What Happens When Your Working Student Card Expires?

Several working students watching a cross-country school in 2012. Photo taken by Denny Emerson Several working students watching a cross-country school in 2012. Photo taken by Denny Emerson

The year was 2008. Denny and I were enjoying a leisurely hack on a crisp autumn morning. Knowing Denny, our conversation most likely ranged from local politics to environmental issues and land conservation. Everything seemed to be perfect. I was sitting on a horse before 9 a.m. and knew there would be more horses to ride as the day progressed. I didn’t have to be anywhere specific or check in with anyone. My responsibilities were minimal, if you were to include any other engagements outside of Tamarack Hill Farm. We were probably 30 minutes away from the barn when our conversation took an unexpected detour, which ultimately changed my life in an instant.

Denny: Ya know, you can’t be a working student forever … So, what exactly are your plans for the future?”

I was not only completely caught off guard in that moment, but never in a million years thought I would have to answer this question, so instead of replying intelligently, I said, Um, well … I have no idea.”

Denny: Well, this is something you need to consider and start thinking about.” 

Dun Dun DUNNNN…

The majority of my life has been spent in a classroom or on a horse. For me, education was never an option. Nobody ever asked if I wanted to finish high school or become a college graduate. The answers to these questions were always implied, which I am incredibly grateful for. Because I am a super nerd, school was never an inconvenience, but rather an exciting journey that simply broadened my narrow horse-influenced vision. Even though the thought of going to class and writing papers, at times, seemed alluring, I never once thought that I had to pick a career. In other words, I blindly walked through life assuming I wouldn’t have to choose a career because a horse career would magically fall into my lap.

Growing up as a barn rat and living the life of an aspiring young event rider shaped my life. I would not trade this life experience for anything. Yet, being young, ambitious, financially unstable, jobless and event-rider driven inevitably changed my perspective on how the world functions. Let me break it down to the lowest common denominator. In order to become a “big time event rider,” you arguably need to have one or more of the following assist you in this trying process:

  1. Be independently wealthy
  2. Be funded by individuals or groups
  3. Be sponsored
  4. Have “THE” Horse
  5. Be an outstanding rider and competitor
  6. Give up your “outside” interests and sell your soul to eventing (i.e. spend your summers up north, spend your winters down south and travel to all the major events on the East Coast … which, the last time I checked, tallies up to an outrageous expense.)

I would be lying if I said I am not, at times, envious of those living the “four-star life.” I dream about competing at the upper levels. I also dream about showing up at my barn in the morning with a cup of coffee in one hand and a barn full of top event horses anxiously waiting to be ridden. Is it too late for me to live this kind of life? In my opinion, it absolutely is too late because I want more out of my life than just competing, which was a difficult but necessary realization. Don’t get me wrong; a huge part of me wants the Sinead Halpin or Micheal Pollard life, but not only is this incredibly unrealistic, but it’s never been do or die for me. For a lot of competitors, it is do or die.

I want to dedicate this blog to anyone who grew up thinking they were on the road to Rolex but couldn’t support that dream and had to enter the “real world.” I also want to encourage anyone working an outside-of-the-barn job who still is an avid rider or competitor to stick with it. Obviously not all of the event riders out there are going be super-duper four-star event riders. There’s a reason why there are a select number of these individuals. This does not mean that we can’t be competitive at local events, and this certainly does not mean that we can’t dream big with our one or two horses. I said it once, and I’ll say it again — that trail ride back in 2008 changed my entire mentality and life decisions. Some people can be working students for an indefinite amount of time, but most will have to face hard cold facts at some point or another.

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