We love this blog from Aryelle Stafford, a 23-year-old eventer in grad school who blogs to help fellow eventers save money, as well as talk about her personal horse life. You can follow along at HorseHack.com. Many thanks to Aryelle for writing, and thanks for reading!
I was 11 when I had my first ever riding lesson. My mom finally caved to my years of begging for it. She claims she waited until I was older so it was safer for me, but secretly I think she was hoping this “horse phase” would go away and I would pick a hobby that gave her fewer heart attacks. It clearly didn’t work. I’m now 23 and the addiction is worse than ever.
But if I could go back in time to this moment, here’s what I would tell myself:
Step away from that horse. Don’t you dare get on.
Don’t you like free time? Don’t you enjoy weekends? Isn’t it nice to have some extra cash?
If you so much as touch that horse, one day you’re gonna go to high school and you’ll miss out on all these great parties. You’ll carry the nickname “horse girl” no matter where you are or who you meet. You’re gonna go to dances with a hoof mark on your leg and not much time to get ready because you refused to cancel your lesson earlier that day.
Your friends won’t get to see you much outside of a barn, and your favorite topic will be about a new gelding you got to ride instead of a cute boy you met. You’ll spend almost every weekend mucking stalls and sweating in the hot Mississippi sun just to see your horses.
Instead of sleeping in on these weekends, you’ll be up early to feed them and groom them and clean up after them like a crazy person. Worst of all, your prom and graduation pictures will end up being with your horse instead of your boyfriend. It’s gonna be a big fight, FYI.
The next thing you know, you’ll be in college and your obsession will get worse. Instead of working a student job for 10 hours a week for some extra party money, you’ll be working two or three jobs for 40 hours a week. All this effort to pay board for a horse who plots revenge on you every time you show up. How dare you ask him to engage his hind end. And no jumps?! What kind of hell is this.
You’ll stink up your car, your apartment and just about any other place you go to after the barn. You’ll give yourself double the laundry loads between your people clothes and riding clothes. You’ll join IHSA on top of your normal eventing shows, because apparently on your horse’s day off, it’s not one for you.
You’re gonna eat a ton of ramen noodles because your horse needs some fancy new tack (he definitely deserves it after his tough day of eating grass and attempting to bite you). You’ll choose an early morning ride over a night out on the town. When your friends go shopping with their tax return money, you’ll be at home scanning the pages of Dover Saddlery or paying off some unavoidable vet bills.
You’ll pour your heart and soul into this horse, spend every dime and ounce of time you have on him, and then one day you’ll have to give him away because of an injury you can’t fix.
You’ll cry harder over this horse than you ever have for a break up with a human boy, but you’ll graduate soon and start up your next adventure … which of course will turn into MORE horses.
You’ll pack your bags and move to Ocala, Florida for the next three months to be a working student (apparently you enjoy being broke). You’ll ride tons of horses and live in the small living quarters of a horse trailer behind the barn. There won’t be a bathroom in the trailer you live in, so when you have to pee in the middle of the night, you’ll wake up every critter in the barn as you walk down the aisle to use the toilet (glamorous, right?).
When you go to a horse show with your rider, they’ll take your “house” with them, which will definitely make you and others laugh. You’ll tell yourself you want a horse down the road again, but definitely not now; you enjoy the free time and lessened responsibility in life.
Can you guess what happens next? You’ll fall absolutely, head over heels in love with one of the horses on the property (something you haven’t even felt for a real boy yet). But he isn’t for sale. Instead of letting that dream go by, you beg your bosses to convince his owner to sell, and they do. And it works.
And now you have a horse again. And there goes all your savings AND a loan from your mom towards this OTTB you just can’t get enough of. You’ll move back home with him shortly after and start up another horse job teaching lessons. Once again you’ll meet up with some friends and when they ask you “how have you been?” your immediate reaction is to say “Oh my gosh, so great! Listen to how well Reef did in our lesson the other day …” But they’re used to it by now. It’s kind of their fault for asking how you were.
Eventually you’ll decide to go back to school and get a Master’s. You’ll reach a whole new level of broke and keep your horse in a barn an hour away from you because eventing with anyone other than this trainer you love would be insane. You’ll use every penny you have on this horse and his well-being.
This will include six months of saddle shopping to cater to his back as best you can, all new bridles, beautiful show gear (you finally have a good looking horse so you have to show him off), multiple vet exams when he doesn’t gain weight or looks a little off, and of course any show you can get your hands on.
You’ll spend as much gas money and time on him as possible and even work a second job on the weekends in a different city just to help pay for him. And most of all, he’s gonna be the main focus of any major life changes you make in the future.
Doesn’t this sound awful to you, 11 year old me? Aren’t you terrified of this crazy horse maniac you’ll become if you put your foot in that stirrup? Take a second to think it through. Just soak it all in.
And I would’ve. Even as a kid I always thought about the future and where I wanted to be in 10 years. I’ve always been goal oriented, focused and a hard worker. And because of those qualities, I was able to be that crazy horse maniac and still manage to work 40 hours a week, actively compete for my university, begin eventing with my personal horse and graduate college with a high GPA.
And I wouldn’t change a single thing.
So really what I would tell 11 year old me is “get ready for the ride. You’re gonna love it.”