No matter how old you get, you won’t forget the afternoons you spent alone at that first barn. You won’t forget the way the grass ring felt with its slope on the left side, and how you always had to collect a little at the trot to not go racing away. It wasn’t fancy, but it didn’t have to be. Those four stalls, the wood worn smooth by generations of family horses, were your foundation. And it carries you a long way.
One day, it won’t matter that you didn’t grow up at the horse shows. People will be amazed that you fox hunted. If you want to impress them, you can share a few of the good stories like taking off and catching the loose pony that bucked its kid off (only to have your own horse run away thirty minutes later when you had to dismount and forgot to hold onto the reins). They will think you’re so brave and fearless. And yeah, you might disagree. We don’t always feel brave. But getting back on, continuing to jump, and always being willing to learn is the bravest thing you can do.
If I told you now all the things you’d accomplish, you wouldn’t believe me.
It won’t happen the way you think. Not through an expensive horse, a rich husband, or some other kind of financial change that makes everything easy for you. In fact, it won’t be easy at all. It’s a lot of riding anything you can. Horses no one would call fancy. Ones that buck. Ones that don’t steer. Ones that stop. You’ll get a little banged up, but not too bad. You’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that’s okay. You’ll learn from them too. And as you keep learning, keep working hard and looking for opportunities.
Always offer to help. Some of your favorite moments with horses won’t have anything to do with riding. Getting up early to feed, turnout and muck before the pony kids arrive. Watching your favorite mare foal. Seeing your horse pack a kid around at their first horse show. Photographing some of the best hunters in the country, at shows so big you don’t even realize they exist yet. There’s so much you get to experience. I’m a little jealous of you, with so many great firsts in your future.
One day you’re going to meet this horse. You won’t like him initially, and he’ll have no reason to trust you either. He won’t look like much at first, but keep the faith. One day he will whinny to you every time you go to the barn. Every. Time. And it will be the best sound you’ll ever hear. That horse is going to pick up the broken pieces of your heart, patch them together and carry them for you. Through bareback hacks with nothing but a rope around his neck. To big, fancy ribbons and victory gallops. You will fly together. He will make you believe you can do anything. And you’re going to cry remembering him not just because you miss him, but because of how lucky you were to have him in your life at all.
If you think riding is hard now, I have bad news for you—it gets harder. The more you know, the more there is to know. But you will never be bored. And you will meet amazing people, lifelong friends, through horses.
When you doubt yourself (you will), try to look back on all that you’ve done. Don’t focus on the unmet goals or the setbacks. There will be a lot of those. It will never come together as fast as you want it to, but it will come together. And it will be better than you imagined.
Just keep going, and never sell yourself short.
This was written for the “Dear Younger Self” project, described as “a project exploring belonging as an experience, a moment, a community where we don’t have to change who we are, belonging to equestrianism is being who we are.” You can read all sorts of other submitted letters here.