By; Ambassador Mallory Lobisser
I’ve spent the better part of this past year reflecting on my horse life. I’ve started, deleted, and restarted this blog post countless times before settling on exactly what it is I have to write about. A lot has happened over the past year culminating with a cross-country move this past February. I grew up just outside Seattle and left for the East Coast 15 years ago when I went to college. I think the horses are what kept me in Virginia so long.
Even though my Benji was also born and bred in the Pacific Northwest, we both fell in love with Virginia horse country and it was tough to leave. But after being home now for six months, I’ve never been happier.
I landed an amazing job with a software company that recently went public, I’m closer to Mom and Dad, and I found two amazing trainers who have already taken my riding to to the next level. All in all, life is good and I’m grateful each time I put my feet in the stirrups.
Despite all that is going well in my life, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment when I think about my accomplishments, or lack thereof, in the show ring. I’ve always been competitive. I ski raced as a kid and played college lacrosse, but riding has always been the sport that I wanted to pursue most of all. When I went away to college, my parents stopped financially supporting my equine endeavours. I can’t say I blame them as putting two kids through expensive private universities was extremely generous. When I came home each summer, I’d beg my trainers for something to ride. The summer before my junior year, I got a working student position at a barn outside Philadelphia. This was my first taste of the East Coast show circuit. I experienced Upperville, Devon, and Lake Placid for the first time. However, my dream was cut short when the horse I was given to ride for the summer reared up and flipped over on me in the warm-up ring. I spent the rest of the summer recovering in bed with a broken pelvis.
The summer between college and grad school, I met the love of my life: Benji. He was just two months old when I first laid eyes on his long legs and bald face. I went to grad school that fall and couldn’t stop thinking about him. I had shown his mom when I was in high school and couldn’t help but see so much of her in him. With visions of tricolors dancing my head, I wrote a check in January 2008.
The past ten years have been a rollercoaster to say the least. We conquered our first crossrails, Potomac Horse Fever, our first time in the International Ring at WEF, and multiple bouts of tick fever. Today, Benji is fit, happy, and has more scope than I will ever need. But we haven’t been to a horse show in over a year. I’ve got the horse, the trainers, and at least some talent. My mental game could use some work, but it seems I have all of the necessary ingredients for success in the ring.
Unfortunately, I’m lacking what has proved to be the most important piece: gobs of money. I love this sport. I love my horse, I love the physical and mental challenges, and I love the teamwork. But I hate that in this sport, something that I have such little control over is an essential key to success. I did everything right with my education and my career to date. I have a masters’ degree, I’m a CPA, and I make really good money. But no matter how many hours I put in, how many raises and promotions I get, it doesn’t ever seem to be enough.
Like most of you, I read Katie Prudent’s interview where she called out the “talentless” and “fearful” amateurs. While difficult to stomach, I think she was spot on and honestly, I feel a bit vindicated. If only she she could come up with a solution for those of us amateurs who work our asses off full time to support this crazy passion of ours. How can we make this sport more affordable and more accessible? How can the average amateur afford to compete with the types of amateurs that Katie mentioned in her interview? We can’t afford to get hurt and miss a paycheck.
We’re the ones who can’t afford grooms so we muck our own stalls at the horse shows. And between mucking, we’re racing to find the nearest WiFi so we can handle that crisis that just popped up at the office. It’s utterly exhausting both mentally and physically. But we are also the ones hand walking our horses late at night, after working a 10+ hour day, when the barn is silent except for the sounds of the horses munching their hay. We’re the ones that never miss a vet appointment, even if it means you have to excuse yourself for a moment so you can take a phone call. We’re the ones who know every inch of our horses’ confirmation and know immediately when something is wrong. We deserve a shot just as much as the next person.
While I hate the twinge of disappointment that I see on the faces of my trainers when I tell them that once again, I’m not going to the horse show. And I worry that no matter how hard I work at home, they will eventually give up on me. I will press on. I won’t buy myself new clothes, I won’t go on a non-family vacation, and I might have roommates for the rest of my life, but I won’t quit. Recently, I considered leasing Benji out, until the thought of not riding, even just at home, literally made me sick to my stomach. He is my sanity. My comfort. My shoulder to cry on when I’ve had a bad day and the single most constant present in my life for the past 10 years. I simply cannot imagine my life without him.
So, Ms. Prudent, I may be slightly fearful and I may not have as much talent as my competitors, but I will out-work the next person any day. I will continue to hope for the day that my beloved sport becomes accessible to all walks of life. And I hope I’m the kind of amateur that you would want in your barn. I may not have the biggest checkbook, but I will make up for it in heart. I will continue to own the room at work and bust my butt for that promotion while still being at every vet appointment, hand-walking session, and lesson that I need to attend. My love for this sport and these animals far surpasses my talent and my fears and that, to me, is all that matters.