I would like you to meet Godfrey. Godfrey is my fur baby, and while most people think dog or cat when they say fur baby…nay. I have an enormous equine beast who is also a sassy redhead with personality coming out of his ears, and his favorite activities are basically napping, not doing dressage, and eating. Exhibit A:
This is my horse, Godfrey. He is a 13 year old Thoroughbred gelding who I have owned for about 8.5 years. I bought him when he was 4, and was given the chance to be a working student for two amazing trainers in central California. He’s been with me through all of my ups and downs over the last nearly 9 years, and has kept my heart full and my bank account teetering on empty at just about all times.
Horses are expensive. Ridiculously expensive. I was bitten by the horse bug at an early age, and luckily was able to get to ride starting at age 5. My poor parents probably thought it just a stage for my sister and I, but sadly they were wrong. Twenty three years later,both she and I are horse owners and can’t shake our love for all things horse related.
I got a job one month after graduating high school so I could pay for more lessons and shows when I was 18. By the fall, I was also a full time student finishing up my general education, and eventually picked up another part time job working at a local tack store (riding supply store; “tack” is a general term used to describe horseback riding equipment) to further support my habit. When I bought Godfrey, I was a week shy of turning 20 and getting ready to embark on a year off from school to continue my riding education. I had the opportunity to move down to Carmel Valley, CA and work for two very well respected eventing trainers for a year. I was incredibly ambitious, determined, excited, and probably a bit naive to how much this endeavor would cost me. However, I was willing to work hard and was ready to soak up everything; the experience of being a working student taught me a lot about what it truly takes to make it in the horse world as a competitor. For the majority of my time down there, I was able to bring along my young horse with their help, and ended up with a pretty darn nice event rospect that I had high hopes for in the future.
Towards the end of my stint, Godfrey sustained a fairly serious injury on his front right leg. He fractured his cannon bone (the human equivalent to a shin) and any progress we were making (which was a lot, as he was only 5 years old) was abruptly halted for about 7 months. I luckily had access to fantastic veterinary care, a handful of great friends to help with his rehab, and a barn that allowed cheaper board, as I was working there. His injury occurred at the end of November 2007, and by May 2008, he was given the green light to go back to full work.
Eventually I moved back home, and started school again. I was also working anywhere from 30-35 hours a week, had a full load of credits at school, was at the barn 7 days a week, and eventually started dating someone. I did not have a lot of spare time, but because my horse is the most important thing in the world to me, I made time for it and I made my student budget work. I was incredibly stressed out and barely making enough money, but was making enough to keep the horse. That was what mattered to me.
This went on for a couple more years. As life happens, from 2008 to 2010, Godfrey got sick, had to move barns twice, and we had many other ups and downs. In November 2010, I was on the verge of a breaking point: I was working 35 hours a week, was taking a full load of classes, had an internship 2 days a week, was at the barn every day, and was trying to maintain a relationship. It was too much, and I could not sustain the stress I was putting myself under. A friend came to me at one of the horse shows I went to go watch my barn mates compete at, and told me she could tell I was at a breaking point. She then told me that I was welcome to send Godfrey down to her place in southern California for a fraction of the cost I was paying here at home, where he could enjoy some needed time off in a pasture. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make, but through tears I thanked her and told her I would be in touch.
On November 20, 2010, I drove my horse from Northern California (SF Bay Area) to Los Angeles and back in the same day. It took my sister and I approximately 8 hours to drive down, drop the horse off, and 8 hours to get back. The day was emotionally draining, as I was under the impression that I would never see my horse again and that I would end up selling him. I knew he was in good hands, but I couldn’t help but feeling like I had failed miserably at the one thing that I loved more than anything. However, by trusting that this was the right decision at the time, I was able to quit my job at the tack store, focus on my internship and school, and was able to concentrate on digging myself out of the financial hole I was in. After barely holding everything together for three years, I was able to cut out some major stresses in my life and was able to reprioritize my life.
In July of 2011, I was once again reminded that I have some great friends. A very close friend of mine, Sarah, and her husband had recently purchased a house in Carmel that had horse property on it. Knowing how much I missed my horse, Sarah offered to have Godfrey come up and stay on her property so he could be a bit closer to me. She graciously offered to put him back to work for me, free of charge, provided I could cover the cost of board, feed and shoes. The costs were significantly less than they would run me back home, so I eagerly agreed that we could make this happen. Keep in mind that for the last 8 months, I had been convinced I would never see my horse again. From July 2011 – June 2013, I made numerous trips down to Carmel to see my horse and my good friend. It was a good transition back into riding for me, as I hadn’t done much since November 2010, and mentally was great for my well-being.
In June of 2013, I decided it was time to bring Godfrey back home. I was in a position where I could financially manage it, had the time, and had a much better perspective on how to handle everything in my life. Godfrey came back to the barn where I grew up riding, and has been happy and healthy (knock on wood) ever since. It’s taken me awhile to get to this point, and I know this post is incredibly long, but I do actually have some good points:
- If something is important to you, you will find a way to make it work. I stretched myself so thin to keep horses in my life while I was in college, but that horse is the thing I love in life more than anything. It was completely worth all the stress, and I would do it over again because it taught me a lot about myself and my work ethic. It wasn’t easy, and often I look back and think about the opportunities and experiences I missed out on in college because I had the responsibility of being a horse owner, but I don’t think I would trade any of those experiences for what being a horse owner has taught me.
- Progress is measured in many different ways. When I was a working student, I ate, lived and breathed horses. I was given an incredible opportunity to ride with two of the most respected trainers in the eventing world, and was given chances to ride incredibly talented horses. I learned so much, and that year was the best of my life so far. However, because I was able to live through and experience the best of the best, I wanted to maintain that – and for good reason! My riding improved drastically in what was really a short period of time; my horse, who was very young at the time, was turning into quite a fancy little event prospect, and I saw the best parts of what isn’t always the best world (showing and competing). Because I had experienced the highest of highs, I wanted to maintain that, and when I left that working student position, I didn’t have access to the things at home that I did down there. However, looking at where my horse is now compared to where he was even 3 years ago…it’s amazing. He is calmer, happier, more personable, and loves to get out and do whatever. He probably would not have let me crouch down with him while he was laying down a few years ago, and now I can literally get down on the ground and cuddle with him since he’s so mellow.
- Perspective is a game changer. Like I mentioned, I used to beat myself up a lot for not being able to maintain what I thought I “should” be doing. However, after all the ups and down I’ve been through with this horse (I omitted about 70% of them because otherwise this post would go on for a week), I’m finally comfortable with where I am. I have been riding for 23 years; I haven’t competed in a big show since 2007, and I’m ok with that. The fact that I have a horse (seriously, if you told 5-year old me I would own a horse like this one day, I would have peed myself) that I can go out and ride/hang out with whenever I want is mind blowing. It’s ok to own a horse and not show, to not be in lessons every week, and to just go out and enjoy it. Some of my favorite memories as a kid are being at the barn on warm summer nights, just being around the horses and doing chores. I still love riding, and I’m pretty good at it, but I find that I enjoy my time at the barn more when I go out and casually ride for fun. One of the girls over at the barn half leases him now and has done amazing things with him – he is going just as well now, if not better, than he was when I was a working student. Her leasing him also helps me financially, and she is learning a lot too! By finally identifying what is important to me about being a horse owner, and the parts of riding that make me happiest, I don’t stress myself out and make myself feel terrible about not competing or doing what everyone else thinks I should be doing. Horses and riding should be fun – it’s a passion, and once you hinder a passion with rules, unrealistic expectations, and the stress of trying to live up to impossible goals, it stops being fun.
Would I like to compete again? Yes, some day. Competing can be a lot of fun, and it is so rewarding when your hard work pays off. But right now, it’s just not an option for me – before I got laid off, I had the money but not the time, and now I have the time but not the money. There was a point in the last few years where it stopped being fun, and trust me…this sport is too damn expensive for it to not be fun!