things for me as a horseback rider is when I make a breakthrough with the horse I’m riding.
Over the past four years, I’ve constantly ridden the same horse. Though I would never give up riding that horse until graduation comes, there wasn’t that much I could continue learning on him. One, he was too perfect of a horse and, two, I already knew every little aid, tick, and everything else there was to know about him, good and bad.
But, in November, 2018, I took up the opportunity to ride a second horse, one completely opposite from my slow and steady, older horse I’ve been riding all throughout high school.
And riding him has been a pain, but also I’ve become such a better rider in the process learning to ride a horse completely different.
There were days when I’d get off with sore muscles and complete frustration and dissatisfaction. Days when I had to fight with him just to get him to walk.
Last Saturday, however, I had a breakthrough. Though there were the moments when I had to fight him through the walk, there were only two of them versus ten or twenty. It was the best ride I ever had on him. I got him to easily canter from a halt, canter over ground poles, and do most of those things without any protest.
I hope I’m not jinxing my improvement with him by writing this, but I hope all the future rides are just as successful as this one or else I’ll just keep learning.
When I think about May 31st, 2019, I think about what I’m leaving behind when I walk across the amphitheater to get my high school diploma.
I’m leaving behind the campus I’ve called my home the past four years, the classes where I challenged myself and found my passions, and the teachers who helped me find those passions. I’m leaving behind my friends, who I won’t see at breakfast every morning or go on camping trips with anymore.
These last four years weren’t always easy. As much as I’ve loved them, they were some of the most challenging years of my life. But, one thing made life away from home just a little easier to manage and it wasn’t my teachers or friends.
It was my horse. A bay, appendix quarter horse named Time who I’ve been riding since my freshman year. My family always asks me what I’ll miss the most about OVS when I leave and the answer is always the same: Time.
When the Thomas Fire came on December 4th, 2017, I panicked as we were evacuating on the bus thinking my horse wasn’t going to make it out alive. I cried myself to sleep, despite the constant reassurances. Over the summer, I ended up crying again when I went three months without riding and, more specifically, without riding Time. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I have to say goodbye to him during the last week of school knowing that it’ll be the last goodbye. Knowing hat I won’t be getting back on once summer is over. Knowing that one day, towards the end of May, I will untack for the last time and possibly never get back on him. That, the following September, he’ll get a new rider and I’ll be at a university in a completely different city. I hope that rider loves that freaking horse as much as I do, though. Sometimes I wonder if that’s possible.
So many things happened the last four years with Time by my side. I went with him to my first horse show, on my first horse camping trip, my first dressage clinic, and my first injury, which he gave me after he threw me off at said horse show. Even though I got a fractured back, the story was still funny and memorable.
I can imagine leaving OVS and going off to college, but I can’t imagine leaving Time. I can’t imagine my school day not consisting of me going to the barn at the end of the day and getting on him whether the lesson ends up going well or not. I wish I could take him with me to college, but it’s probably not possible.
Last Friday, my aunt and uncle came to watch me ride. “I don’t understand how some people just let go of their horses or sell them,” my aunt said. “They’re pets too.”
Time may have not be mine legally, but he is mine. At least, I like to say he is and, at least, many other people thought Time was mine before I told them he wasn’t. But, he is my horse. The horse I’ve ridden for all of high school and the animal I’ve developed a bond with.
I’m not ready to let Time go, but I’ll have to and I will. Even if it might be one of the most painful things I’ll ever have to do.
Over the weekend, I went with my school to a Pony Club mega rally for the first show of 2018. I was so excited. I’ve been riding my horse, Time, for weeks in preparation, and every single time I jumped he had been a saint.
This weekend was different. It shattered any self confidence I had in my riding skills when Time threw me off over a simple cross rail in the warm up arena and bruised my back so much that it currently hurts to breathe as I’m sitting here trying to do my homework after waking up at four am every morning this weekend to get to the show grounds.
I had fallen off just the day before when my horse stopped right in front of a jump. Now, I have to admit that it was my fault that I was in two-point way too early, but that’s besides the point. Not a single scratch was on me, and I shook off the dirt from my helmet, got back on, and finished the course I was set out to do.
However, that was not the case on Saturday. When I hit the ground, I was certain that if I moved even just an inch my body would shatter into pieces and I’d be sent to the hospital in an ambulance. I couldn’t get up for minutes, until I was rolled onto my back, then I stood up, and I slowly walked foot by foot back to my stall without even getting to do that course.
I almost thought I wouldn’t be able to ride the next day either, and that weeks of training would’ve gone to waste. But the next day I ended up getting back on my horse and started jumping, and though my entire body was shaking every time I thought my horse would refuse a jump, we ended up clearing both courses.
But I guess there’s both pain and pleasure in horseback riding. There’s the sense of accomplishment when you jump a new height or when your horse comes to say hi to you and nuzzles his nose into the palm of your hand when he thinks you have treats. But there’s also the hours of pain whenever you fall off or when a horse steps on your foot. There’s the moments of self-degradation whenever you see a person with better position or better clothes, and the constant thoughts that plague your mind thinking that you’ll never be as good as them.
I’m not going to lie and say that my confidence in my jumping is back, because it’s not, and I don’t think it will be anytime soon (or, at least, until all the bruises go away), but it was a learning experience to some extent.
I’m going to fall off, and probably more times than I wish, and I’ll get back up, and fall and get back up, and that’ll keep happening, but I’ll still continue riding until I no longer can.
If I hear just one more person saying that “horseback riding isn’t an actual sport,” I will literally rip out their eyeballs and stuff them in their ignorant mouths. Maybe not literally, okay, but seriously, figuratively.
I don’t think I can handle another baseball or golf squirt trying to explain to me that “the horse does all the work,” because all I do is “sit on it.” Well okay, Richard, I don’t really see you doing much exercise when you walk along next to your caddie. Have you ever tried even holding a horse, a living being that weighs like a thousand pounds and usually really isn’t in the mood for cooperation? I bet your baseball bat doesn’t step on your feet ten times a day.
And how about the fact that riding horses literally consists of trying to control a usually gigantic flight animal that could probably kill you if it really wanted to, and to do so you literally have to use every single muscle you posses in your tired, half dead body? Then try doing that for like an hour a day, without getting 100% frustrated, or, you know, dying.
With SATs only a couple days away, only one question has constantly tainted my mind.
Where do I want to go to college?
These last several months I thought I was certain that NYU was the only school for me. I would apply early decision, and then I’d wait to see whether I’d be accepted to the university of my dreams. There, I’d immerse myself into the greatest city in the world. I’d study journalism or political science on a pre-law track. I’d study in artsy coffee shops with a group of my best friends during early mornings, and I’d go to Times Square during late nights. I couldn’t imagine a better city to spend the next several years of my life.
It’s been my dream since I was a little girl.
But the more I thought about it, was that really what I wanted? Yes… Well, maybe. I thought so.
I thought I was ready to leave all my friends and family on the west coast.
I thought I was ready to leave my horses behind while I blindly chased my dreams in the biggest city in the world. I never wanted anything more in my life. My horse would be waiting for me when I came back. He’d understand. I have dreams I need to follow.
But was I ready to go from the small towns I’ve known my whole life to the crowded, noise deafening streets of NYC? I dream about it every night. I dream about never being bored; never running out of exciting ways to spend my nights, even in the most minimalistic ways.
Was I ready to move from a small, rural school with only 120 students, to a large university with over 20,000 students? Yes. I want to walk onto my campus and see a new face I’ve never seen before. I want to meet a new person with a completely different life than mine, and I want to learn from them. I want to be in a place so large I can meet a new person everyday, where I can learn a new thing about a new topic from a new person everyday. I want to be another face in the crowd, but I also want the outlet where I can become a memorable face in that same crowd I merely pass through.
But was I ready to give up everything I’ve known my whole life? The only thing I’ve known my whole life? I don’t know.
I thought I knew. I always liked being the one in my friend group who could proudly say I had my whole future planned out, but now I don’t know. I can’t tell if I’m willing to settle for FaceTiming my friends instead of seeing them face to face. How could I possibly give up horseback riding for months at a time? The one passion that has made me excited for the end of the day. The passion I have put hours of tears, sweat, and money into in return for infinite feelings of happiness and an invaluable bond with another animal.
I thought I had the answers to all the questions I’m asking myself right now, but I realized I don’t, and there’s still so many questions that I haven’t even started comprehending yet.
What I do know is that I’m ready for college. As much as I love OVS for shaping me into the person I am today, I’m ready for a new chapter in my life. I may only be a junior, but I’m ready to go out on my own and find out my purpose in this world. Maybe I’ll find out NYU won’t be the school for me, or maybe I’ll find out that there’s no better match, but I’ll find that out sooner or later.
I’m not necessarily a person who trusts easily. It takes me a long time to open up to someone, to let them know what goes through my mind or what makes me tick, what makes me happy or sad. But somehow, I manage to put all my trust into a creature who could kill me if they truly wanted to.
I don’t consider myself a daredevil. In fact, I have irrational fears of even the smallest spiders in my room. People question how I manage to be brave enough to get on a 1500 pound horse and ride around an arena galloping over jumps with no anxiety, and honestly I don’t know. The sport is dangerous. Just last year, my roommate had broken her back falling off a horse, and I’ve been close to falling onto a boulder when my horse bucked me out of the dressage arena.
Even then, this didn’t phase me at all. I brushed off the dust, laughed it off, and got back on with no problems. My trust with my horse was still secure even though my luck could’ve been way worse.
For the past year, since my back surgery, I was constantly warned that one wrong fall would potentially break my back and leave me hospitalized for weeks with the chance I wouldn’t be allowed to ride for a long time.
But I still took the risk, and it’s because my love for the sport was stronger than my fear of pain and injury. Every day I still ride, and every day the fact that horseback riding is considered one of the most dangerous sports in the world barely passes through my mind as I work with my horse.
But that’s the thing about anything everyone loves. Everything is deadly to us in some way and form, and that same exact thing gives some of us life. So horseback riding may be dangerous, but I feel like others can agree with me when I say a rider’s love for their horse is worth devoting their time and trust into these animals despite the threat that floats through the air every day someone steps into an arena.
To the equestrians; these are some rules and/or commandments that I am very sure you follow already. If you do not (guilty as charged), then you should start following them.
To the non-equestrians; I’d like to, hopefully, open a little door to the world of the horse people. Some say we’re a different species. I sure have been called that before.
1. If thy horse poops in the barn isle thou shalt CLEAN IT UP
2. If thy horse is a sporadic nutball in the arena thou must LUNGE THY HORSE
3. If thou aren’t wearing tough leather boots prepare to have thy toes RIPPED OFF by thy horse
4. Cleaning thy horse’s hooves before riding is a MUST
5. If thy horse bites you BITE IT BACK
6. If thou falls off thy horse ye must GET BACK ON
7. Horses will try to buck thee off so thou must EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
8. Unless thou wants to clean thy stall twice, cleaning thy stall BEFORE LEAVING is the wise choice
9. If thou feeds another’s horse expect to be SHOWERED WITH FLIES
10. Saddle soap and saddle oil are the best smells ever