Torn Between Two Worlds: The Grad Student/Equestrian

When I was a kid, meaning ages 8-18 my life was consumed by horses. It started as lessons, but eventually led to my parents selflessly getting me my first pony when I was 12. I say selflessly, because I do not come from a wealthy family-we’re not poor-but horses, especially in the ‘english’ realm of equestrian sports, are extremely expensive.

My mom even got a second job, because she knew how much horses meant to me. She didn’t want me to miss out on something I was so passionate about, just because society isn’t always fair. She made me believe that just because I didn’t come from money, didn’t mean I couldn’t be included in areas of interest typically reserved for wealthy.

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Scooter and I chilling at our first show together

If I could be half the Mom she is one day, then I think I’d be doing a pretty good job.

But yes, horses and the show world consumed my life. Shows at least twice a month, riding every night after school, literally living at the barn or in hotels over the summer. I was aware I didn’t always have the best show clothes, or maybe my spotted pony wasn’t the typical look for the hunter divisions, but I didn’t care. I was in love with everything about the horse world, and believed I could make it to any level I wanted to-regardless of the fact that this was an extremely expensive and perhaps single-minded dream. This dream started to become even more of possibility to me when I started showing other people’s horses from the barn, and started to get catch rides from other trainers at shows. I also ended up getting a free’project pony’ when I was 16, and ended up taking her to pony finals. I thought that I really could make something of myself in the horse world.

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My project pony at pony finals

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Scooter being adorable

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Bella at Tyler

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Basillio-my trainer’s horse

Meanwhile, I didn’t care about school. In fact, I rarely went. Pretty sure I got in trouble every year for missing too much. Or never turning in my homework. But, I always got A’s on the tests, so what was the point of showing up or doing work anyways? I frequently argued this point to my teachers and administrators, who at one point almost accused me of cheating since I didn’t show up to one class for over half the semester, but yet still managed to get a 100 on a test (pretty sure my parents don’t know how much school I missed, so if you happen to be reading this-mom, dad, I’m sorry that I would stay home in bed most school days). Regardless of the logic to my argument, the grading system is not set up to reward people who do no work (even if they are smart enough to not need to.) I still ended up with a less than average GPA.

Horses were way more important to me than school, in fact school was an afterthought after everything else in my life. That’s to no fault of my parents, it’s just I can’t seem to work at something unless I’m genuinely interested in it.

But oh has that horse/school mindset reversed.

After I graduated high school, I moved straight to Canada for a job at a warmblood breeding barn/show training stables. They had their main breeding facility in London, Ontario, and had a barn in Ocala, FL, for the winter months (there’s a big winter circuit there, a lot of show barns up north have a second barn in Florida.) I was so excited to start this big adventure, but when I went, I realized how big of a mistake I had made.

In truth, it wasn’t the work load. Yes, we worked 12 hour days 6 days a week, and part of the work was basically a groom’s job, but we also got to learn how to ride and train well bred 4-5 year olds, and even go to shows-and help warm up NICE horses at those shows as well. The ‘working student’ life is tough, but totally worth it if what you want is to live, breath, sleep horses. Which is what I thought I wanted, but it wasn’t.

When I was there, I realized that it didn’t matter if I somehow managed to become a professional, or became a grand prix rider-I realized, even if all my dreams in the horse world came true, I didn’t want it.

How did I come to this conclusion? To put it in the simplest way, I wasn’t happy. Again, not about the work, but…I wasn’t happy about ‘my dream’ anymore. It seemed…incomplete. I felt like I was missing something, and I had no clue what that could possibly be. Horses had been, and were, my whole life. What could I be missing so much? At first I put it off as home-sickness. But, that wasn’t it. Because, although I did miss somethings about him, I wasn’t missing my past. I was missing a future I hadn’t allowed myself to think I could have. I had never, ever considered going to college. And all of the sudden, I was realizing that I closed so many doors on myself by only allowing one possible future for myself. I felt constrained, I felt trapped, I felt desperately that I had made a huge mistake in giving up everything for horses. And that’s not how you should be feeling about something that is supposed to be your ‘dream’.

When I called my mom, telling her I needed to book a flight home, that I couldn’t do this, she knew I wasn’t ‘giving up’ or ‘chickening out’. She had known all along that I needed to see how that life was before she said what she thought I should do. That women knows me-she knew I wouldn’t be convinced to do anything unless I realized it myself. That time period must have been tough for her, seeing her 18 year old kid get on a plane to a different country, not knowing if I would decide to come back or not. But she knew I needed to make that decision for myself.

For two years after I came back, I stayed at my parents house and went to a community college. Like I said before, I had learned nothing about study habits in high school, so before I applied to a University I needed to actually learn how to ‘do school the right way’.

Those two years were so strange, kind of like these grad school years I’m in now-it was sort of like limbo. I knew I was doing what I needed to do, while at the same time not being at the place where I could go forward with my life. But these years also allowed me to figure out what direction I wanted to go in for school, and also allowed me to stick with riding at my old barn. I had to struggle with trying to find a new school/horse balance, which bit me in the butt now in then-college is not the same as high school, you definitely can NOT take a test without studying and expect a 100.

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My favorite horse in the world.

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Zach in waco.

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The two best boys! Guy and Gesan.

But, soon I would start a new adventure. I got accepted at UTSA (after being declined at UT-like I said, high school GPA bit me in the butt), but after all this time in San Antonio, I have to say I’m so thankful UT didn’t want me.

When I first moved to UTSA, which was the fall of 2013, I decided that if I was going to go to university I was going to do it right. I joined clubs, I lived in a dorm, and I basically lived in the library. I also gave up horses. It was a tough decision, but in the end it was the right one. For so long, I had only seen my life as revolving around horses-almost like an addiction-and instead of horses being the happy part of my life, it started to just be something I depended on. So I gave it up for my last two years in undergrad, and gained so many wonderful experiences for it.

Those junior and senior years, I gained new friends, a new significant other, and most importantly, new knowledge and a new outlook on life. I grew up. I realized I needed to have dreams that not only involved my passions, but were dreams that were somehow useful to society. I couldn’t just think about myself anymore. I decided I wanted to go to law school, and do something to help others with it-not sure exactly how yet, but luckily I don’t have to figure that detail out right this second.

I graduated from undergrad the fall semester of 2015, and also became engaged that same semester. Life seemed to be going great, but I still felt conflicted about my future. You see, law school is expensive. I’m talking tuition of about 35,000 a YEAR, and thats only an average. I felt scared to dive in to something like that, and to further sign in to debt world. At the same time I was having these financial doubts, one of my professors told me that I was nominated for VIP admittance to the UTSA grad school-meaning I didn’t have to take the GRE, I didn’t even have to apply, and my books would be paid for (and I also was awarded a scholarship).

So, while I was having a bit of doubts in my lawyer dream, I was presented this opportunity to basically stick around and improve my education while also giving me more time to see if I really wanted to commit myself to law school. It also gave me another great opportunity.

You see, I was missing horses. I knew school was important now, I had gained the experiences I was missing out on, and now I knew it was time to have horses back in my life.

And so, when grad school started in January of 2016, I also called up a barn in SA to start picking up lessons again. After just a few lessons, my trainer started having me hop on some other horses at the barn-she seemed convinced I did actually know how to ride, and wasn’t just another crazy person signing up for lessons claiming they ‘know how to ride’ when they’ve really ‘ridden a horse on a beach vacation once’. Trust us, we can tell the difference.

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Gracie the lesson horse/pony

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Wilson

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Chunkie, one of the sale horses

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Jazzy, one of the sale horses

Eventually, starting the summer of 2016, I officially was not a lesson rider anymore, and became a working student for the barn. Basically, I assist the two main riders with the horses they need to work, and help set jumps. It’s a great trade off, because I get to have fun with horses again, but I’m not expected to devote all my life at the barn.

Basically, those two years I took off from riding were extremely tough at first-but in the end, had made my horse/school relationship actually work. I know how to balance the two worlds now, and even though I’m still anxious for the day when I can finally own a horse-and get back into the show ring-I can finally say I’ve struck the balance between the two main focuses in my life. Even though I love horses, I needed a dream where I can have a real, full life-one where I can work towards something that allows me to be somewhat useful in society, and not just stuck in my own world-or the horse world.

I’m thankful for the wonderful people that I wouldn’t have ever known if I had stayed with that barn in Canada. I’m thankful for the education that has allowed me to grow as a person. I’m thankful for the two years I spend away from horses, because now I’m back in the horse world with a much more grateful and patient mindset.

Instead of ‘the dream’ of being a professional trainer I had so long ago, I have a new dream. It’s a bit more complex, because it’s not just about my career-but about how I want to live my life. I want to be balanced, I want to work towards goals that don’t just involve me, and I want to keep horses in it as well-but as an amateur.

This dream will still take as much sacrifice as the old one, if not more, but I’m genuinely happy with this new life. I know it will be worth it because even if I don’t become absolutely everything I plan to be-I have wonderful people in my life, and I get opportunities I never had before, to grow and try to help people while I get through this wandering road of life.

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