As a highly competitive junior rider, I swore there was one thing I would never be: an adult amateur.
Showing on the A Circuit, my daily life included braiding, hacking, tack cleaning, bathing, catch riding, riding babies, facing off against my arch nemesis (and the only male rider in my division) to qualify for medal finals, and hurtling my own horses through the jumper speed rounds.
I wanted to be the best, and since my parents are awesome and wanted me to be a humble human being, that meant I worked at the barn day in and day out. My brain simply could not compute the adult amateurs who showed up 20 minutes before their class, jumped on their fully braided and tacked horse, and did an interesting mix of grabbing mane and semi-steering around three foot courses.
That was never going to be me.
I was going to move straight up the ranks into the grand prixs, ditch my amateur status, and go pro. Sadly, adulthood got in the way. Once I was off my parent’s bill and unable to pay for what I couldn’t work off, I ended up going out into the real world to get a big girl job, and reluctantly took a break from the competitive hunter/jumper circuit.
I discovered polo as a more affordable alternative to jumping and fell so deeply in love with the sport that I all but forgot about my h/j roots.
Polo brought out the junior rider in me once again on a fairly accessible budget. Mostly, I just rode horses all day, played in the arena and lower level grass leagues, and hung out at BBQs drinking a lot of champagne. It was glorious (and it still is, one cannot simply quit playing polo).
After purchasing a young gelding that grew entirely too big for polo, not to mention was the laziest horse known to man, I decided to see if he had the chops to do the hunters. Before my out-of-town wedding, I saved up all the extra money I had and sent him across the street to a hunter/jumper trainer recommended by a friend to let him test out hunter land without me.
Dammit, if he wasn’t a natural.
I decided to take a lesson just to see if he was any fun to jump. When you haven’t jumped for several years, you forget that it’s a drug. One jump and I was hooked. Cue baby horse moving to boutique hunter/jumper training program and me becoming my worst nightmare—the adult amateur.
It only dawned on me recently that I really am an AA. During my first horse show back in the h/j world, I went to Starbucks, drove to the barn in my mid-size luxury SUV, zipped up my boots in a beautiful tack room, and hopped right on an already lunged, groomed, and tacked up horse. Then I promptly went to the bathroom, stared in the mirror, and whispered “Who am I?”
Over the past few months I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that our amazing barn manager does in fact make my horse look nicer than I do on show days, but I’ve still insisted upon tacking and grooming on my own for lessons and hack days. (Also, despite the whole mid-size luxury SUV thing, I’m super broke because…horses).
I still die a little inside when I have fleeting moments of fear that I will forget a hunter course. And I feel like a mild crazy person when I drop off a blank check at the horse show office and let them fill it out at the end. (Such a fun surprise!)
But when it comes down to it, I’m really learning to let go of the preconceived notions I had about AA riders when I was a hungry, apparently not-as-humble-as-I-thought, grand prix chasing junior.
It’s not half bad to have my insanely talented trainer tune my green horse up once or twice a week. Showing up to a perfectly clipped and turned out horse when I have an 8am class certainly isn’t torture. Nor do I miss waking up at 4am to braid and trying to stay awake for afternoon classes with diet coke and french fries. The other adult amateurs, even the ones that still grab mane and pseudo steer, are quite fabulous people who simply love horses, and are a true pleasure to have a glass of wine with.
Ultimately, coming to terms with my AA status is teaching me to value a new kind of horse show experience and to sit back and enjoy the ride (for now). But I haven’t entirely let go of the dream. Days of big jumps, fast horses, and professional status may still be ahead—one day.
About the Author
Erin Lane is what you might call a wannabe pro on a budget. With a 20 year background, she has built a life around competitive hunters, jumpers, and polo. Watch for her new website, The Equestrian Confidential, in early 2017.