During the spring of 2017, I had to quit my job at a dressage barn near my home in order to handle my increasing workload at school. I had bonded closely with the horses there, and I found myself thinking about their welfare long after those soggy February days had passed. Over the summer, I volunteered at a local therapeutic riding center in hopes of curing “horse-fever”. There was little to no riding involved, but I was ecstatic to help with tacking up, leading, walking, and otherwise offering general care to the lesson horses. It was satisfying for a little while. But eventually, the craving to be more deeply involved with horses came back full force. I ardently searched local Facebook groups and scoured the internet in hopes of finding a trainer that was both affordable and close to home. I came upon an advertisement for a barn under new management. I worked up the guts to call the trainer a few days later. I sat in my front yard while the dial tone rang. After two or three rings, my heart beating fast, she picked up. Her voice was bright and musical; her energy was contagious so that when she offered a tour of the barn, I jumped at the opportunity.
Fast forward a day, and I found myself in a private four-stall barn where she kept her lesson horses. My prospective trainer gestured towards a stout belgian-haflinger in a stall to my right. It turns out she was looking for a barnhand to work in exchange for a full-lease on the beast, something very similar yet more profitable than my last arrangement. She looked me in the eyes, “Actually, just let me throw you on her for a quick lesson and see how you do,”. I could not believe my ears. I was wide-eyed, stunned, and to be honest, down-right awestruck at my good fortune. The ride went well and we planned a work schedule for me to begin the lease about a week later. So began my adventures with Miss Daisy Mae.
Fast forward about a month and a half and Daisy and I seem to be making making strides in our progress (see what I did there?). Some days it was -16 in the midst of winter and I was happy as a clam mucking stalls amidst the snow. That’s what passion and determination do to you, I think.
As Daisy and I seemed to progress together, the relationships at the barn seemed to digress. Drama between the barn staff and the boarders surfaced as it seems to always do. The decision was made to move Daisy to a barn about an hour away in a less-than-ideal location. Instead of a seven minute commute and a maximum of three traffic lights, there were now approximately 33 miles of either railroad tracks and unkempt rural roads. Or if I chose an alternate route, a highway prone to some serious traffic delays on the daily. At first, I didn’t think twice about the commute. Blinded by love, perhaps? I was also working a job on the weekends that paid me $50 weekly. Just enough to pay for my gas and a little bit extra to put into savings. Not so bad, right? Wrong. I drove the cumulative two hour commute 3-4 days a week as I tried to fend off impending school deadlines and work enough hours to pay for my passion. The stress began to accumulate.
Once school ended, I made it until about the middle of June before that question bubbled up from somewhere deep inside me and began gnawing at my sides: should I quit? As much as I loved to ride, I felt that I had plateaued. I had reached a point in my riding where I felt hindered by my circumstances, and I definitely did not see any financial way to move forward. I kept searching through opportunities: clinics, shows, anything to get me out of the rut. The doubt that I might not be as dedicated to a riding career as I thought I was came creeping into my thoughts. As much as I wanted to progress, I felt like there was a constant conflict between this internal dreamer side of me: the hopeful side that pictured a riding career that entailed the blood, sweat, and tears in order to tactfully compete on healthy, well-trained animals. Yet, I was imagining a version of myself outside of my dedication to the horse world. A financially stable, well-rounded, individual that could afford to indulge my varied interests.
I had played classical piano for a few years and gotten quite good, then I became so focused on equestrian sports that I stopped playing completely. I used to be passionate about ecology and biology, books and reading,mathematics, philosophy, theology...you name it. Point being, my interests were varied, and I could not think to challenge my other curiosities on a deep level while completely dissolving myself into the horse world.
The question ebbed and flowed in both it’s urgency and intensity. Sometimes, I felt that the logical component of my personality demanded me to let the lease go, to stop pursuing my vision of a riding career. I would think about all the adversities I faced: my parents couldn’t contribute financially to my passion, I was a high school student bogged down with schoolwork, I made little money myself, and I didn’t and certainly wouldn’t have time for my other curiosities if I pursued a riding career via my full-time lease. Not to mention, the hour drive to the barn drained my time and took a toll on my car (poor Pam). I couldn’t seem to shove these facts out of the light, so my internal conflict between logic and passion became inescapable (cue The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”). To resolve this conflict, I grabbed my whiteboard and started writing...
I laid out the total expenses of maintaining my lease, as well as the expenses of showing and trailering during the summer and into the autumn. Then, I wrote down my total income.
The numbers were not pretty.
I thought about nearly every situation I could come up with to make my lease work. I entertained thoughts like picking up a job closer to the barn and even moving in with family closer to the barn once I graduated high school. I felt that I was grasping at the air as I tumbled down some fairytale rabbit-hole. Needless to say, the future of my riding career seemed a bit dim.
I cried that day.