Horse people are different.
Recently a good friend reminded me of one of my favorite quotes: “Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he/she will have to accept that his life will be radically changed.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last week I made a regular run to the local co-op to pick up wormer and grain. Walking back out to my truck I bumped into a friend from high school who was working in the loading docks for the summer. We chatted for a bit and he asked me what I had been up to recently. I gave the answer I always give when anyone asks me how I’ve been and said, “Just busy with the horses as usual.” I’ve been the crazy horse girl for as long as I can remember and was known as that by all my peers. My answer didn’t surprise my friend, but his next question caught me off guard: “Oh, so that continues after college?” To tell you the truth I didn’t know how to respond. In my head I thought, “Well duh!” but I politely told him yes. We parted ways and I was left befuddled.
This strange encounter got me thinking and I did some research when I got home. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), of nearly 8 million students currently participating in high school sports, only 480,000 of them will continue to play on school teams in college*. Roughly 6% of high school athletes will play at the collegiate level. My friend was a football player, (high school boy in Texas, shocking I know) so I looked up the football statistics. Football, which has the largest participation of any NCAA sport, has an estimated 1,057,382 high school athletes and 73,063 collegiate athletes. Only 6.9% of athletes in the most popular sport in the US go on to play in college. Beyond college the percentage declines to 1.6% of those that played in college going on to play professionally.
I had one or two friends in high school that went on to play their sport in college. Those friends that played sports in high school but didn’t make it onto a collegiate team might have played on a club team their freshman year. But by this point in my life (still a poor broke college student pursuing her master’s degree) all of my friends who were athletes in high school have stopped playing their sport with any type of regularity.
How many of your friends that played soccer in high school still play on soccer teams? How many people do you know that started playing softball at age 30? How many former high school football players are still working with a coach and playing in games on the weekends? It is not at all uncommon to meet adult amateurs in the equestrian world that didn’t get to realize their childhood dreams of owning and riding horses until they were well out of school. It’s completely normal for the weekend warriors that haul to shows and clinics whenever they scrape up the money to do so, to have been riding since before they can remember. I can’t think of any other sport where a 71-year-old still competes at the Olympics.
Way too often I find myself taking my life with horses for granted. I think because I have never known life without horses I sometimes forget it could be anyway else. This run in with my high school friend reminded me again just how lucky I am to be one of those crazy horse people. How lucky are we that we love a sport that we can be a part of for the rest of our lives? Horses truly are an obsession that seizes a person and causes them to do crazy things like wake up at 4 am to watch an event live-stream across the world or spend every last penny on dried grass to feed a bottomless pit of hunger. It’s impossible to understand if you aren’t one of the lucky ones, so cheers to those of us blessed with a grand passion.
*NCAA women’s equestrian programs were not included in this study.