As we grow in our equestrian involvement from the bareback days on our first ponies, through our teen years in the show ring, to our adult years as professionals or dedicated amateurs, to watching our children take up the reins for the first time, we learn that a life in horses requires a long string of adjustments.
To progress through the many phases that a life in horses demands, we need to maintain an open-minded view of the many equestrian horizons that lie ahead. At various points along the way, most of us will have to leave certain roles behind as new doors open and invite us to experience new types of activities.
It is difficult for the young rider in the prime of her competitive career to imagine a time when she may be more effective coaching young rising stars in the warm-up area than being in the saddle herself. Similarly, the avid fox hunter does not want to think ahead to the day when, owing to the sport's hard physical demands, he must retire his horse and let his long-loved pasttime become a mere memory.
But if we live long enough, it is certain the day will arrive when these choices must be made. All of us will endure moments when finances, health, age, and luck seem to be forcing us "out." Unfortunately, many good horse people indeed take the exit, and their knowledge with them, leaving the horse business the poorer for their absence. But, to lifetime equestrians, these are merely transition points when they are being urged "onward" into new areas that need their involvement and where they can make a vital difference.
To do this, we must plan to get the most out of our equestrian experience by appreciating its many levels, not merely the particular horse activity we currently enjoy. If we do this well, we can make adjustments that will result in lasting, fulfilling contributions to the equestrian culture, regardless of discipline, leaving it a better place than we found it so it will continue for other generations.
Lynne M. Cartellone, a professional hunt seat equitation trainer based in Cleveland, Ohio, relates her own experience in equestrian adjustment:
"When I first entered the sport 27 years ago, I competed constantly, with good success, which fulfilled my childhood dreams. When my children came along, I realized I had to put the show circuit on hold."
Cartellone didn't let her experience go to waste, however. She applied what she knew to building a successful training stable close to home, passing her knowledge on to her daughter and creating a tradition. As family demands escalated, Cartellone again encountered major changes.
"After several successful years, I had to close my training stable to follow family commitments, one of the hardest choices I ever had to make," she says. "But my strong faith, tenacious attitude, good friends, and a real love for teaching those who love to learn got me through it."
She continues a fulfilling career, teaching hunt seat equitation to adults and children. "You have to find a your way through life's challenges by staying focused on your big goal, being close to horses. I believe we each have a purpose and are given gifts and talents. It is our responsibility to develop and use them wisely."
Quarter horse trainer/competitor David Hudak of Hinckley Ohio, agrees. "To make life worth living, you have to fill it with something. Horses do that. They are good therapy for what the rest of life throws your way. Just coming to the barn every day keeps you going."
As for retirement, Hudak says, "You really don't retire from life, do you? Well, you never really retire from horses either. It wouldn't be life without them!"
Every horse owner knows that the costs of the sport increase annually. Regrettably, this causes some people to re-evaluate their commitment to equestrian life and, inevitably, some will drop out. The lifetime horse lover, however, often has nowhere else to go.
Jerry Goldberg owns South Farm, a combined training facility in Middlefield OH. His career of diverse equestrian activities spans over fifty years as a competitor/trainer in reining and pleasure showing, 25-year fox hunter with the Chagrin Valley Hunt, and 40-year editor/publisher of The Horsetrader magazine. "I never wanted to give it up," he says, "even though I could have done many other things that would have been more financially successful. It never entered my mind to quit, even if things got really tough personally or financially. You see, horse people are individualists. They aren't golfers or tennis players. They have an inner strength that allows them to overlook personal inconvenience for the sake of the sport, which is a 24-hour, 7-day, year round commitment. Sometimes professionals will even get a job temporarily to support their horses. Imagine that!"
Rather than drop out, he too advises horse lovers to find ways to stay involved and increase the personal value they are able to derive from their chosen way of life. "Seriously, you have to cultivate skills that will make your life in horses good, because, good or bad, it will consume your life," he says. "If you work on the social and professional skills, your life in it will be good."
Following are some suggestions for ensuring that good life in the equestrian world.
- Make time to ride. This is number 1. Although it may sound overly simple, if you are questioning your commitment, you may find that you are spending so much time on the ground and losing touch with the real reason for having horses in your life. Many of life's problems, from the bills to the growing manure piles, don't look so bad when you view them from the saddle.
- Support equestrian organizations with money, time, or both. This will keep you in the loop with people who share your love for horses. Networking always pays off. The more people you know, the more support you will find.
- Look for the value in other equestrian disciplines. Take a few moments to watch those contest classes, even if your love is jumping or dressage. Find a good word for the kid who didn't make the cut in that large pleasure class. Those who find common ground with other types of horses and riders have broader equestrian horizons and a more sustainable interest in the sport.
- Host or sponsor a clinic. Having a big goal increases our stake in the business and intensifies our interest.
- Host or sponsor a charity event involving horses. Making the general public aware of the beauty of horses through public charity events is a powerful way of increasing participation in the sport. This helps sustain the culture of horses in the public eye.
- Volunteer for duty at a horse show. Giving time is as meaningful as giving money to equestrian events. This strengthens the equestrian culture locally, regionally, and nationally.
- Volunteer to support a handicapped riding program. Any level of involvement in these endeavors reinforces the necessity of horses in our world. Horses are not just for the privileged. They can make a real difference in anyone's life.
- Be aware of laws and restrictions that affect equestrian lifestyle. David Hudak says, "Horse people have to look out for each other." This often means keeping up with current events that affect equestrian life. Pay attention to local zoning issues that may impact your ability to conduct equestrian activities in your area.
- Think ahead to other areas of equestrian involvement. Look for "lifetime" aspects of equine sport that will accommodate you over the entire span of your equestrian life. Driving, trail riding, breeding ? these are activities that bring together the young and old in the horse world. Most important of all, maintain your physical health. Getting the most of your equestrian experience means staying healthy and maintaining good physical condition so you can avoid injuries and work to improve your riding skills.David J. Wyatt and his wife, dressage trainer/competitor Connie LaSalle Wyatt, own and operate a horse farm in Hinckley, Ohio. Their two children are members of the Bath Pony Club and compete regularly in horse shows.