A Portrait of the 9 to 5 Amateur

It’s a Sunday in October. The high is 52 degrees and the forecast projects rain from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. I could be home on the couch, watching some hundred-odd horses Fair Hill show jump.

Instead I’m at Windurra, doing fitness work with my horse who is headed to Ocala Jockey Club in four weeks. I’ve hooked up my trailer, with the brand new truck I hadn’t budgeted for this year but suddenly had no choice about, in the rain. I’ve loaded my horse and hauled thirty minutes in the rain. And now I’m doing trots and gallops in the rain.

I’m the only one out here for a while, unsurprisingly. Eventually a pair of Windurra riders come along on a trot set, one of them calling me a ‘lone brave soldier.’


The reality is that I’m out here because I have no flexibility in my riding schedule. The weather yesterday was beautiful and the weather tomorrow will be beautiful, but I need to do fitness today. This time of year, I’ve got to get the most of my weekend rides, so I can’t gallop on Saturday and give him Sunday off. I can’t gallop tomorrow because it’s Monday and I have to work. I can’t gallop at home because until today, the ground was hard as cement even after a deluge four days ago. It’s raining again today, but the rain hasn’t soaked in past the first inch of the ground, leaving a greasy layer with a firm base. I can’t even take him to the Aquatred because their hours are 9 to 5 on weekdays…and I work.

So here I am, spending most of my Sunday trailering to the track. In the rain.

It’s 4:30 in the morning as I stumble out of bed. Daylight Savings Time is over, which means it is dark by 5 p.m. We have no lights to ride under and our ring is a ten minute hack near the woods from the barn. My horse is spooky enough that a ride in the dark would be unproductive even if we got to the ring in one piece.

So it’s imperative that I be at the barn by 6 a.m. to ride. The sun rises at 6:30 a.m. so it’s the best I can do; otherwise I’d be here even earlier.

It’s cold, by the way. It’ll be much warmer in a few hours. But I have to ride now.

Even doing this, I’ll be late enough to work that I’ve had to hedge a little, but I can work late and make up the time. But since I’m still not arriving at work at a normal hour, it’s something I can only do twice this week … and thank goodness it’s only for one week.

I’m the last one at work that night; even the cleaning staff has gone for the day. Tomorrow will be the same.

It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m standing next to my trailer with an abundance of stuff surrounding me, staring at my phone. It might look like I’m procrastinating but I’m not; I’m referencing my packing list.

It’s the weekend before the horses leave for the event. My trainer will be taking my horse and all my gear down along with his; even though I have a truck and trailer, I can’t take the extra days off to trailer two days down to Florida and two days back. Instead I’m swallowing the extra expense of trailering, flights, and a rental car. It’s the only way I can go.

But it’s eight days away and I have to accomplish much of my packing now. There’s no light after work, so nothing will happen on the weekdays. I’ve spent considerable time putting together not only a list of what I need, but also listing the container into which each thing should be packed. Now I’m working on getting things sorted.

Four hours later, I have things organized. People often think I’m organized because I like organizing, and they are right, to an extent. But it’s also out of necessity. 

I’ve got five weekdays to track down items in my house, replace things I’ve used up, pack up the suitcase I need that will have my wardrobe for the entire event. I’m sending my suitcase down with the horse so I don’t have to pay for a checked bag on the flight, or wait for it after a long day. But I have to have it packed four days before I actually leave.

If I wait until next weekend to pack, it will be too late. Things will be missed because I can’t find them or don’t have a chance to get them from my house. And I won’t have the time to fix that.

It’s cold out here; next weekend should be warmer. But I have to pack now.

It’s 2 a.m. in Orlando as I’m checking into a hotel. It’s Tuesday night — well, Wednesday morning now. My flight landed at a quarter to one, nearly thirty minutes late and the mid-size car I’d reserved turned out to be a minivan that I really didn’t want to drive for five days. After waiting a quarter of an hour for an SUV to be available, and driving twenty minutes to a hotel well-priced for the six hours I expected to spend in it, I’m finally done for the night.

I’m checking into the hotel now because I had to reserve a flight that took off well after the workday ended. Jogs are tomorrow (today, now) at 1 p.m. which already means three days off from work. I didn’t have enough PTO days to take a fourth and arrive at a reasonable hour. 

I still have to shower before getting some sleep; I’ll spend a grand total of four hours in this bed before getting up to drive to Ocala. I need the sleep desperately … I worked all day. Originally I had planned to sleep on the plane, but a young child a few rows up from me was out of sorts between the excitement of heading to Disney and being up way past her bedtime. I can relate to her. I too am excited and also up way past my bedtime.

Tomorrow I need to be at Ocala Jockey Club by 8 a.m. My horse needs a bath, a leg stretch ride, and to be braided before the jogs. I’d wanted to dye his tail but hadn’t had the time. My stall isn’t set up beyond the basics, I have no idea how far the trailers are from the stabling, and I am absolutely going to need some coffee first thing.

The show still hasn’t announced order of draw, so even with 75 horses in my division, I could be jogging first at 1 p.m. for all I know. I have to plan with that in mind. 

So after four hours of sleep, I’m up again, heading north on I-75.

I’m sitting in front of a plate of fettuccine alfredo and red wine, dining by myself at the Romano’s Macaroni Grill in the Orlando airport. I’m a jumble of emotions and yet none of them are really getting through the exhaustion at this point.

I’ve spent two hours at the car rental counter dealing with the odd situation of a rental car that was dead since Wednesday, the day I rented it. I didn’t have time to deal with it until today, when I thought a jump start would get me on the way. It didn’t.

I left it sitting in the parking field at the venue after the tow truck promised by roadside assistance didn’t show. I’m not entirely sure I won’t have to fight paying for the whole car despite the customer service manager’s reassurances. I know it’s a major headache that I’ll have to deal with in the next few days.

On the other hand, I’ve finished my young horse in the top half of the field at a huge event. A horse I primarily made myself, and the second horse I’ve done this with. I’m pleased but also disappointed. I thought we would do better, but with my horse suffering a sudden loss of self-confidence in dressage and an overabundance of it on cross-country, top fifty percent was the best we could do on this occasion.

I’m trying to rebound a bit from the anticlimactic end of the show. I’m not sure what I was expecting after stadium, but I don’t think I was expecting nothing. I thought perhaps a completion ribbon, or maybe I had a shot at best conditioned horse, or even perhaps a Thoroughbred award. But not every long format has completion ribbons, TPR is no longer required to be taken in the vet box, and we were in too deep a hole after dressage to hope for a good result even in the Thoroughbred category.

My flight boards at 9:45 p.m. I’ve been up since 4:30 a.m. for jogs. I could have easily taken an earlier flight but since I have to buy flights before the show schedule is published, I booked a late flight to be safe. 

Tomorrow I’ll be back to work, bright and early. I wonder how functional I’ll be.

It’s lunch time at work and I’m looking at the Omnibus for next year. I often have a tentative show plan mapped out a year or two in advance and I’m trying to modify it now based on what I learned of my horse at OJC.

The schedules for the shows aren’t up yet, so I’m referencing last year’s schedules to get an idea of what they will probably be. Most of the one days have similar schedules from year to year; the big destination shows can sometimes change things up.

It might be early to think about this but I’m trying to buy plane tickets for a vacation next spring and I need to know how many vacation days I can spare for an actual vacation. I’m limited to a certain number of paid time off days every year and since I’m on salary, there’s no taking unpaid days off. It’s not a thing we can do, not in my industry anyways.

So to figure out how long my vacation can be, I need to have a game plan for next year. And next year, things get tricky for me.

I am tentatively thinking that I’d like to move up to Intermediate sometime next year, but that poses an issue with one days. I like one days because I don’t need vacation time but Intermediate usually goes first thing on Saturday morning with no guarantee that there will be time enough to walk the jump courses between dressage and stadium. 

Intermediate is not something that I’d take casually; I prefer to walk those courses at least twice. So one days are suddenly not a great option for me at that level unless I can walk the course the night before. And unless they are very close by, it’s not terribly realistic for me to get there to walk on a Friday evening while dealing with traffic.

I used to think I would just get up earlier in the day to walk before dressage but I’ve learned that because I do everything myself at one days, it’s not the safest option to be sleep deprived. I drive to the barn, hook-up and drive the trailer, I tack and un-tack, stud and un-stud, groom and wash and ice. I trailer back to the barn, clean the trailer, unhook and clean tack. 

I worry about the lack of sleep combined with overheating for the summer temperatures impacting my reflexes or judgment either on cross-country or on the road. Someone younger might have the stamina to safely do all of that on five hours of sleep after a long week of working, but I am no longer as young as I was. 

So I’m targeting events that run their Intermediates and 3*-S over two days; of course Friday and Saturday usually, not Saturday and Sunday. That means a day off work for each show, at least.

I also have to cross my fingers and hope that these shows don’t change their schedules up after I enter. Sometimes entries get too numerous and events stretch their events to an extra day; other times the young riders get lumped in one division that goes Friday while I get placed with the other adults (mostly professionals) in a Thursday division. That causes problems, so I try to pick shows that are consistent from year to year.

I want to do two long formats next year, but unless I forgo a real vacation, it’s not in the cards. I’ve got to keep the days off to a minimum and long formats ask for too many. If I skip the vacation, my husband will be disappointed; I already missed his birthday to be at Ocala Jockey Club.

I may be a bit obsessive about planning, but it was born out of necessity. Otherwise, there’s no way I can manage to do the sport at the upper levels.

It’s finally the weekend again and I get to see my horse for the first time since I left him in his competition stall in Florida. I miss him dearly already but need to get used to it; in a few months he will leave for Aiken and I won’t see him again until April.

I’m glad to have a break. I was starting to feel run down and burnt out. 

I also feel guilty. I’m relieved for having a break from riding? Am I truly dedicated to this if I’m happy to not ride for a while? Shouldn’t I want to ride no matter the weather, the darkness or light, the icy cold or mounds of snow? Shouldn’t I want to try to keep my horse north and ride him instead of paying for others to ride him?

These thoughts have no basis in reality, I know. But they circle around in my mind anyways.

It will be four months before I swing my leg over a horse again. It’s tough to stop cold when things are going well. I’m finally sitting the trot really well, finally achieving some push from behind. My eye is on point when jumping and I feel as natural on this horse as I did on my last, for the first time since I’ve had him.

But I need a break and I’ll be better for it next spring. He’ll be better for it after a winter of working on some fundamentals with my trainer; he needs some brakes installed at fifth gear, a flying lead change, and to solidify that push from behind to start working on shoulder-in, haunches-in, and half-passes.

I need to cook some real meals, travel a little, maybe try some dancing lessons with my oft-neglected husband. I’ll try to put some extra time and effort in at work to advance my career. I’ll think about exercising and maybe even exercise.

I’ll be ready again next April.