“Want to hit happy hour after work tonight?”
“I can’t; I have to go to the barn to ride my horse.”
“Again? Didn’t you just go there yesterday?”
This is an actual excerpt from a recent conversation I had with a man asking me on a date. The first two lines were nothing out of the ordinary for an exchange with a non-equestrian counterpart, but the third line actually made me laugh out loud. Yeah, buddy, I did just go there yesterday, and you’ll be shocked to know that I’ll be going back tomorrow, as well.
I am an amateur equestrian in my late 20s. I live right in the heart of Philadelphia, the seventh most populous city in the country. I love to socialize, go to bars with friends, and meet new people. If it weren’t for my busy schedule and my constantly hemorrhaging bank account, I would love to go out most nights of the week. But I’m also the owner of a high-maintenance horse, work a full-time job and am in graduate school part-time, so realistically, I wind up going out maybe once or twice a month. (It’s a small price to pay, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.)
It’s hard to balance socializing and riding. The best program to keep my horse appropriately fit for our level of competition includes five rides a week. A typical weekday involves me waking up at 6:30 a.m., getting ready, making the 20-minute commute to the office, working all day, commuting home, changing my clothes, heading to the barn, riding and arriving back home around 7:30 p.m. I typically do about an hour of schoolwork, then eat dinner. I suppose I could then shower and change again to go to dinner or drinks with friends, but when 9:30 p.m. rolls around, I’m out of energy and ready to lay in bed with my cats.
This type of schedule, while unremarkable and likely similar to that of fellow equestrians, is wildly strange and unrelatable to my friends outside the horse world. To be honest, it’s created distance in several once-close friendships over the years. Perhaps the time and energy I dedicate to my horse comes across as having my priorities stacked incorrectly or as leaving friendships in a perpetual second-place ranking. And if I put myself in the shoes of my non-equestrian friends, I suppose I can understand this line of thinking. But my horse and my riding are my foremost passion in life, so really, it’s going to stay that way.
For this reason, I only have a handful of friends outside the horse world—upwards of 80 percent of my friends are fellow riders. They understand that I likely cannot hang out after work, and that I’m spending yet another weekend away at a horse show, because they are doing the same things. We make plans weeks ahead of time and arrange our horses’ weekly schedules around them. We don’t mind if one of us shows up sporting breeches or the (not so) faint scent of the barn. We empathize with one another about needing to leave at a decent hour to be able to wake up and do it all again the next day.
And I think that’s what it really comes down to—empathy. The friends I do have outside the horse world try to put themselves in my shoes and understand that riding is really important to me. They accept my passion and respect the amount of time I have chosen to dedicate to my sport. Some of them have even come out to meet my horse and see me ride. While I had hoped that I would find more friends like this as I venture further into adulthood, they’ve tended to be fewer and further between than I had hoped.
I’ve tried to stretch myself thinner to “have it all.” In college, it was quite a bit easier—not only was I full of a youthful energy I can only dream of now, but my classes also typically didn’t start until 10 a.m. or later, and I could ride after class. As a full-grown adult, though, a late night— whether lubricated by a drinks or not—is far more detrimental to my day-to-day.
There are no more 10 a.m. starts to the day. I am perpetually tired even on my normal schedule, so throwing in a night out really complicates things, and I find myself unable to catch up or feel fully rested and fully productive. And that’s just the work side of the equation! Factor in riding after work, and I’m really unproductive. I don’t ride well, and I’m not fully present with my horse while I’m at the barn. For me, that’s the final straw.
So I protect my stringent sleep schedule. I prioritize work and riding. I look inward at what makes me truly happy and fulfilled, and that is my horse, in large part. It would be fantastic if I could find a way to maintain a thriving social life while also working and riding, but until the day extends from 24 hours to at least 28, I have accepted that won’t be the case. I indulge occasionally in a night or two out. I have fantastic friendships within the horse world and several outside as well. I understand that my schedule makes it difficult to have me as a friend, but I’ve come to terms with that fact, and I wouldn’t trade the blessing that is horse ownership for all the nights out in the world.
Laura Adriaanse is an amateur equestrian and USDF bronze medalist based in Philadelphia. She started out in the hunters, rode for the University Of Mary Washington (Virginia) IHSA team, then switched to dressage after college. She is the proud owner of Dixie Rose, a Hanoverian mare, with whom she hopes to make it to the FEI levels.