I did not grow up in a wealthy, well-to-do horse family. My dad had a good job and sure, if we wanted something we could most likely earn it… through good old fashioned hard work. I never had the opportunity to compete as a Junior. My competitive years started at 18 when I began footing the bill for my training, my horse, his board, the show costs, etc. I was born a hardworking and dream-driven adult amateur and have known nothing else.
While I see some Juniors and AAs who have the full financial backing of their parents or other entities, I also see young Juniors and AAs hungry and scraping by to survive. That’s why I love the little barn I board and train at — it’s full of people who WANT it. Who have to push themselves to the edge to get it. Who work for it to make it happen. Just like I continue to do each day.
Early on I learned to braid, clean a sheath, and clip — all because I can’t afford to pay someone else to do it. I show up at my lessons an hour in advance most days to lunge, groom, tack up and warm up my own horse. I ride other horses who belong to fellow AAs or Juniors who can’t make it to the barn every day so I can gain experience riding various horses and so my fellow friends on the equestrian struggle bus have the opportunity to have fit and happy horses while they are busy. I have to find other alternatives to have some of the opportunities that others were born into. I don’t have a multi-million dollar budget to make the dream come true.
In college I rode before class, after class, and sometimes (yes I will admit it) I missed class so I could ride. All of my friends were on my college team, mostly because I didn’t have the time to make other non-horsey relationships survive. It’s hard to make an “outsider” understand why I willingly sacrificed the norms of the regular world to be bitten, kicked, bucked off or ditched at a fence, all in either the 100-degree humid Missouri summers or the brutality of the Midwest winters.
Post college, I sacrifice time with my husband for time at the barn. We traded in date night for a quick trip to McDonald’s on a three-hour trip to a horse show. I have missed weddings, birthdays, and other important events for additional riding opportunities or additional ways to bring in supplemental income so I can make our budget balance itself out. I have his support as long as I can make it work. We don’t have the budget to make this happen without some creative planning.
I only get to lesson once a week. Depending on if I have to work late, I am lucky to ride another two times a week on my own thanks to a demanding job and an hour commute one way to the barn. I help watch new pony riders when we have a full lesson at the barn to ensure no one falls off. I assist with “pony parties” and teach little kids the proper way to put on a martingale when my coach is busy. When my lesson is over, I help feed and throw hay, and before I go home at night I make sure every stall has water in it. I have a real job and a thousand side jobs so I can afford this passion. I traded in my luxury truck for a car to save on payments and gas mileage. I sold countless pairs of designer jeans to buy one nice pair of Trophy Hunters for shows.
I am not the best rider, but I am a good, effective rider. I ask lots of questions — some silly, some complex. I still learn every day and I am not ashamed to admit that I learn something new frequently. In fact, I brag about it, because if I didn’t understand it then someone else probably did too. There are moments where I grab mane. There are moments when I eat dirt. There are moments were I canter to the next fence on the wrong lead. But that is because I am not perfect and honestly, I don’t know of any rider who is.
But you know what? Even if I won the lottery tomorrow and had all the money in the world for the fancy amenities and could afford to hire help to take care of all the details for me — I would never not want to work for this. I never want to feel like this is easy. I want to feel hungry for it. I want to work my hind end off for it. I want to see my blood, sweat, and tears show proof of all of my labor. I want those sacrificed moments to feel worth it. I want my long hours commuting, working, and riding to be a reflection of my character. I want my family and husband to see my success and be proud of me for all that I have given up to make this happen. I want my horse to know that I would go to the end of the world and back for him. I want that ribbon, that title, that cash prize to SHOW my intensity, my drive, my focus, my passion.
I would never want anything more than to be an adult amateur.
Go adult ammies, and go riding.