By Mattie Stewart.
Horses have always been the epicenter of my life. When people ask about my likes and hobbies, it always comes down, in one way or another, to me being an equestrian. My horse and my sport are my primary fuel for nearly everything I do. Without my horse, I wouldn’t be the same person, and my life wouldn’t be
the same life. In elementary school, all I would do was talk about horses. After school, I would go straight to the barn. I was, through and through, the ‘crazy horse girl.’ In high school, the first day “get to know your classmates” icebreaker games always included the phrase “Hi, I’m Mattie, I ride horses, and my favorite color is purple.” I kept my grades up (mostly) so I could make grades for equestrian team and hopefully get an athletic scholarship. When I was picking out colleges, my horse was a big consideration.
But, even after all my careful planning and dedicated promise to keeping my horse a priority, when I graduated high school and moved to college, everything changed.
I had two top college choices six months before the fall semester. My first choice was an Ohio school with an NCAA division II equestrian team that offered me an athletic scholarship. The second, a closer to home Flint, Michigan school, also offered me a small academic scholarship. Both cost about the same, and both scholarships were about the same. I wanted to go to Ohio. I wanted to take my horse with me. I wanted to be a collegiate equestrian – more than anything. But I had to make a choice when my parents told me they wouldn’t be able to financially support me as much as I’d imagined. The Michigan university offered a much better career outlook and was hours closer to home (only thirty minutes from my driveway). On top of that, the amount of money I would save turned out to be much more than I thought. So, at 18 years old, I had to make an adult decision: Putting my dreams in a box in the back of my closet.
Despite my initial sadness, I was excited for college. I loved, and still love, my second-choice school. I had the opportunity to work half the year in my industry at a leading automotive supplier which would put me ahead of students from other colleges and universities upon graduation. It also saved me a large portion of money as my horse could stay where he was at no cost. Plus, he was only twenty minutes from my dorm, which meant he was even closer than my home. It was a win-win because I was saving money and making money at the same time. On the flip side, my school doesn’t offer athletics. It’s a fully academic, career-based school with a handful of club and intermural sports that stem from Greek life. There are few equestrians on the tiny campus, let alone a group or team on which I could compete.
I am currently six months into my freshman year of college, and after months and months of telling myself “I’ll figure it out, I’ll settle into this new routine and make time,” I’ve finally accepted the truth – things won’t be the same again for a while. I work three months on and three months off when I go back to school year round, so I won’t have a summer vacation dedicated to horses and horse shows. I have an hour commute where I work 7 am to 4 pm five days a week. While this doesn’t make having school in the summer impossible, it presents a challenge to beat sunset and get enough rest. Without an indoor, it can be a little more trivial during the wintertime.
During my school term, I am involved in Greek life and Collegiate DECA, so I have many meetings and events I am responsible for attending. I still have hope that I will make time, especially in the summer, to dedicate to schooling and showing my horse, and I will continue to spend at least four horses a week at the barn, cleaning, grooming, or feeding, even if I cannot ride. But, right now, and for the next four years, I have to step back from the sport I’ve been consumed with since I was six years old. I have to put my passion on the back burner in order to focus on creating a career for myself which will allow me to support my expensive hobby. My horse is my number one, and he always will be, but for now, he gets to spend a little more time being a horse and a little less time being an athlete.
While I love my school, my job, and my friends here in Flint, every now and then when I’m scrolling through Instagram or driving by expensive equestrian facilities, I get a little sad. My experience at my current school is wonderful, but I can’t help but wonder if I would have been happier down south with my horse and with me focusing all my after-class energy on being an athlete. I have to tell myself, financially and as far as my future goes, I made the right decision, and I am on track for a bright future filled with beautiful horses.
I think it’s important to remember that it’s normal to have to take a step back from our sport. Whether it be for college or other reasons, many of us make that choice every day. Riding is a rich man’s sport, and it is no secret that the richest seem to be the best. It isn’t typical to make this sport a number one priority. It can be discouraging to see students put post-secondary schooling off to pursue an equestrian career and show at WEF or HITS for weeks on end when you yourself can’t chase such dreams. I, for one, feel my heart break a little when I find my Tiffin University acceptance letter or my signed Letter of Intent that was never sent. It makes me sad seeing my saddle bag get dusty when all I want to do is work my tail off, but I have to remind myself not everyone can afford the luxuries of this sport. I am fortunate enough to have a place to keep my horse with little expense. I recognize not everyone is that lucky, and I count my blessing. More people than not have to work hard outside of the arena to be able to afford to be on the inside. You aren’t any less of a rider and you aren’t alone, so don’t let the pictures, the tweets, or the picturesque farms and arenas get to you. It’s not always as glamorous as it seems it should be.
The sacrifice I am making now will reward me in the future with a great career so that I can afford the luxury equestrian life I want so badly right now. Remember: It’s okay that you aren’t in the arena as much as you want to be right now. This struggle with be worth it five or ten years from now. I promise, and I am right there with you.
Mattie Stewart is a freshman at Kettering University studying Business Administration. She owns an Arabian gelding, Winchester, that she shows first level dressage at first level and hunter seat on the Arabian circuit as well as at local shows. She currently works as a student co-op in sales at an automotive supplier and hopes to pursue her MBA and a career in automotive marketing.