For many teenagers, the end-of-summer competitions that we cover this week signify the end of their childhood, the time when they have to give up their horses to go to college. It’s a time that can really cause teenage angst to bloom!
Going to college is certainly the embarkation of a new phase in life, a phase that can be frightening or exciting, a convulsive uprooting or a new opportunity. It was both for me. My childhood ended 24 years ago at what the U.S. Pony Clubs then called the National Rally (because it was just eventing), in Boyce, Va. I’d sold my horse, the new owner picked him up there, and it was time for me to move on from horses’or so my parents thought.
Since I’d spent my entire life in the same school system, I can assure you that a college of 1,800 new faces was a disconcerting experience. And I don’t think it took a week before I decided I had to ride again. So I called the D.C. of the local club, who picked me up at my dorm and introduced me to numerous people. A few days later, I called my parents and asked them to bring my riding clothes and my saddle because I was riding in a hunter trial. Soon I had lessons to teach and horses to ride’greenies, problems, and one or two veterans who had a lot to teach me.
As Denny Emerson writes in his column this week (p. 29), it wasn’t as good as having my own horse and the weekly instruction I’d been having, but it was really good riding and life experience. Something that wasn’t part of Denny’s experience but was of mine was riding in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association. I was one of the founders and the captain of our team for three years (ah, 10 to 15 girls and me, just like Pony Club!). I wasn’t riding cross-country, but I did improve my position, and it was extremely educational to get on an unfamiliar horse, do nothing more than walk for a few minutes, and then jump a 3’3” to 3’6” course. I’m sure that experience helped me pass my Pony Club A test on the second attempt, after my sophomore year.
So often, teenagers who have a horse think they have to ride now, to go as far as they can now, before they get old (probably 25 or 30). And they fear that if they have an interruption (college would be a big one), they’re sunk. Well, one of the best things about riding is you usually get better as you get older and wiser, even though you might not be as brave. And, as Denny describes, there are an infinite number of ways to combine horses and books.
Writing this, I’ve recalled my conversations with the kids of the USPC’s National Youth Congress whom I met in February 2001, when the USPC honored me and others by inducting us into the Academy of Achievement. What struck the five of us one night, as we retired to the bar, was that these kids believed that life was a straight line’you study this, become that, and you do it for the rest of your life. We shocked them when we told them that none of us had done or were doing what we thought we’d be doing (or had gone to school for) when we were their ages.
Life happened to all of us, and our advice to those kids was to enjoy it while it happened to them.