Aryelle Stafford
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Aryelle Stafford

Achievements

About Aryelle Stafford

I'm the founder of Better Dressage Scores, a website where you can horse show from anywhere for only $19! All you need to do is choose your test, film it, and send it in! You'll get feedback and ribbons from a rated judge, just like at any other show, but without the costs or the need to haul :)

Eventing Background

USEA Rider Profile Click to view profile
Area III
Highest Level Competed Novice
Farm Name The Haven
Trainer Greta Peterson

Latest Articles Written

20 Dollar Store Steals for Around the Barn

Photo by Mike Mozart/Flickr/CC.

Why spend more than you need to? Here are 20 dollar store finds for around the barn:

  1. Shallow tubs: Use these shallow tubs to soak their feet. Fewer spills and easier to maneuver than a large bucket.
  2. Diapers: These things are expensive! And if you’re like me and have your horse on pasture board, they don’t last very long. You can buy a variety of sizes and amounts at the dollar store to keep your foot wrapping costs down.
  3. Duct Tape: To fix, wrap, rig, and use on just about anything you can imagine. You can never have too much duct tape!
  4. Scissors: useful for cutting the duct tape and bandages, but also great for other barn chores.
  5. Petroleum Jelly: For those of us that have horses with bell boots. Every once in awhile, my horse gets rubs from his, so I apply this generously to his ankles and it soothes the irritation.
  6. Thermometer: A must-have for a horse person. Know your horse’s normal temperature so that when he is sick you’ll know for sure if there is a difference or not.
  7. Mouth Wash: Do you have a horse that rubs his tail constantly? Try applying a bit of antibacterial mouth wash! It can fight that pesky itch your horse is experiencing.
  8. Baby oil: This is a two in one, because it can help with dandruff as well as sheath cleaning. For horses with dandruff, mix mouth wash and baby oil in a spray bottle (50/50) and apply in the problem areas. As for sheath cleaning … well I won’t go into detail on how to do it, but baby oil can be used as your cleaner!
  9. Washcloths: A great item for bath time, clean ups, and many other barn happenings.
  10. Moisture Eliminating Box: Put this in your tack trunks, tack lockers, tack rooms, etc. This will help minimize mold on your expensive gear!
  11. Lint Roller: You can use this on your own clothes as well as your saddle pads (specifically show pads). It’s a good way to stay on top of clean show gear.
  12. Laundry Detergent/PreWash: I have a lot of white saddle pads (apparently I enjoy laundry?) so using the prewash helps a lot, and buying detergent and spray for just a dollar keeps my costs down from the million horse loads I have to wash!
  13. Multi Tool: A great and handy item to have on you, specifically for hay string cutting!
  14. Socks: Long socks and especially zocks made for riding are expensive and wear quickly. Buy some long socks here for everyday riding and maybe treat yourself to a nicer pair for shows. (Extra sock tip: every year I got to black Friday and buy long Christmas socks. They usually only run me about 25 cents apiece and I get to have Christmas cheer all year long!)
  15. Shallow Baskets: Use this for your polo wraps, jump boots, bell boots, etc. I use one of these baskets because it fits perfectly in my tack trunk!
  16. Fake Flowers: What a great and cheap way to decorate your jumps! These would normally cost you much more than a dollar anywhere else.
  17. Mini Tupperware: Perfect for your supplement organization. These colorful ones are four to a pack but you can also get 10 white top ones in a pack. Up to you if you’d like to go crazy and spend more than just a dollar!
  18. Mints: We know what these are for. And our horses do, too!
  19. Spray Bottles: Useful for fly spray, show sheen, water, the aforementioned dandruff killer, etc.
  20. Measuring tape: You’ll think you don’t need one, and then soon you’ll kick yourself in the butt for not having it!

Total spent: $20!

For more barn bargaining tips as well as an online horse show for only $19, head to BetterDressageScores.com!

4 Stretches For Your Horse Before and After Rides

As equestrians, we know that our horses aren’t just pets; they’re also athletes. We also tend to take better care of our horse’s health than our own! My horse, Reef, gets the royal treatment when it comes to his health and fitness, which means that yes, he has a massage therapist.

Since Reef is just coming off of an injury and we have a show soon, I decided it would be a good idea to get him a massage. Jackie Jolie, his wonderful massage therapist, came out and was gracious enough to show me four stretches for horse owners that are simple and beneficial for your horse before a work out:

1. The Belly Lift

Purpose: to engage the core, lift the back, and collect the rear. It is basically like “warming up” the abs when you go to the gym. Without a functioning core, you and your horse will end up with back pain.

Step 1: With one hand, locate the middle of the sternum and then move that hand one fist length back from the sternum (towards tail) With your other hand, find the belly button of your horse and then move that hand one fist length forward toward front of horse.

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides

Step 2: Get your body into a squat-like position with a good bend in your knees and a 90 degree angle at your elbows.

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides
Step 3: Just start pressing upwards with your fingers from the position you have placed your hands. If you look at your horses back, you want to see the back rise up and feel the abdomen activate.

2. Side Neck Flexion

Purpose: to stretch and activate the neck muscles and to help release the poll and front of shoulder.

Step 1: Stand with your back to your horses shoulder.

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides
Step 2: Use a carrot or treat in the beginning to get your horse used to stretching across you towards their hindquarters.

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides

Step 3: Use the treat/carrot in your hand furthest away from your horse’s head and ask your horse to stretch his/her head any amount that they are comfortable with towards their rear end.

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides
4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides

3. Front Limb Flexion

Purpose: to flex the front leg extensors and extend the front leg flexors. It opens the chest and shoulders up to the poll as well.

Step 1: Ask your horse for his/her front leg as if you are going to clean out their hooves.

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Step 2: Place hands at knee and ankle joint – ONLY for support and guidance, NOT force.

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Step 3: Ask and help your horse bring their leg straight back underneath them and allow their hoof to come down onto the ground. Some horses that are tight will not be able to place their hoof completely on the ground so go with the best they can, it will improve with practice!

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides

4. Rear Limb “Curtsy”

Purpose: to open the hip joints and release the glutes.

Step 1: Ask the horse for their opposite rear limb from the side you are standing (i.e.: if you are standing near the left rear, you will be asking for the right rear leg). This can be awkward in the beginning for both you and your horse but with more practice, they really love and hold this stretch for lengths of time.

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides
Step 2: Place hands around the ankle joint – ONLY for support and guidance, NOT force.

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides
Step 3: Ask and help the limb come in front of and across the other rear limb (hock over hock if possible) and place the hoof completely down on ground on other side of other rear limb.

Again, some horses with really tight hips may not be able to come completely across their other hock and place their hoof completely to ground, but keep trying and you will see improvement! (Emphasis on the fact that you are only guiding your horse into this stretch, not forcing them into it.)

4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides
4 Stretches You Should Do With Your Horse Before and After Rides

Another note from Jackie: Belly lift and neck stretches can be done before work to help activate specific muscles to allow the horse’s body to know it is about to work and ease into warming up in riding.

Front limb stretched, back limb stretches, and the neck flexion can be done after work. Reason being that the muscles, ligaments, and tendons have been warmed up and will be able to stretch better as well as decrease chances of tear or injury.

For more great articles like this one head to HorseHack.com!

Top 5 Visualization Techniques to Improve Your Riding at Any Level

Photo by Marie Cobb Photo by Marie Cobb

I’m a big time ball of nerves when it comes to showing. As much as I love going to shows and flaunting my studly horse, it usually ends up being a weekend of fluctuating emotions, constant panic attacks, and a lot of food aversion. The weekends tend to go a little something like this:

  • I arrive at the show grounds and feel like a kid in a candy store. I tell myself that I can do this and that everything will be ok.
  • I warm up for dressage, start off well, then I slowly convince myself that I’ve forgotten my entire test and that I’ll just have to make it up as I go along. The judge will hate me, I’m a terrible rider, what even is a 20 meter circle??
  • I survive dressage and get ready for cross country where I know I’ll have fun (the only part of the weekend where I breathe).
  • I immediately panic about my stadium round for the next 24 hours. Dinner may or may not go down smoothly. Nightmares are bound to occur.
  • I hyperventilate the morning of stadium, throughout tacking up, and for most of the warm up. Then, when I enter the ring, I cut off all oxygen to my body and decide breathing is no longer important.

Let’s face it. This method of showing is more stressful than fun. And I knew I had to change something. I’m a big believer in positive thinking, meditation, visualization etc., and with these tools I’ve managed to keep my nerves under control by doing a few simple things.

1. Envision the way you ride before the weekend even starts. That means before you even see the course layouts, envision yourself breathing rhythmically, sitting up correctly, and “being one with your horse.” Just because you don’t know what the course looks like yet doesn’t mean you can’t envision yourself riding well. You don’t even have to picture any jumps at all, just focus on your breathing pattern, how relaxed you want to feel, and how in tune you want your horse to be.

2. Replace the word “nervous” with the word “excited.” Instead of telling people you have butterflies because you’re nervous, tell them it’s because you’re excited. Excitement has a positive connotation, and the more you say it, the more you’ll believe it. I thought this was a dumb trick that wouldn’t work but it’s one of the top techniques I use to get rid of my show nerves.

3. Picture every hoof print you’ll be making that weekend once you’ve seen the course maps. And I mean every. Single. Hoof print. I sometimes block out an entire hour before I go to bed for just this. Picture your horse forward and ready to work. Picture how responsive he or she will be in the warm up. Then picture your dressage test ridden perfectly over and over again. How you want to feel before, during, and after the test.

Move on to cross country where you should envision what each fence looks like, how you’re going to ride to it, how happy you’ll feel flying over it, and how focused on the next jump you’ll be once you’ve crossed over it. Also think of where your eyes will be focused as you come up to each fence (when I walk my course, I pick an object past the jump to focus on in order to keep my eyes up. I also take a picture of each jump using my Coursewalk app so that I can visualize the object over and over again the night before).

Then for your stadium round, do the same thing. How forward will your horse be? What distance do you want to the fence? Also picture yourself and your position. I tend to lean forward when I’m nervous, so when I envision my course, I’m sitting wayyyy back. You should run all of these mental movies over and over again until you’re almost sick of it. You want it to feel like second nature to you so that when you’re on course and nervous, your body will mimic what you pictured earlier when you were in a low stress environment.

4. Think about what could go right, not what could go wrong. Don’t allow yourself to think about anything negative, including the way you word things. So instead of saying “I’m not going to get any bad distances,” say, “I’m going to get all great distances.” When you phrase it the first way and mention the bad distances, you tend to picture what a bad distance looks like without even realizing it. You’re giving thought to something negative.

Another example is instead of saying, “I’m not going to be nervous,” say, “I’m going to be excited!” (See what I did there?) It’s all about the thoughts you create around the show. Make everything as positive as possible to ease your nerves and gain some confidence!

5. Picture yourself with the blue ribbon. Think of what it would feel like to hold it in your hands. Think of how happy you’ll be when the announcer calls your name for first place and you get to take your victory lap. Think of all the pictures you’ll force your pony to take with the ribbon on his bridle, halter, mane, tail, hoof, etc. Think of all the Instagram filters you’ll get to use with said pictures! Visualize anything and everything about winning that blue ribbon. You’ve earned it.

These five visualization techniques have improved my riding and my showing tremendously. At the very first show Reef and I entered, I used all of these techniques, ate every meal like a regular person, breathed in the ring, and ended up in first place! I hope these tips help improve your riding as well as your show fears!

To read more articles like this one, go to horsehack.com

Becoming a Working Student: Part One

I’ve always been good at school. I made the grades, I was able to juggle my horse, work, school, and social life, and I actually kind of enjoyed studying (nerd, I know). But when my senior year of college came around, I was burnt out and faced a real-life decision: What do I do after I graduate? Do I find a job? Do I go to grad school? Do I become homeless?

I put some real thought into it. And I realized I’ll only be 22 once. I wanted to go on an adventure and do something out of the ordinary. I wanted to become a working student.

So I read yardandgroom.com every day, sent out my resume, emailed my favorite eventers (BoydSineadDom and Jimmie … yea, we’re on a first name basis in my head). And I waited for some responses. Each time I got a response I would read up on the location, the details, etc, in order to find the position I felt “clicked.”

The search definitely took a while, and I’m not gonna lie, I’m a southern girl, so I don’t do well with the cold. Even though most of my favorite riders lived up north, I didn’t want them to see me whimper and whine when it was below 50 degrees out. I’m just not built for it.

Then my trainer mentioned that she knew Joe Meyer, who was out in Florida (warmth!) and looking for a working student. She said that she had bought several horses from he and his wife Ruthie, that they were great people, and that she was going out there soon to look at some prospects. So I tagged along and met them, which isn’t something most future working students get to do.

I got to see the property, the horses, and the rest of Ocala *drool*. It was agreed upon that I was to work for them in the coming months in exchange for room and board as well as lessons. I didn’t have my own horse but they had tons of ex racehorses they were training on the property I could ride.

In fact, on the first day I met them, they had me sit on one of their OTTBs, where I immediately embarrassed myself. He was a sweet horse, but fresh off the track, and when I asked for a canter too hard, he responded with GALLOP YES I’VE GOT THIS.

So there I was, getting taken off with for a solid 5 minutes while my future bosses looked on at the rider they were going to hire…good thing they had a sense of humor.

becoming a working student

When I finally made the trek over to start my new job, I was told they didn’t have an apartment yet (there was another girl who got there first) but that I could clean out the living quarters of the trailer and use that temporarily as well as stay in the extra bedroom they had in the house. The best part of this was that when we went to horse shows, we would take my “home” with us, which would always make me laugh.

I ended up living in that trailer for the duration of my position (only about 3 months) before I was offered a paid horse job back home. Those living quarters weren’t ideal, the water system would break all the time, I had to use the bathroom in the barn, and it was definitely cramped, but the experience I had there was more than worth it.

I got to go to horse shows all around Florida and Georgia and be a groom for my rider, cheer him on, and see what really goes on behind the scenes for a pro. I learned a lot of skills I use in my every day horse life now. I was able to compete for free on one of their client’s horses in a show nearby (talk about a great day!). I found my horse there, who is absolutely perfect (I watched them sell a lot of horses, and they really had a knack for finding a perfect fit). I got to go cross country schooling on properties I would never be able to set foot on had I not been working for Joe.

becoming a working student

Nelson, the horse I got to compete on!

And best of all, I never have to ask the question “what if,” because I took the plunge, and I did it. I became a working student.

I went into the job not knowing at all what I wanted from it to be honest. Did I want to go pro? Did I want to be a professional groom? Did I even want a horse job as my career? But all those questions were answered in those 3 short months, and I got a much clearer picture in my head for what I wanted my future to be.

I realized I wanted horses to be my hobby, not my job. I realized I needed a career that made a lot of money in order to do so. I realized that I wanted to work for myself one day so that I can enjoy some free time when I wanted it. I realized all of this in my 3 month adventure, which had I never taken, I probably would still be utterly confused on life.

becoming a working student

So regardless of what your reasons to become a working student are, do it. But do it right. Work hard while you’re there, give 110%, absorb as much of the experience as you can, and take lots of pictures. It’s such a unique experience and whether it works out for you in the long run or not, you’ll learn a lot of lessons and create fabulous memories for the rest of your life.

becoming a working student

Part two on the daily life of a working student coming soon at horsehack.com!

Bargain Shopper Tack Trunk Tips

KJeqCreations sells wooden tack trunks for $350 on Etsy. Photo courtesy of KJeqCreations. KJeqCreations sells wooden tack trunks for $350 on Etsy. Photo courtesy of KJeqCreations.

One of the most expensive but great tools a horse owner needs (and wants!) is a tack box. Now, not all of us can afford the $600 tack trunk advertised on websites, but we need somewhere decent to keep our 239,872,640 brushes, vet wraps, and miscellaneous horse tools we all seem to collect! Don’t worry, there are many money saving options for us! I’ll start with the cheapest and work my way up in price.

Check out what you might already have. There could be an old trunk hidden in your very own attic. This is free and would be perfect for any struggling horse owner. Just the other day I went rummaging in my attic and found an old trunk I had never seen before. You never know what you can find in your own house. You can also ask around to family and friends and see what they have!

Scope out your local thrift store or garage sales. You’d be surprise at what you can find in Goodwill or garage sales that cost next to nothing and can be great horse tools. Check your local paper for upcoming garage sales, grab a friend, and go hunt! It never hurts to try!

The ever popular storage container. You can find these at Walmart or Home Depot anywhere from $15-$25 depending on the size you want. These might not be the fanciest tack boxes but they do the job and you can always paint them or decorate to your liking! Start here and maybe save up for a nicer one in the future. I use one as my horse show tack box so that I don’t spend a lot on two separate nice tack trunks!

The hardware store tool box. These can be found at Home Depot or Lowe’s for many different prices (usually from $40-$90). There are many sizes, shapes, and features such as locks, wheels, handles, etc. They function just as well (if not better) than some of the fancy wood tack trunks and cut down on your costs by a lot. The ones with wheels are handles are super portable and much easier to lug around shows, your barn, or anywhere else you might want to take it.

Make your own. If you or someone you know is good with woodwork, then fantastic! Go buy the materials and build one as fancy or as simple as you want. For those of us that have no idea what we’re doing, you can either find a wood shop and talk to the people working there to see how much it would be to build one for you (they are usually around $200-$250), or you can use Elite Tack Design, which sells you plans and step by step instructions on how to make your own tack trunk. The instructions are cheap (about $30) and they tell you exact materials and sizes you need for everything. To save on material costs, use reclaimed wood or wood from pallets (many hardware stores give those away for free!).

Find them on non-horse websites. Etsy and Ebay have a wide range of new and used tack trunks you can buy. They range anywhere from $250-$500 which can be pricey for some of us, but one of the best parts is that a lot of them are unique and handmade, so you’ll have a trunk that will stand out from the rest. You can also e-mail the sellers and see what you can do to cut down costs. I’ve emailed eBay sellers before and asked if their item doesn’t sell within its posted time, could I buy it for a discount? Most of them have said yes because they want to get rid of their item and don’t feel like posting it again and waiting around. It’s worth a shot.

Hopefully these tack trunk tips help some of you horse crazy, money spending, ramen noodle eating riders like me! Keep coming back to the site for more money saving tips and sign up on our e-mail list to receive the latest updates as well as major sales and best deals going around in the horse world.

Find more money-saving tips on HorseHack.com!

To Love a Horse Girl

One of my very best friends and her horse Cosmo. (EN recommends wearing a helmet at all times when mounted.) One of my very best friends and her horse Cosmo. (EN recommends wearing a helmet at all times when mounted.)

To love a horse girl means a lot of things. It means you have to be willing to give up weekends for horse shows, be okay with dirt, poop, and odd smells, sit through lessons where you don’t understand a single thing, listen to horse babble all the time, be a professional videographer (especially on show days), and most of all, know that you probably won’t come first. Our horses do.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t love you or that you’ll be entirely neglected. Just know that if the choice is between a horse show or a weekend getaway, we’ll suggest that walking a cross country course is more romantic than walking on a beach. So be ready for some manual labor “vacations.”

We require a certain breed of man, just like we require a certain breed of horse for our disciplines. If you don’t like the outdoors, then we might as well not even go on a first date. If you think animals are a nuisance, please leave before I slap you. If you feel like saying, “All you do it sit there, it’s not really a sport,” don’t. The slap is valid in this scenario as well.

We’re not mean, we just know what we want. And we don’t like people who get in the way of our horses. It might be considered a hobby to the outside world, but to us, it’s a way of life.

So if you want to date a horse girl, you need to know (and accept!) a few things. Our profile picture will almost always be our horse. We’ll go to the barn and ride before we make any plans to hang out with you. We’ll have helmet hair on 99% of our dates.

The Dover catalog is our bible, and they have a thing called a wishlist. You’ll need to shop for us there, not at the mall for a new top we’ll end up ruining at the barn. We talk about our horses a lot, but try to keep note of what we say, you’ll be tested on his/her favorite treat later on. Consider the barn odor our “eau de toilette,” because it’s not going away any time soon.

If you’re loving enough to sit through our lessons and even listen to the play by play afterwards, you’ll get major brownie points. If you ask us how our horse is feeling or if he’s doing better when he’s hurt, you’ll make our day. If you compliment our horse on how handsome he is, you’ll probably get a better reaction than if you tell us how pretty we are.

If you drive a truck, we’ll look at it and see if it could haul our trailer. If you give us a bouquet of carrots for our horse instead of a bouquet of flowers for us, we’ll appreciate it more than you know. If you see us have a rough ride or a sloppy show, and you accept the bad mood that follows, you’re a keeper.

If you ask us how to groom, tack, or handle a horse, we’ll be ecstatic. And when we see you put on a halter (and not call it a bridle), a lead rope, and walk our horse out to graze, it’ll be a Kodak moment for us.

We want to share our animal with you. We want to enjoy barn days with you. Most of all we don’t want someone to take away time from our biggest pleasure.

To love a horse girl means to love our horses too.

For more posts like this as well as money saving tips go to HorseHack.com!

Helmets On Our Heads and Hearts On Our Sleeves

photo by: dregsplod photo by: dregsplod

Horse girls are different. We don’t think like “normal” people. Our main boy toy is probably our gelding, we never mind getting dirty, and we’re tough as nails. You can say what you want about us but if you so much as think about dissing our ride, we’ll cut you.

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We schedule our events and plans around barn time, our family includes our horses, and we tend to be animal lovers of all shapes and sizes. We have a tough exterior and can handle a lot of pain, but the most hurtful experience we have is when our horse is injured in any way.

Which we know all too well is bound to happen at some point. They might look like big, strong, invincible animals, but in reality, they’re incredibly fragile. As tough as we are when it comes to our own pain, we turn into mush when Buttercup has a scratch on her face. And we all know our horses get into trouble constantly…

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I still remember the day I was told I could never ride Brownie again. I was in such shock that all I remember is being told the news, something about future plans for what to do, and then the next thing I knew I was in my apartment with my roommates holding me for as long as I needed it.

I cried for a long time. I blamed myself. I was furious that I ever got into horses. But more than anything I just wanted to make him feel better, and I knew I couldn’t. I’ve been through heartache before, but none of that hurt ever came close to this day.

And now I have a new horse, Reef, and of course I had hoped we would have smooth sailing forever, but that’s just not a reality in this sport. Reef is an OTTB so I knew there were probably going to be some underlying issues in his legs (currently the case), but that would never stop me from loving him. He’s a wonderful guy and I’ll do whatever it takes to make him feel better.

And that’s just what horse girls do. We love our horses despite their flaws, just like they do for us. Reef forgives me for sitting crooked, using way too much right leg while my left leg flaps in the wind, and probably definitely a million other annoying habits I have. Meanwhile I embrace the fact that he’s not perfect either and that we’ll face many challenges in the future.

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I find that no matter how tough of a horse girl you are, no matter how dirty you get, and no matter how many falls you endure, the one thing that gets to you is your horse’s health and happiness.

I think if you fill up a room with equestrians and ask them, “Would you rather fall off your horse 20 times in a row and bruise every inch of your body or have your horse get a small abscess for a day?”, every single one of us would take the falls. What’s a few bruises anyways? It’s not like we’re headed for tea with the Queen of England anytime soon. Especially if she expects us to take time away from the barn for it.

But that’s what makes us special. We might be tough, and strong, and brave, but when it comes down to it, we can’t help but have our hearts on our sleeves.

For more blog posts from me go to HorseHack.com!

What I Wish I Could Have Told 11-Year-Old Me

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!

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Where it all began … Photo by Sue Byford.

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.

Sunny and I the day of my high school graduation. Isn’t he cute?!

Sunny and I the day of my high school graduation. Isn’t he cute?!

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.

Brownie and I at our first ever novice CT. We were eliminated because I went off course … oops!

Brownie and I at our first ever novice CT. We were eliminated because I went off course … oops!

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.

Reef and I when we were first starting out.

Reef and I when we were first starting out.

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.

He’s worth it. At our first show ever he won first in our class, division and overall OTTB score!

He’s worth it. At our first show ever he won first in our class, division and overall OTTB score!

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.”