College and competitive riding don’t have to be mutually exclusive endeavors. Rebecca Barber shares how she made it all fit.
Top photo from The University of Findlay. The Findlay Equestrian Studies Program provides an opportunity for students to bring their horses to school and learn along with them.
From Rebecca Barber:
Can You Do it All: Academics, College Life and Horses?
Fall 2012 – 16 credit course load at an academically rigorous institution, leadership positions in a variety of campus organizations, Greek life, a part time job, IHSA equestrian team … oh yes and competing relatively successfully at USEA events.
Yes, it is possible to do it all. It’s simply a matter of how badly you want it. You may have to sacrifice some sleep and at times your sanity. But it is feasible to have the “normal” college experience and to still compete. Two years ago, when I was exploring my college options, I never imagined that it might be possible for me have a horse while at school. Now, halfway through my second year, I am planning on bringing a project horse to school, with the hopes of moving it up the levels over the next few years Some people know that they are going to show all four years while at school and as a result they choose their college or university based on the trainers and competition venues located in the vicinity, I did not. I chose my school based solely on the academic opportunities it offered me. Thus, my college choice landed me in the middle of eventing no-mans-land.
This past year I half-leased (which happily morphed into more of a three-fourths lease) a friend’s horse. An experienced event horse, he served as an amazing confidence booster for me, since previously I had spent most of my time on green beans or sale horses. In addition, he helped me prove to myself that I am competent enough in time management to ride while maintaining a solid GPA (although, to be honest, sleep is often an afterthought and caffeine has become one of my best friends). While at school I board at a barn, which besides two others and myself, is comprised solely of show hunter and equitation riders. I ship to an amazing dressage trainer in the area. But without traveling further there are very few jumper or event trainers available.
In some ways my situation has been a mixed blessing. Although at times unsettling, I have been forced to become more independent, since it is now impossible for me to be in a regimented program with my a professional. I now have an even greater appreciation for my riding lessons and the time spent with my miracle performing event-trainer, who always manages to work the impossible the night before a competition. Additionally, I have a stronger understanding of and appreciation for other disciplines. Working with hunter trainers has helped me to develop a quieter riding style and a softer seat. As a consequence my rides over fences have improved.
So my advice to those beginning their college searches:
- Keep an open mind while at school. If it is important to you, chances are that you will always be able to find a horse to ride. Throughout your life you may always have a passion for horses or your sport but unless you are planning on going straight into and having a career in the horse industry, college is a time to focus on your academics.
- Take advantage of new opportunities. Riding for my school’s IHSA team and working with hunter trainers has improved my riding tremendously (no longer do I ride like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, now I am more like a turtle… still not where I want to be but I am slowly getting better). I am extremely grateful for my new coaches and their expertise.
- Enjoy the experience. It is easy to dwell on the fact that your trainer is not near by. But try to regard this as a positive. You are forced to become more independent in your riding and develop problem-solving skills. My horse just had that rail. Why did he hang his front leg? What kind of grid can I use to sharpen him up? Yes, it sometimes can take a little longer and be somewhat entertaining to those watching, but in the long run I do believe that it makes you a better all around rider.
- Time management, time management. time management… self explanatory but vital for success. (Did I mention that I spent Halloween body clipping, finally leaving the barn around 1 AM?)
- Have a strong support system. Now more than ever, you need people to have your back, both at school and at home. I have people in my hometown, including my current trainer and past bosses, who I know I can call or text with any question or even just to rant or rave. My trainer has definitely received slightly, well maybe not “slightly,” panicked phone calls from me the week before an event when I am convinced that I am incapable of putting in a decent dressage test. On the other hand, I know that my riding friends at school will always have my back (true friendship is double teaming body clipping on a holiday that college students love… see point number 4).
Good luck on your college search! Riding while in school is not for everyone, but if you want it badly enough you can make it work. Kick on!