I’ve gotten the opportunity to join a Toastmasters group at work- for those of you who haven’t heard of Toastmasters, it’s a low pressure “course” to improve public speaking confidence by building on new skills as you progress. I already love public speaking and I’m LOVING the chance to hone my skills and get more practice!
Last week I was asked to give a 3-5 minute “ice breaker” speech last week as part of our session and I talked about- you guessed it- riding. Clearly I’m an extraordinarily one-dimensional person. But I thought you might like to see it! There’s nothing here you didn’t already know, but it was a fun speech to give to a group of my coworkers.
Do you remember that crazy horse girl from when you were younger? They seem to be ubiquitous- those 12 year olds clutching their toy horses and spouting off facts about 25 different breeds. The girls that would relate every conversation back to, “well ACTUALLY horses do it differently,” no matter how unrelated the conversation is to horses. Sound familiar?
Well, I’m what happens when that weird horse girl grows up. But it wasn’t always supposed to be this way!
Even though I rode throughout my childhood and even had my own horse in high school, I stepped away when I left for college. I hopped back on a horse just long enough to catastrophically shatter my elbow during my sophomore year, but that was an isolated incident in the midst of several years spent on my own two feet.
And then I moved down to Virginia, with both feet still firmly on the ground. For over a year, I didn’t even think about getting back in the saddle! Honest truth, I had stepped into my role as a Working Professional with a capital P, and picking up a hobby was not top of mind.
Then one day my boyfriend casually asked, “Didn’t you say that you used to ride horses? Maybe you should see if there are any barns in the area.”
The very next day I went to tour a barn in Leesburg, and one week later I took my first lesson in almost five years. I couldn’t walk for a week because I was so sore, but I had the bug. That feeling of freedom and confidence and exhilaration was back and I was pleased as punch to have found a place where I could go once a week and enjoy my hobby once again.
It was a lovely plan. Once a week. No competitions or anything, just a one hour lesson.
That plan didn’t last long.
Three months later I had committed to leasing a horse and spending three days a week at the barn.
Five months later I nervously entered the show ring for the first time in 10 years.
Eight months later, with my trainer’s encouragement, I moved up to a division I had never competed in as a junior.
Sixteen months later, against the well-intentioned advice of several people I love and respect, I used much of my life savings and most of my jealously-hoarded vacation time to compete down in Florida for a week with the big timers.
And then eighteen months later, after realizing just how much more than a hobby this sport is to me, I took the plunge and bought my own equine best friend to compete with every month.
A year and a half. That’s how long it took to go from swinging up into the saddle after a five year hiatus, to spending six days a week in training for A-rated competitions with my horse Frankie. It’s never been in my nature to do things half-way; I’m not the type to make a decision and then wait to act.
My mother- one of those well-intentioned people who thought blowing my savings on a horse show was ridiculous- came down to watch Frankie and me in our first competition together last month, and I think it may have finally clicked for her. She got to see first-hand how this is not a sport for weekends or to spend an hour on and then move on with my day. Instead, she got to see how every waking moment was dedicated to the pursuit of perfection, tempered with the knowledge that perfection is unattainable. How every breath and every footfall was deliberately chosen to help us fly. How the hours leading up to my ride were spent analyzing all the possible options, and the hours following my ride were spent dissecting every stride and determining what we need to train harder on. She got to see that I’m spending all my time not just on my hobby, but on a whole lifestyle.
I don’t think my boyfriend anticipated all of this when he asked that fateful question, “I wonder if there’s a barn nearby?”- you see, he’s allergic to horses.