At the end of June, my lease horse Stoney put himself on a sabbatical consisting of 6 months of rehab. At 18 years old we knew he was eyeing retirement, and although this is temporary and he will see a saddle again eventually, we always knew this moment would come. And in typical Stoney style - he initiated the break very much on his own terms.
As a result, I too have taken a step back from dressage, although involuntarily. As with many rehab situations, when the horse is laid up, the rider is laid off.
(Me at 14 years old with the first and only horse I've ever owned, Peso.)
After nearly six weeks into my horseless "vacation" this summer while I searched for my next lease, I started to doubt if this layoff would ever end. I consider being an equestrian part of my identity, but I began to ponder at what point it starts to slip away and people morph from being horseless to simply unequestrian? Fear took hold of me and I wondered if the change was taking place. I was sure my inner thigh muscles had begun to atrophy and what little abs I'd started with had clearly given up the good fight. My bank account was feeling comfortably padded and I considered if it would be a good idea to stretch out this furlough a bit longer.
I'd been down this road before. As a young child I started riding and took a break around eight years old when I was discouraged by the instructor. I picked things back up again with a vengeance at twelve and didn't look back until the reins were practically pried from my hands on my way to college.
At age 18 I began a ten year stretch without horses. Initially, the college life was enough to occupy me but when that ceased to be a distraction I wasn't in a place to afford horses financially. After awhile I started to accept that my equestrian years were over. As someone that enjoys having a goal and a purpose, I almost didn't realize what was lacking as I jumped distractedly from one hobby to another, trying to satisfy some insatiable itch.
At 22 I went on a vacation to Spain with my family and as we walked the barn aisles of a classical Spanish riding school something inside me stirred and I quickly quieted it.
I almost gave up horses more than once. Not because I stopped loving them, but simply because circumstance made it hard. It wasn't always the most "practical" thing to do with my time and money. Throughout the years, over and over again the same question kept popping up - was riding horses something I just did, or was it part of me?
When I got back into horses at 28 I knew before the first ride that horses would suck me in completely. I knew that the vet bills would take my disposable income to the cleaners and back and I wasn't sure if I was ready for it. I considered very seriously if riding was something I'd learned to live without. It only took one dressage lesson though on a very cross eventer gelding to convince me that riding was not going to let me go. I was where I needed to be.
I think being an equestrian is a ride we start at some point and never really get off. It begins with a book (mine was Misty of Chincoteague), a pony at the fair, or maybe feeding carrots to the neighbor's horse. Curiosity is sparked, the flames are fanned, and our parents begin to realize the horse-obsessed monster they've nurtured. It's a downward spiral into a lifelong love. It's an adventure that starts, sends you on a roller coaster with ups and downs, enough sometimes that we think we're ready to walk away. Whatever tries to derail us - college, broken bones, bad shows and back luck, these horses are relentless. They take hold. And just when this journey becomes too much and we think we've lost our way - they finds us.