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Horseback riding is much more than a sport to this MHS senior

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Horseback riding is much more than a sport to this MHS senior

By Kim Fleming, Round Table website managing editor

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The daily schedule of the average teenager in 2018 on a Saturday is most likely as follows:

They wake up in the late morning hours and groggily roll out of bed. Then, they grab a cup of coffee and proceed to play Fortnite or binge-watch Black Mirror on Netflix for hours on end. Perhaps they’ll scroll through Instagram at times or watch an amusing Vine thread on Twitter, and God forbid they forget to send out their Snapchat streaks. Maybe they’ll decide to go out with their friends for a few hours just to get out of the house and cure some of their inevitable boredom.

But here’s the thing — I wouldn’t know for sure.

For as long as I can remember, my life never resembled this stereotype of the “average” childhood, or at least to other people, it might not have seemed that way. Forget about the pink ballet shoes or the shiny gymnast leotards that most five year-old girls dawn, I was sporting full-seat riding breeches and muddy, brown paddock boots. That’s right, I grew up being that horse girl (and quite frankly, at 18 years old, I still am).

Most of my hours were spent in the barn with my horses. Not in the house, not in front of the TV, no. I was scrambling around a dirty barn, grooming my horses, carrying five-gallon buckets filled with water (only half way full, of course) and trekking about, ankle-deep in mud and other various substances. It might not sound like paradise to the “typical” child, but I wouldn’t have wished it any other way.

My early childhood consisted of maintaining my responsibilities to feed my horses every morning and night, mucking out the stalls daily and riding every day after school to keep my horse in shape and improve my skills as well. Every night was spent out late in the barn making sure all my horses were comfortable for the evening. Teaching me how to balance responsibility at such a young age, the immense dedication I kept to my horses filled my schedule from morning to evening and I never minded one bit. They deserve only the best.

Mornings were often spent enthusiastically waking up at ridiculous hours of the morning (a feeling always absent when waking up for school) to bathe my horse, pack the trailer and leave for horse shows. My mother would braid my 13.1-hand gray Welsh pony and load her on the trailer for me as I would get dressed in my tan breeches, polished boots, ratcatcher and show jacket. I was seven years old.

Riding around the show arena in 2007 on my show horse at the time.

As I grew older and began to take the sport more seriously, my time was consumed with preparing for my competitions. It was clear that my sport was my biggest priority in life and while I understood this, many struggled to grasp the concept. Endless hours spent drilling vaults, drilling poles, drilling barrels. Not to mention working with my horse on the flat to fine tune our silent language, keeping her responsive to my cues.

By age 14, I was becoming one of the best riders in my age group and was even beginning to outride some of the more experienced riders in the sport as well.

If I had to total the number of days of school I missed for horse shows, it would probably add up to more than two months’ worth of education. A Friday here, another week out there, I was accustomed to constantly making up my schoolwork and tests to maintain my high GPA and excel in my sport simultaneously.

The little money I managed to save was always spent on my horses. Having to choose between going out to eat with my friends or purchasing my horse a new set of sports medicine boots to protect her legs? Looks like I’ll have to meet up with my friends at a later time. I am solely dedicated to my horses, no matter the situation.

Understandably, this got on my friends’ nerves more often than not. Many people have entered my life just to leave as quickly as they appeared; my priority of the horses being a common factor as to why they’ve left.

By age 16, I was beginning to travel overseas to compete in international and world-level championships. Being away from home for weeks to months at a time for shows drove a wedge between myself and many of my friends back in the States.

Competing in Millstreet, Ireland at the 2016 World Team Championships representing the United States.

However, the ones who have stuck by my side through my many ups and downs, travels abroad and last-minute cancellations are the realest of them all. I am blessed to have some of the best friends in the world, making up for all the people who have told me I am “wasting my time” and those who have called me crazy for being so enthralled by a thousand-pound animal with a mind of its own.

I’ve also heard the questions, “So where will this take you in the future?” and, “Can you make a living doing this?” more times than I can count. My response to these questions is typically a rather elusive answer along the lines of, “I do it because I love it and it’s something I can always turn to.”

I often think about what it would be like if I did a more stereotypical sport like swim or gymnastics or lacrosse. Would these types of questions still be thrown at me? Most likely. I surely wouldn’t have to hear them as often, though.

In fact, it feels incredibly degrading whenever I hear these phrases spit from someone’s mouth like venom. I understand the concern; I do an expensive sport and slave over all hours of the day for it, and for what result? I get that. But the bottom line is, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love it. My horse is my ultimate best friend, the only one who can flip my bad mood instantly, the only one who I can tell everything and the only one who I know will listen. It sounds crazy, I know. But any equestrian understands the bond a person has with his/her horse. It’s an energy like no other, an intangible feeling to anyone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves; it takes your breath away all the while breathing life directly into your soul.

It’s quite odd to think about pursuing something other than riding. But then again, as I’ve already established, I’m not one for stereotypes.

Horseback riding has allowed me more opportunities that any “typical” teenager would be more than lucky to have. I’ve been able to travel the world and make so many memories I could fill a book, possibly two. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet people from all over the globe. These people have become some of my best friends.

I am happy. Being an equestrian has made me happy. If this was not my path, if I ended up doing ballet or swim or gymnastics, there’s no way I would be the same person I am today. I love my horse. I love my sport. I love my life.

I love my life so much so that I’ve become mortified of it changing drastically.

In August, I will move into the University of Maryland to study journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. While Maryland is only an hour and a half away from my house that is an hour and a half further away from my horses than I have ever been.

I couldn’t be more excited for my future; the amount of opportunities I have hanging in front of me of me, waiting for me to grasp them tightly, give me butterflies at the thought. Maybe it’s the senioritis hitting a bit too hard or the “graduation goggles,” as Robin from How I Met Your Mother once described, but I am seriously excited for college and all it has to offer.

It does cross my mind late at night though — what will the most stressful part of my life to date be like without my best stress reliever? What will I do with myself if I can’t go walk out into a muddy field to hug my pony at 10:00 at night?

I can’t recall a time I haven’t been able to walk outside my door or simply gaze out my window and see my horses. The same ones that embrace me with love and happiness and dismiss the worries of a bad day. It terrifies me to think of a day I’ll be unable to do this, and the fact I know this day is merely months away is petrifying.

That being said, I believe there’s one thing I must continue remind myself.

Yes, it is a scary thought. But then again, all change is scary. I wouldn’t take any other life, stereotypical or not so much, over the one I’ve lived thus far. It’s been truly amazing and with ambitions as grand as mine, I can guarantee I’ll go on to do bigger and better things. With one international champion title under my belt in the arena, it’s time to tackle an even bigger task: the world.

How’s that for a typical teenage life?

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Horseback riding is much more than a sport to this MHS senior