That’s the big question on the mind of Jessie Widner, a 20-year-old Canadian who is pondering whether or not to sign up for horses full-time after university.
Being in my third year of university, I often get asked “What are your plans for the future?” or some variation of this question. I’ve gotten used to it by now and even have several answers ready to go (they differ depending on who I’m talking to). To be honest though, this simple question has been throwing me off lately.
I’m at a thrilling and terrifying point in my life where I have so many options it’s overwhelming. However, as my leaving the safe, comfortable bubble of student-hood draws ever nearer, I begin to seriously consider a professional, or perhaps semi-professional career with horses. The rational side of myself tells this aspiring equestrienne to shut up and get some sort of stable job, then save money and buy a horse one day. The rider in me has other ideas that involve dashing off to the English countryside to find a working student job, working six days a week in the rain. It’s a daily argument at this point and to be honest, I have absolutely no idea which side will win out.
My start in riding was inauspicious. Like many other horse crazy little girls I talked my parents into riding camp, and then weekly lessons. These days, I often hear my parents advising their friends to “watch out–it starts out once a week and before you know it…” Starting around age 16 I worked in barns in exchange for riding time, and four years later not much has changed. It’s not always easy being surrounded with people who have the luxury of owning one or more nice horses of their own, in addition to plentiful tack and supplies, a car and a trailer. It’s hard to know that, barring some sort of financial miracle, I may never be one of those people.
But I have worked hard for every moment I spend in the saddle and although I never get to ride “nice” horses, I’ve learned a heck of a lot from the hard ones. In the end I think I will be glad to have worked for it, but I’m not quite there yet and it is still hard to hear about so-and-so who just got a new upper-level prospect. But just being part of this sport is an incredible privilege. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some good barn owners, to ride with a couple brilliant coaches and to get on some tough horses who have taught and are still teaching me how (and how not to) ride. Working hard has given me confidence. There are so many amazing opportunities out there for people like me, and if I can find the right one and get my foot in the door I’m sure I will continue to learn and grow as a horseperson and rider.
But there is of course another side to the argument. I know firsthand how much hard work is involved in the horse industry. Some people I’ve met, (Canadian event rider) Jessie Phoenix for instance, astonish me with their seemingly superhuman powers and endless energy. But it is not an easy life. Finding the right working situation is difficult; waking up early and working all day is difficult. Coping with pitfalls and disappointments is difficult. Being so involved in one thing–that in itself is a formidable challenge. It’s not a career with an end point. Once you get past the working student/groom/slave stage and perhaps make a name for yourself as a rider, guess what? The hard work doesn’t end. In fact, it is only beginning. I have identified my insanity quite clearly and every day I wonder if insanity or sanity will win out in the end. I don’t have an answer. All I know are these three things:
I have no idea what I will do with my life.
There is nothing else I am as passionate about as horses and working with them everyday would be a blessing.
But, it would also be a curse having to sacrifice parts of my life to fit into the equestrian lifestyle.
The future is not clear but it is bright. Whatever I decide to do with my life I will do wholeheartedly, and whether I devote myself completely to the sport or not, I can say without a doubt that horses will always be part of who I am.
About Jessie Widner: I’m Jessie, a 20-year-old student from Toronto, Ontario (Canada!). I’m currently enjoying myself doing a semester abroad in London, England. I plan to have many horsey adventures here, including a trip to Badminton and riding in the Lakes District. I’ve ridden since childhood and worked in various stables throughout my teenage years (more on that in my writing sample) and compete as an eventer. I currently ride with former Team Canada eventer Martha Griggs who is the most experienced and helpful coach I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Though I still ride regularly back home, I’ve had to put horses on the back burner slightly in order to be a “responsible” university student at the University of Toronto, where I study English. I love school, but am looking forward to being done and leaping headfirst into the horse game!