Back in the Saddle: The Struggles of a Returning Adult Amateur

JN has welcomed an intern to our team for the summer! In her introductory post, Taylor Clark shares her revelations after returning to the saddle following a brief hiatus.  

At some point in most lives, one must take a break from riding horses. This is never a simple decision. It is easy to forget the early mornings, the falls and broken bones, and the endless barn drama. Childhood horse shows and lessons become romanticized. Each pony was your “heart horse” and each competition your most valuable learning experience. Every trainer was like a parent to you— stern but caring. Every barn-mate was your closest confidante. But there is no denying that at some point during the break, riding will call out to you again.

My personal vacation from riding was prompted by my admission to college. Around this time, I aged out of the junior equitation ring and floated aimlessly in the adult amateur ring for several months. It was difficult to believe that at every horse show there was not a national final to worry about qualifying for, or points to be obsessively accumulated. The adult amateur world was different– people actually riding for enjoyment, not as a full-time job. Having been homeschooled through high school in order to compete around the country, I suddenly found myself with free time to socialize and nurture friendships without having to run out to the barn for one more lesson. My studies came first, and academics seemed to matter once again.

Taylor during a local competition in college. Photo credit, Whitney Clark

It took about three years for me to begin desperately missing riding. I had taken for granted the confidence and purpose that riding gave me, not to mention the physical fitness and endorphins that had benefited me throughout my junior years. I began looking around for barns to work at, instead of fraternity parties to attend. I slowly got back into shape and scraped up enough money to enter a local horse show every few months. It was the polar opposite of my junior career, yet it was exactly what I needed. A balance between my barn life and my new adult life.

Many adult amateurs face myriad struggles while relearning the horse world after a break, be it two or ten years long. All of a sudden, the trendy clothing you used to ride in has become vintage. New helmets, saddles, show coats, and even belts become an obsession. Tasks that used to be easy (jump position!!) become the equivalent of running a marathon with no preparation. Horse showing becomes a dream that seems less and less attainable once you realize how much time off you will need from work, let alone the expense that you are now responsible for covering without parental help! As a child, little thought is put into braiding, hotel, stabling, and entry fees. Looking at the finances related to horse showing as an adult gives one a new respect for the show parents who silently bore the burden!

Perks of being an amateur- enjoying a trail ride on a lovely day. Photo Credit, Taylor Clark

It would be easy to give up after the first or second lesson after a break and decide that the days of riding horses are no longer viable. But take a look at the changing role that riding has played in your life. Whether it fulfills a love of competition, a quest for camaraderie, or a moment of peace in nature, riding as a returning adult amateur after time off is possible. You may not reach the degree of success that you did in your junior years, or it may be more of a struggle to stay in shape between lessons, but the connection with horses never really dies.

For many, it is worth the fight through the potential nerves and frustration to find a renewed role that riding can play in your life. You may no longer be able to show in Florida every winter, and you may need to adjust your goals of someday showing in the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean that riding and even competing can’t become a part of your life again. Maybe life requires you to slow down and find a new discipline or the barn that you were at is no longer a good fit. These challenges are worth the effort to return to your passion in some way, shape, or form. It is never too late to get back in the saddle!