After quite the adventure, I landed in Amsterdam at 12:30 pm (which was 3:30 am for me). Despite our (what we thought was) tremendous preparation, Sam, the other rider that I was supposed to be bringing, was unable to fly yesterday.
So, we got to the airport, just giddy with excitement and nerves, checked in, waited in line, then went up to drop our bags. However, when the lanky man behind the AirFrance desk began peering over Sam’s passport, we knew from the look of concern on his face, we were in trouble. A few weeks previous there had been question as to whether Sam’s passport would be valid. However, there was confusion and well, it turns out, it was not valid. So, at LAX, packed and ready, we were told I could go and Sam would have to go to the federal building and get a new passport made the next day.
Exhausted, emotionally drained from all the goodbyes, and anxious as I am, I handled it worse than Sam. I am not sure if it was my dreading saying goodbye to my parents or my fear of going to the Netherlands alone but this just broke the floodgates I’d been holding up so firmly in an attempt to handle this trip with grace. After a lot of goodbying and crying, I went through security without Sam and here I am, writing from the Netherlands, alone.
If this experience taught me anything it was that being alone is good for you. I am not a calm person by any means but as I settled into the 10 hour plan ride, a strange sense of ease fell over me. I could handle this. I would handle this. And I did.
After an awkward encounter with the customs agent who was very confused as to what Heeze (Hee-z) was, we finally realized it was my butchering of the Dutch language and indeed I was NOT a crazy person lying about my trip. It is pronounced Hesha (I think, I honestly can’t understand 83% of what they say even when it is in English), which is a real place. Heeze pronounced Hee-z however, is not. I then proceeded to find my luggage, artfully navigate with three suitcases and only two hands through the rest of the airport to where I found Hans, the owner of the barn waiting for me. What was the first thing he asked? If I was up to go look at horses on the way back to the farm. Of course I was. I hadn’t seen a horse in ALMOST 24 hours. So yes, I would go look at horses.
We wound through Amsterdam to what I thought was a rather sizable operation and beautiful barn. Immediately, I could tell this was different than anything in the US. Horses being ridden down the aisle, people riding in tank tops, trainers smoking, riders yelling, it was a full blown circus. I loved it. There was so much energy packed into the cross tie area which we were all stumbling over each other in. It was far different than the typical atmosphere in one of our barns. Everyone seemed comfortable and at ease with each other. And, here I thought, relaxation in the equestrian community was impossible. There was no sense of elitism or snobbery. Just a genuine work ethic and love for the horses.
We watched the three hunter prospects go and immediately I knew my favorite. It might not win the hack but the three year old stud had pristine conformation, a fantastic jump, and a kind disposition. Once we said goodbye and got in the car, Has asked my opinion and I gave it to him. He agreed the stud was by far the best horse. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been tested, even just by coincidence that he had to see those horses, I had the feeling he was happy I’d been paying attention and noticed the same things he did.
After passing green pasture after green pasture and river after river, we finally pulled up to Hans’s farm. Green pastures and tall trees on both sides, plump mares with gangly foals frolicking around them, a large brick barn, two beautiful outdoor arenas and an equally fine indoor one, this was something out of a movie. It put the first barn, which had amazed me, to shame. After a whirlwind of meeting people and running around, I sat down in the lounge area and talked to someone who, well, I am still not entirely sure what role he plays. Immediately, I realized everyone’s perception of me was already completely skewed.
“Can you ride green horses?” I thought to myself, um, yes of course. What kind of question even was that?
Slowly, I replied, “Yes of course.”
“Well, we will see. American riders do not know green horses.”
I looked at this man and knew I had a lot to prove. I had no idea who he was but if he was saying this, everyone was probably thinking it. “Well, I got my jumper at 3 and saddle broke him myself… I have always ridden green horses.”
“Okay good, good. You know though, American’s usually can’t ride young horses. They are more difficult.” I realized quickly no matter what I said, I was not going to change anyone’s opinion until I got on a horse.
I made small talk and then followed Hans back into the barn where he introduced me to one of my new roommates and instructed her to show me where I would be living. After following her about 15 feet, we stepped into our front door. Attached to the second barn, was our 5 bedroom house where Sam and I will be living the rest of the summer. My room’s door opens to the side of the main barn where the horses look out of their stalls. It was as though my ten year-old self’s dreams of living in a barn were finally coming true.
After unloading my luggage and bidding Hans goodbye, I followed my roommate back into the barn where I began asking who I could help and with what. I tried to be pleasant and introduce myself but I felt like an outsider. I am an outsider. Everyone was staring at the American who probably has never sat on anything except an equitation machine. Instead of floundering, I simply stepped into the tack room on shaky legs and began cleaning bridles.
Everyone has been perfectly nice but I know I am under a microscope. I am in a position where I am expected to fail. I was asked multiple times if I was sure I would last until August. Each time, more confidently than the last I answered yes.
Before getting here I always held in the back of my mind “If I hate it, I can go home.” But that isn’t an option anymore. I have a stereotype to disprove not just for myself but for other American riders that work just as hard as I do and know the challenges of NOT have a machine for a mount. There is absolutely no backing out now for me. My name might be simply “USA” on the horse assignment board, and I might seem like a temporary installment to the barn, but come August I will still be here, a better rider and a tougher person for it.