I started riding lessons at 10/11, which is probably an average age for kids. For many years though, I considered that “late” because I started my first competitive sport when I was 5. Even though I’ve always loved horses, the lessons came later in my childhood because my first love in life was ice skating.
Growing up in North Carolina, ice skating was kind of a spectacle to folks. It was still super rare, and I have no idea how I came into it. The story my mom tells me is that I saw skating on TV when I was three, and said “Wanna do that”. She took me in for lessons when I was teeny tiny, and I think I did my first competition when I was 6? It was to the Captain Kangaroo theme, which is pretty damn adorable. All I remember about the routine is that it contained swizzles, and my dress was sparkling and neon pink.
I should apologize in advance in lacking adorable photos of me in tiny costumes. They’re all hard copies at my parent’s house in NC. Just imagine a tiny pale person with white blonde hair covered in sparkles – that was me.
I skated from ages 5 to 13. In that time, I was above average at times and bottom of my group in others. At my high point, I competed in the Juvenile division, which is kind of middle of the pack when you start out at the baby division and top out at Senior (which is what you see at the Olympics). To give you an idea of what moves I did, basically everything you see on TV just not as many rotations in the air and not executed as well. So when Michelle Kwan is doing a double axel (two and a half rotations starting forward), I did a single axel. Where Nancy Kerrigan did triple loops (two rotations starting backwards off both legs), I did double loops.
We competed up and down the east coast in our division. Though I was never a superstar, I did win some. Skating competitions became family vacations, and we went as far south as Florida and as north as New Jersey. At the height of it all, it was stressful and fantastic – I loved it.
My favorite part were the freestyle programs, which is what you see on TV. Picking music and costumes were my favorite, as well as the choreography. I still remember the routines I did for competition:
- Captain Kangaroo Theme
- My Three Sons Theme (hated this one)
- Home Alone / American Tail Theme (loved this one)
- Sunset Boulevard
- Country Western Music
- Octopus’ Garden (complete with purple octopus costume… now THAT I have to find pictures of)
- Babe Theme
- Plus more I’m not remembering…
I did other routines besides freestyle, but they’re boring so I’ll spare you the details. All in all, we practiced usually 2-3 hours a day during the school year and sometimes more in the summer. It was super intense.
Somewhere along the way, my love for skating went away. Part of the problem was that I’ve always been tall for my age. Height is not an asset in this sport, and every time I had a growth spurt I would lose all my jumps.
With horses, we usually know better to drill the same thing over and over again because we’re good about making sure our horse’s are okay mentally. With skating, there was no horse to worry about. My coaches were tough. I would get screamed at on a daily basis, and I carried that internally. When my jumps started to go downhill when I was 12 or so, I would beat myself up. Would literally do the same double sow cow over and over and fall down hundreds of times in an hour. Again and again. It got to be very not fun.
There’s also a very dark and not-so-great side to figure skating that I may have to blog about sometime, but not today. Let’s just say the older I got, the more aware I was of it… and not super pleased.
Even though I had quit competing, in high school I started coaching as a side job. First just group little kid classes, but then I got a few private lesson students. One in particular I loved to death, and we traveled to competitions together. She is such a great kid, and it was a joy to teach her. I don’t regret any of the coaching I did! Such a huge learning experience.
When my lovely student graduated onto a more skilled coach and I went off to college, I put away my skates for good. Sometimes I think about it fondly (or not so fondly), but I don’t miss it. I still feel very comfortable on the ice, but it’s frustrating not to have the same fitness and dexterity I used to. Maybe if I had more funds and free time I’d pick it back up – it’s fabulous exercise.
Sometimes I wish that my parents put the money and time that they did into skating into horses instead. I wonder where I’d be showing wise if that were the case? Can’t go back, and honestly I loved it at a time. Skating shaped me into the person I am today for sure.
Did you have another sport or love that came before horses?