My college admissions process was atypical, to say the least. While my friends were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their college acceptance letters, I was more consumed with receiving notification that my horse, Kat, had been granted a stall at my school’s equine center. I later learned that earning a stall at the barn was just the beginning and that finding my own place in the program would be a much greater challenge.
I had received news of my own admission to Otterbein University in November of my senior year, but it took six months to hear if I had a stall. To earn a spot at Otterbein’s equine center, I carefully sifted through several years of videos to find accurate, yet flattering clips of us to send to the equine department for review. I also sent in a form that detailed her daily needs in terms of hay, grain and turnout, as well as a competition record from the past few years.
I let out a huge sigh of relief when I finally learned that Kat would have a stall at Otterbein. But almost as soon one worry dissolved, another emerged. What if I didn’t stack up to the other riders at the school? What if I was one of the few who hadn’t taken lessons on a Grand Prix schoolmaster or a Rolex veteran? The list of “what ifs” was endless. The real stress of my transition to college emerged not in the midst of my application process, but when it came to adapting to a university equestrian center and this new cross-section of the equine world. I had developed a fear that I would be blatantly incompetent within this new pool of riders.
When I finally settled at Otterbein, I became pleasantly surprised to learn that I was very much a part of the majority. There was a relatively large number of eventers, so I was relieved to see other riders who were competing at the Novice level, just like myself, with Thoroughbred-somethings, just like Kat.
There were, of course, a few exceptions to this. There were some very green riders but also others who were considerably more experienced than myself. One freshman had just been featured on the cover of Eventing USA magazine for winning the Training Division of the American Eventing Championships, while another had just run a two-star. And you can bet that I was more than self-conscious when it came to sharing the ring with them.
It was a privilege to call these riders my friends and my classmates, but in the back of my mind, there was that lingering fear that my equestrian resume didn’t stack up to theirs. Learning how to deal with this concern ultimately became the key that helped me to feel at home in this new barn but more importantly, to feel secure in my own self-progress.
I eventually found that this was exhausting, but only after I made the mistake of comparing myself to the two-star rider on a daily basis, ultimately feeling incompetent and disheartened. I realized, with a little help from my trainer back home, that the best way to deal with this was for me to focus purely on my own agenda. As riders, we all have our own unique journey with our horses. No journey is really comparable to another, so there was nothing to be gained from comparing my experience to that of another rider.
Focusing on my own goals, rather than other riders’ achievements, allowed me to free myself from my preoccupation with where I ranked. I was finally able to concentrate on the animal that was beneath me when I rode, rather than on the rider who was schooling tempi changes at the other end of the ring. I began to feel more at peace, and I know Kat did, too. Her rhythm became less rushed, she relaxed across her topline and she became more attentive to my requests.
This realization made the difference that allowed me to make the most of my collegiate riding experience and enjoy it for all that it is. Now I firmly agree that they are right when they say college is the best four years of your life.