For 20 years, I have never gone more than a few weeks without getting on the back of a horse. Until three years ago, both my professional and personal life revolved around horses. I tried other activities and hobbies as a kid, but taking them up seriously would have required giving up barn time and that was not something I was ever interested in doing.
It’s hard to imagine that I have done anything for two decades. Almost equally as hard to imagine that I’ve all but given it up recently.
In the last three months, I have ridden a horse one time. It was for fifteen minutes. I walked around briefly and then rushed back to the city for a job in an office.
Either subconsciously or consciously, I’ve been slowly working toward this moment in my life for the last four years. After a lifetime spent focused so singularly on one (insanely time- and money-consuming) activity, I think a little part of me knew even back then that it was time to figure out who I was outside the horse world.
Horses have always been my safety net. It’s a sport where you can simultaneously be alone and not lonely. You’re supposed to be by yourself when you’re on your horse, and it’s not a team sport. Plus, if you’re painfully shy and don’t know what to talk about with other kids, you can all just talk about your horses for hours on end.
I would spend hours and hours with whatever horse I was taking lessons on, and that time only increased exponentially once I got my own horse. When I was stressed out, I went to the barn. When I didn’t know what to do with myself, I went to the barn. When I graduated from college and REALLY didn’t know what to do with myself, I retreated to the barn.
I did whatever work the barn manager would give me, before deciding I would just keep working in a barn forever. I took new jobs at new barns, drove in the dark to start work at sunrise, spent my work day in the horse world bubble, and ended it with the sun setting as I squeezed in time with my own horse each night.
Then, I got kicked by a horse at work one day.
My body started telling me something that I think my mind had been trying to get me to admit for a while. I could not stay in the barn. I loved it intensely. But this was not my final destination.
So I took one baby step away. I started a new career in PR….at an agency with exclusively equestrian clients.
I spent my winters in Florida and worked at competitions that I had only dreamed of attending, much less going behind the scenes of. I worked from home when I wasn’t traveling and spent my days either writing about people riding horses or riding a horse myself.
But there was still a nagging feeling that I hadn’t quite found my place.
I wanted to experience the world outside of horses, to have a schedule completely free of any four-legged obligations. To be able to maintain friendships with people not on my insane nomadic rotation of places to live and weekends to work. To have a “normal” life.
Moving to Colorado was my first big step. It’s not a place known for horses like my native state of Maryland. More horses here have jobs working on ranches instead of jumping over painted sticks.
But I couldn’t truly duck and run. I own a horse, after all.
My horse Lizzie is the most complicated relationship I’ve ever known. I love her more deeply than I can describe, but I simultaneously felt strangled by her needs and expenses. I feared I’d never get to know life without Lizzie, for better or for worse.
So I handed over the reins. Literally. I still own her technically speaking, but her everyday needs are taken care of by the girls who lease her.
She is not really mine anymore. She really belongs to those two girls who ride her, take care of her, and fawn over her every day like I used to do. I tell myself I’m not a stranger to her, but I’m not actually sure. Three years after moving her here, most of the time I’m just the lady that comes by when she’s sick or injured, or just to give her some peppermints and leave.
It’s not that I haven’t been welcome to come see her and be a part of her life. I’ve willingly distanced myself, deciding instead to chase outdoor adventures of another variety. It’s been an odd juxtaposition to feel free to figure out who I am and what I like to do outside of horses, and then feel a wave of guilt or sadness for the passion that once dictated my entire life.
But if I had not taken this break over the last several years, I wouldn’t have found other passions, and friendships, and hobbies. I wouldn’t have started running, or hiking, or explored so much of Colorado. I wouldn’t have started this blog. The person I’m now marrying wouldn’t have stayed in a relationship with me if I had continued to let horses be the only thing I truly loved.
My world no longer revolves around the barn. I’m still not sure I have the balance of horse time in my life just right, and I know it will change again as life goes on. My heart and life are full of many passions and people now, and most importantly I learned how to deal with my feelings and insecurities instead of fleeing for Lizzie’s back and an empty field.
This break has been painful, and confusing, and freeing, and amazing. It has led me to grow as a person, to develop an informed worldview, to see parts of the world that don’t have barns or horse shows. Horses are ingrained deep within me, but now they aren’t the only thing there.