The Chronicle's newest blogger, Katy Groesbeck has recently packed up her life on the West Coast for the chance to be a working student with Buck Davidson. Follow her adventures as a part of BDJ Equestrian and with her horse, Wort, as she shares the lessons she learns in 2014!
"So tell me your story."
That was the question posed to me a few weeks ago over dinner, surrounded by about 20 new faces as we all sat down to celebrate a coworker's birthday. It was a simple question, but I struggled to find an appropriately brief summary of my life that would adequately explain how I ended up 3,500 miles from home with my horse and my whole life in the back of my car to learn from the country's leading event rider (and it certainly wasn't by clicking my heels together three times and chanting,"There's no place like Ocala!").
I laughed, "I just came for the food."
But I suppose my story deserves a bit more explanation than that—although anyone who knows me even a little would probably accept that as a reasonable response. I think you have to go back about 24 years, to the point where I was riding in diapers with my parents and had a Shetland pony for a stroller and a babysitter. Then maybe fast forward three years, to when I begged my mother to let me go to an event with my pony until she finally agreed that I could go the following year, hoping maybe I would forget my enthusiasm and be satisfied to trot around the arena at home. Not a chance! I had been firmly and aggressively bitten by the horse bug at that point and there was no going back.
A few years and a few ponies and small horses later, my mom casually suggested that one of the young horses she had bred would be my next move-up horse. He was a horse my dad was at the time using as a ranch horse, sometimes gathering cattle and working the colts off of him, but before that my mom had shown him in sport horse in-hand classes and a few dressage shows. However, he had only recently been gelded as my mom had finally decided that she would not keep him for a breeding stallion, and up until that point I only really regarded him as the rambunctious and high strung (though always polite) young stud.
"Ok. Whatever, Mom."
I don't really remember how I was eventually persuaded to ride him, but somehow I ended up at a dressage show with him. He was 5 and I was 13. Then there was a hunter/jumper show, and then a hunter pace, and a few unrecognized horse trials, and before I knew it he was inarguably MY horse as if it had never been otherwise.
Wort (more publicly recognized as Oz The Tin Man) was my main man all through junior high and high school, and I spent all my time in the barn or with my nose in a book. If I wasn't studying, I was riding. I missed more than a little school for competitions and spent more than a little time studying outside his stall at shows. My mom coached me to Fourth Level and a USDF Jr./YR Reserve Championship at Third Level, and I had my sights set on NAJYRC as a dressage rider until a clinician I regularly worked with told me quite frankly that I wasn't wealthy enough, and my horse wasn't fancy enough to do it seriously.
Instead of being offended, I thought well heck, maybe I will go eventing more.
And so I did. I also started going to endurance rides with an old family friend. Sometimes on my horse, sometimes on others. I even made it a goal to ride the Tevis Cup 100, but after getting in all my qualifying miles and sending in my entry, the ride was cancelled for the first time ever due to devastating forest fires.
And so endurance, too, gradually fell to the wayside. But eventing was still the one thing I couldn't put down. When I left home to go to UCLA to study linguistics and anthropology, Wort came with me. I got dropped off in Southern California two months before my first quarter started just so he and I could settle in and find an eventing barn. I worked on campus and as a working student and tutor to afford his expenses, and most of my scholarship fund found its way to shoes and grain and show entries, in addition to books, room, and board. For the first couple years, Wort would go home every winter and my parents would keep him fit for me so that I could save money for the spring and fall shows. There was period of time where he lived entirely at home, and I would drive 14 hours every other weekend to ride him, his brother, and anything else my mom could get me on. I essentially was catch riding my own horse at events, and my whole family was deeply involved in keeping the whole operation working smoothly.
Gradually, I found enough steady income that I was able to keep my horse with me full time. By the time I graduated in 2011, I was at a boarding stable in Los Angeles teaching lessons, riding horses, working as a groom, tutoring middle school and high school students, and doing almost anything else that made money. Somehow I even found the time to have a boyfriend who incredibly understood my zeal for this crazy life. Four years later, he still claims that he understands, and I think he must be even crazier than I am!
As Wort and I kept rising up the levels, I began to yearn for pasture space for him and a full-time coach for me. In my travels I had befriended a group of girls who rode with Hawley Bennett, and Hawley was kind enough to step in and help me at a few shows when I was coachless. I was eventually persuaded that I just HAD to move to Temecula. So I made my next move to KingsWay Farm in pursuit of greener and wider pastures, and from that moment forward I was adopted into the most amazing family of fun-loving eventing and hunting nuts! In the year that I was there, I was encouraged to dream even bigger than I had before; I don't think there has ever been a time in my life that I was happier or felt more at home. So, you can imagine that it was with bittersweet excitement that I read the text from Hawley on the way home from Rebecca Farm this summer:
"Would you move East to ride?"
"Well, of course! Why??"
"I am working on something. I'll let you know soon."
And about a week later, she sent another:
"Give Buck a call on Thursday."
Well Buck is a very busy individual and Thursday came and went, but eventually I was able to catch him and he laid a pretty amazing offer on the table: I could come out and stay at his farm in the weeks leading up to Fair Hill, and if all was well I could stay on as a working student. From that moment forward, life became CRAZY. I packed all of my personal belongings in my Volkswagon Beetle in a life-sized game of Tetrus and put Wort on the HBE trailer headed for the American Eventing Championships. After a week in Tyler, Texas I said a tear-filled goodbye to Hawley and the girls and set off with Lainey Ashker to her farm in Virginia, where I spent a week eating Chipotle and fending off Love Birds. And then, finally, I made the last leg of the trip to Riegelsville, Pa., home of Buckwampum Farm and BDJ Equestrian—3,500 miles, 13 state lines, several gas stations, and a few hundred dollars worth of omeprazole away from home.
Cue line: Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore!
And now here I am, making a new family for myself and a new home-away-from-home. Day by day, all of the new and unfamiliar faces are becoming friends and loved-ones. I get homesick sometimes and some days are tough; I make a lot of calls to my boyfriend and my friends at home when I need a little encouragement, but gradually I am learning to lean on my teammates here and in turn learning how to support them, too. The slow winter months so far away from home and the thrill of competition have admittedly left me in doubt some days as to how badly I want to chase these dreams I have, but all it takes is one good ride, one little taste of success, one little light bulb moment in the midst of so many struggles, to keep my chin up and my heels down (and LEG ON!!!!! ALWAYS MORE LEG!!!).
With one successful and extremely busy show already behind us, I am beyond excited to see what 2014 holds for me and the crew at BDJ. For me, every day here brings a new challenge, a new adventure, a new discovery, and a million more questions; I go to bed each night confident that I am wiser and richer for my experiences (though mostly, I go to bed each night knowing I earned my sleep!). I am grateful to be a part of this team, and I can't wait to share my year with you.