Being a competitive equestrian isn’t easy. Anyone who says it is must live in altered state of reality.
We break fences, ribs, our pride, and often our budget just to get a ribbon at the end of the day, but we keep doing it.
Well, most of us at least.
I grew up a horse crazy kid in a small town. I didn’t start competing until my late teens and early 20s. As I got older, I watched as the my horse crazy friends with packed away their Breyers, stored their saddles, and sold their ponies in trade for boys, cheerleading, or college. I was 18 and still had a bedroom decorated in horses and I wasn’t embarrassed by that when my friends came over, though I saw them smirk at the magazine clippings taped to my bedroom door.
When I went to college, I met more horse crazy kids thanks to my IHSA equestrian team and I felt at home again. I hung my ribbons up by my bed so I could fall asleep at night and count the colors and dream of the Grand Prix ring. Saturdays were dedicated to “pony-time” as we called it. We would all load up, head out to the barn, and hack for hours on hours on hours until our horses were shooting us dirty looks as if they knew Saturday was supposed to be their day off.
And then, it happened again.
My friends graduated and got jobs and moved away and suddenly their horses were for sale and they were donating their equipment to the barn. I found myself standing alone at the stall door of my horse wondering how anyone could give this up.
And then, I had too.
Unlike my friends, I didn’t sell my tack. I stored it away carefully, dragging it out every now and then to oil it and reminisce on the highs and the lows of riding. My ribbons were sorted neatly in a box, a colorful pile of laughter and tears that was a bittersweet reminder of my lost love. For two years, I lived vicariously through YouTube and my own collection of memories until finally, one day, I could ride again.
Despite that time out of the saddle, I never forgot or gave up. I knew that one day I would return to the barn again, have a horse again, find myself jumping and showing again. Because I have never stopped being that horse crazy kid.
I trudge through the scheduling, the budget, the physical and emotional strain, the bad days, the failed attempts, and the “why do I bothers?” I sacrifice endlessly for one extra lesson, one extra trip to the barn, one extra class at the show, one extra pair of boot socks because I always seem to lose a mate. I do all of this, because I love it.
I will never understand why people quit riding permanently. Maybe I am blessed to have not been hurt too badly, to not have had a terrible experience with a trainer or a horse, to not have faced such adversity that I felt that it wasn’t worth it anymore. But, I do know what it is like to be broke, to be tired, to take a bad spill, to question your horse, to question yourself, to feel doubt when thinking of the big picture and despite all of that. I know what it feels like to have gotten a late start, to have dreams bigger than your wallet and your small hometown, to feel like the world is stacked against you and that you don’t have a chance—but I keep riding.
There is a sticker on my whiteboard at work that says, “May the Horse be with You,” and every time I look at it, I smile. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for me to stop riding and I am sure that they are many of the same reasons why others choose to hang the coat up and put the boots away. If I did that, though, I would lose a part of who I am.
So when it gets tough, when you don’t know what the answer is, know that I am rooting for you. That I support you, no matter what you decide, but that I truly hope that you find a way to keep horses in your life in one way or another. Know that I know it is hard and I know you try with all of your heart and sometimes you ask yourself if it is worth it. Know that I know people can be mean and may shoot down your dreams because you don’t own a six-figure horse or your breeches are hand-me down.
But also, know that I know you can do this. That I have done it, that I continue to do it, and that I know you can do it too.
May the Horse be with you, friends. In the good times and the bad. Keep on keeping on because this is where you heart is and one day you will look back and be thankful for all of the horses who made you.
About the Author
Meagan DeLisle is a young adult amateur returning to the saddle after an unexpected two-year hiatus. Combining both her passion for horses and her love of words, Meagan often writes about the comedy that ensues while working with her green OTTB Joey and training her horse-show husband.