There is a lot about this sport I love and, horses aside, what I love best are the people. Particularly people who are on the same journey as myself, that of the adult amateur.
We grew up as barn rats, matured into horse-crazy high school/college kids, struggled through the finances of riding as young adults, and now juggle hectic work schedules, children, and spouses to make it out to the barn for our weekly lesson and hacks.
Adult amateurs have a passion and grit you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the sport—even professionals. Don’t get me wrong, the passion and grit found in professionals is expansive, but our paths in this sport are very different. And so are our realities.
Adult amateurs will always hold a special place in my heart; and because I am you, I hurt for you when you struggle. We’ve all had those moments, when the ignorance of youth fades away, and we realize what we do is a dangerous sport. Sometimes the ride we have isn’t the ride we wanted.
To recognize my fellow amateurs, I’m including some photos of some other amateurs that I know and admire. Here’s Emily Neale, who is an amateur I know who is also aiming for the George Morris clinic in May. She doesn’t own a horse, but rides whatever she can. She’s leasing a mare for the GHM clinic.
Our limitations—be it work or time or not owning your own horse—have become the very things keeping us from achieving our goals. There is a quiet bravery contained within the adult amateur. It’s not the stuff of legends or the ride others will remember in an Olympic ring. It’s falling off lesson after lesson and still getting on to do it again. It’s not having a good ride in what feels like months and still having the drive to keep going. It’s getting brought down to your very lowest, faced with what seem like insurmountable odds, and still riding through it.
No one has ever been lower than an adult amateur. The difference in riding in your youth versus as an adult amateur is subtle, but it’s there nonetheless. Our parents—some of the few people who knew what an accomplishment that lead change was for you—have usually faded out of the sport with the exception of spectating at the occasional horse show. The finances of maintaining our “hobby” have now become our own. The sacrifices to succeed in this sport have become greater.
Instead of sacrificing homework, sleep, and a social life we now sacrifice family time with children and spouses. We sacrifice a clean house or a timely-prepared dinner meal over a good ride. This makes the blood, sweat, and tears we pour into this sport more visceral. We sacrifice greatly for a passion that refuses to let us rest. It is truly a calling like no other and very few people in our lives outside of the barn will understand it. And because of this passion we set ourselves up for failure.
It’s easy to compare ourselves to our trainers or other riders who seem to have it all together. The natural tendency to admire, obsess, and meticulously measure yourself against them, only to be found lacking, can be detrimental.
There is an image to our sport that more often than not can be discouraging to the adult amateur. Not because it is beyond our grasp, but because we focus more on the goal than measuring our growth and progress towards the goal. I’m the worst at this, particularly with riders I affectionately dub the “faux amateur.” Those riders who so flawlessly execute courses and exercises that, if we weren’t in the same division, I would have pegged as a professional. How do they do it? I obsess while nervously hoping I can get through a full 3’6″ course without looking like I’m in a western pleasure class (Capone really loves to lope).
My road to the GHM clinic has made me reflect a lot on myself as a rider and the reasons why I ride. If you haven’t caught on by now I can be a teeny bit self-deprecating with my shortcomings. There’s nothing like thinking, “I’m one Whataburger away from leg yields—just gotta put a bit more weight in my left stirrup” to make you chuckle at your own expense.
All joking aside, laughing about my shortcomings is a defense mechanism that keeps me from mentally breaking down and losing confidence. There is nothing light or funny about the struggles adult amateurs conquer on a daily basis. Our struggles are hard and huge and have the capacity to deconstruct whatever feeble confidence we might have. It doesn’t matter what you are struggling with—lateral work, cantering, jumping, trotting—the work you do is difficult and it is important.
I see you battling with the mental demons that creep in to whisper “you can’t do it.” I see you picking yourself up off the ground, brushing the dirt off your breeches, holding back tears, and hopping back on. Even when you think no one is watching I see you push yourself beyond your breaking point, questioning every second why you even bother.
I see the sacrifice you make every night you put your kids down to sleep and then sneak out to the barn well after 9 p.m. to still get your hack in. So do your trainers. They are perhaps the only ones left in the ring with us day in and day out as we continue on this arduous journey of pursing our adult amateur dreams.
I applaud you every time you put your foot in the stirrup to try again. When you succeed, we all succeed and when you fail, we all fail. Because no matter where you are in your life as an adult amateur we have all walked in each other’s boots.
It will always be easy for others to judge and say you shouldn’t ride in a GHM clinic. And don’t get me wrong; there will be nothing easy about it. As someone who comes from a traditional public education background trust me when I say that everyone has the right to learn.
I’ve questioned if I should put down into words what I am about to tell you… and it has me quaking in my boots. But I firmly believe if you are coachable and able to get around a course, safely and moderately well, then you have every right to learn from a once-in-a-lifetime instructor, such as George Morris.
Some of you will say I am ignorant, since I’ve never ridden with GHM or audited a clinic. George himself might smite me where I sit—tearfully typing this away—but I think he’d prefer to teach someone who might get unseated at a fence or lack a basic skill over someone who isn’t coachable and refuses to listen. And here at least I can speak from experience—you can teach those who want to learn.
Everyone can look at a professional and admire their skill, years of dedication, and the obvious courage they have to compete at their level. There is no denying it. But amateurs like us—like you—have just as much courage working through our own hurdles and insecurities. More so… I’d dare to say.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: adult amateurs have the capacity to do more good for our sport than harm. Keep your eyes up, your heels down, and your heart strong. I’m rooting for you.
The pictures in this blog post are of other adult amateurs I know and admire. Please feel free to share pictures of adult amateurs who inspire you!
Tiffany Elmer, 30 and from Texas, balances her work as a teacher with riding her homebred horse, Capone. She’s been riding since she was 11—through high school, college, dating, marriage and her career—and has competed in the hunters, equitation, jumpers and a bit of eventing. Capone is her “forever” horse. “I bred for a paint eventer mare, and got a lovely chestnut hunter gelding!” she said. “We currently are working on cleaning up our 3’6” hunter rounds with an end goal of international derbies.” Tiffany’s current goal is a George H. Morris clinic in May.
“Capone’s favorite hobbies include asphyxiation—he likes to roll his tongue, put his head in the air, and suck on it. I always have to leave a sign up at shows or people will call me thinking he’s choking (weird, right?). And he also likes to torment the elderly gentleman in the gelding pasture,” Elmer said. Read all of Tiffany’s COTH blogs.