I turned around quickly to make sure none of the little barn kids are within earshot of my foul mouth. Okay, so, the word that slipped out was a little stronger—starting with an ‘f’ and ending with a ‘k.’
I chuckled to myself, it’s 8 o’clock on a school day, of course there are no kids around.
Actually, I’m completely alone at the barn in the pouring rain, trudging through 12-inch deep mud. Crap would have been more appropriate for me to declare, as that is what I was trying to remove from each pen in those less than stellar conditions. Seriously, those pens were a mess. We had two horses lose shoes from being suctioned off by the mud.
I, myself, was a little worried I would be swallowed up, and they’d never find me. My feet have slid out of my too big, knock-off Dubarry boots, which have fallen victim to the quick-sand-like mud, one too many times to count.
This sucks, literally.
I’m 24 years old. I took lessons for a year or so when I younger but wasn’t able to ride again until I graduated college and had a job to pay for this cheap and affordable hobby on my own. Okay, this insanely expensive hobby.
Riding in middle and high school didn’t happen because my parents were convinced that playing the clarinet or running stupid amounts of laps on a track would get me a scholarship to college. I was always busy with this and my parents (DAD!) were only willing to pay for things that they thought would stick with me throughout life. They are great parents, by the way. This is not me bagging on them at all.
Anyway, although they thought that little 12-year-old me had musical talent of the likes of Mozart, I honestly sucked. Also, I wasn’t that fast. I would consider those my wasted years, when the only contact I had with horses were the pictures I’d cut out of catalogues to make collages with.
So there I was at 19, a complete beginner at riding, but with an intensely strong passion for the sport. I paid my $45 to ride once a week and cried a little when I realized that this monthly $180 expenditure was the reason I’d always run out of money before the end of the month. It’s okay, I could pay for gas with the spare change at the bottom of my purse.
Luckily, my trainer took pity on me and offered me a working student position. Yay, I got to help with horses and ride for free!
Well, now I’m 24 and I’ve been doing this for five years. Now, not only do I get to work off my lessons, but I also get paid. However, my workload has changed. It seems like I’ve been doing more and more mucking and cleaning and feeding and less of anything to do with actual horses.
So, on this lonely day at the ranch, $12 an hour hardly seems worth it.
It’s on these days that I beat myself up for not having completed my bachelor’s degree yet, for still living with my parents, and for barely making enough money to pay for gas. (I seem to have run out of purse change.) All of my friends are in relationships and landing great careers, and here I am trying not to drown in the mud.
And in terms of riding, I’m still trying to learn how to release over jumps and keep shoulders from falling in. I’ve been to one dressage schooling show, and entered a few classes at the annual county fair—total. So I’m basically nowhere with riding despite spending a large portion of the last five years almost living at the barn.
As I pull my boot out of the mud, I hear the cute, soft noises my (thanks, mom!) mare makes when she’s hoping to sucker me into giving her a treat. Of course, I oblige and give her some molasses cookie thing. When she’s done chewing, she puts her head over the railing and gently starts licking my entire arm.
And I think that’s when I figured it out.
This sport sucks, but it’s also the greatest one there is. We put so much time and effort into it and, often times, there’s not really anything to show for it—yet we keep coming back for more. We pour our hearts and souls into this just waiting for the right opportunity, for that moment when we really shine.
I’ve been beating myself up for not finding a golden opportunity by now. I haven’t been able to gain a tremendous amount of knowledge about the A/AA shows and circuits while being a groom. I haven’t jumped over three feet. I haven’t ever jumped at a show—heck, I can’t even afford to go to shows.
All of the misery we go through scooping poop in the pouring rain, eating mouthfuls of arena sand courtesy of a spook, the tears of frustration after riding a difficult horse, the sad realization that our cars will never be clean, the jealousy towards people who can afford to lesson multiple times a week, the countless hours spent moping about slow moving progress will always be overshadowed by those magical moments when you find yourself next to a horse grinning like an idiot.
For me, it’s those sweet after treat kisses I get from Roo or when I finally got her to go in frame or I didn’t have to grab mane for the first time over a jump or it’s been a week since I last fell off. That is why, even though I feel discouraged ALL the time, I stick with it.
About the Author
My name is Jessica Osman. I’ve been fulfilling my need to be around horses the poor person way—by being a working student. I was lucky to get my first horse a few months ago, with the help of my parents. For the last few months, I’ve been working to make connections in the horse world to help me become more involved in the show scene and in the hunter/jumper world in general.