On Thursday nights, dinner comes out of my microwave. I don't really have time to cook anything, because at 6 p.m., my evening starts with Heather. Sometimes Heather can make it home from work in time to get her horse to bring him over—she works only about 20 minutes away from my place, but she has to head home (25 miles), grab Bodie, and come here (30 miles), and sometimes that doesn't all happen by 6. So sometimes her husband, who also works full time, brings Bodie over, and Heather comes straight from work to meet him.
6:45 is David and Elaina. David works for VDOT; Elaina's a graphic designer. They also keep their horses at home and throw them breakfast and do farm chores at 5 a.m. to get it all done before they leave for work in the morning.
And 7:30 is Jamie, who also has a 9-5… or 8-6. Jamie keeps her riding horse with me, but she and her husband have a few trail horses and retirees at home as well. Jamie says she has a special morning-feeding-hat to keep her ears warm when she does her morning chores in the dark.
I teach into the evenings three days a week, and two of those days I teach folks who trailer their horses over—sometimes an hour, or more, each way—after work to ride with me. It's a really incredible display of their dedication, and I'm honored that they choose to spend their valuable riding time with me. I can't imagine having my horses in my backyard, being responsible for all their care, PLUS the maintenance of fences and buckets and hay and, and, and, PLUS a "real" job, and still having the gumption to get them ridden, in the dark, in the cold, with no indoor. Wow.
We all know that it's the amateurs who keep our sport going. They make up 65 percent of USEF's dressage membership, and last year 6,381 of them competed as an owner or rider. They are the volunteer support behind horse shows, they run GMOs, they attend educational events on the local, regional and national scales. They fill our horse shows, averaging four a year. And that's just what they do for the sport as a whole.
For us professionals, amateurs make our livelihoods possible. They support our businesses, taking lessons, hosting clinics and buying horses. And for many riders, amateurs make their competition dreams possible, supporting them financially or owning top horses for the riders to compete.
For me, my amateur students are a constant reminder of the blessings in my life—to have so many incredibly dedicated people who fit in their passions around work and family and life. They make me consider how lucky I am that I can ride anytime I like, and I can do so every day, in whatever weather; that there's nothing in my life holding me back from this great love of mine.
There are more than just my weeknight warriors. There's Amy, who has three kids and a husband and an intense job; she drives two hours each way for her lessons. There's Kathy, who doesn't let her two fake hips hold her back from her dressage passion. Kristin, Janell and Jackie all run HUGE farms of their own, and bring such mirth to their lessons it's amazing we ever get anything done. The list goes on, and on, and on.
And as I'm headed to Florida, I'm reminded—as I am every day, but it's particularly poignant now—that it's their support that lets me pursue my dreams, simply in the hopes that the more I learn, the more I can pass along to them. It's a real privilege, having riders like these in my life.