7:15 am. People in shower stalls are shouting to each other in Dutch. The aroma from the coffee maker begins to fill the air. The stairs clatter with the sound of boot-clad feet running up and down as we get ready for the day.
7:50 am. The smell of hay and horses hangs in the air as we clamor into the barn, laughing about the events of the night before and discussing the day ahead.
8:00 am. We drag a heavy hay cart down the aisles, particles flying through the air causing us to cough and sneeze incessantly while we feed 54 hungry horses.
8:30 am. We shovel pile after pile of fresh, golden straw into each stall, ignoring the protests from our sore shoulders and arms.
9:30 am. We pile back into the house, spurs jingle and boots clomp over the tiles floors of the kitchen as we make breakfast and talk about the horses, the boys, and the plans in our lives.
10:00 am. We swing onto the backs of our first horses, settling into the tack for a day of riding.
4:00 pm. Our boots hit the ground for the last time that day, a sting shooting from the soles of our sore feet through our joints, as we lead our horse back into the barn. We sweep, we feed, we clean the bridles, we scrub the bits.
5:00 pm. We all slump into the barn’s lounge, gathering around a large wooden table. English and Dutch are being spoken over each other as we recall highlights from the day and discuss plans for the evening.
Downward transitions, circles, lead changes, lateral movement, and cavalettis encompass our lives as we guide young horses towards their future in the show ring. We scrub down bits, we shovel all the poop, we curry thousands of circles. We hit the ground, we climb back up. We crash into our beds, questioning how the hell we are supposed to wake up the next day and do it again.
But suddenly it is 7:15 am again and I open my eyes to the sound of Dutch being shouted from the shower stalls and find myself grabbing another pair of breeches. By 10am I’m back in my saddle to do it all over again.
Before coming to work for Stal Dings, I’d never been in an environment where everyone I work with is in a similar situation. In the past, I have worked at barns where there is maybe one other working student but mostly, everyone else is a typical paying client. Now, working at a sales barn, where all the riders are hired and do not have their own horses, I am surrounded by people who do this not as a hobby but as a lifestyle. This sport is our whole world.
It is invigorating and impressive that everyone around me has the same passion and determination for this sport, as I do. Could we make more money doing almost anything else? OF COURSE! (Especially since I am not paid). Could we work typical 9-5, Monday – Friday jobs? Absolutely. But we dream of more than 9-5 and a steady income. That would be easier. That would be more profitable. That would be less frustrating.
Working students, interns, and riders like us are a special breed. We put the hours into these young horses but ultimately, we won’t be the ones receiving the recognition for their future success. Some lucky person will buy one and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We work through the bucking, the rearing, and the stopping so they can be sold and enjoyed by someone else.
Riders like us are often underappreciated, underrated, and overlooked.
However, I have realized this is how life works. If you are passionate about something, and have big dreams, you have to be willing to take the road less travelled. You have to be willing to wake up earlier and go to bed later than everyone else. And, still be underappreciated.
So, why do we do this?
It’s simple. This sport is who we are.
We’d rather be underappreciated sitting on a young horse in the rain than sitting at a desk under fluorescent lights.
P.S. Next time you take that shiny blue ribbon from the awards presenter, take a moment to remember that poor working student that taught your horse lead changes.