What Makes an Adult Amateur?

I started to give myself permission to be grateful for the fact that I go into my local shows with a horse I love more every time I ride her, a fun coach, and the absolutely best barn-family I could ask for. 

Something I’ve realized since coming into the horse world as an adult, is that the term “adult ammy” covers a broad spectrum of adult riders. 

In my head, when I first heard the term, I thought “this is me!”  An adult in my 30s, late to the game in the equestrian world, just trying to do my thing and not eat too much dirt… and maybe, if I was lucky, pick up a few ribbons at some local shows.  Spoiler alert – I’ve done about the same amount of both!

The more time I spent on social media, the more I was taken aback by how broadly this term can be applied.  I had no idea that those slick riders, with beautifully turned out horses, competing at swank venues were also considered an “adult amateur”.  These were people I watched compete, and went green with envy over, thinking how lucky they are and that they must have been riding their whole lives.

I’ll be honest – the revelation that a lot of the time this wasn’t the case, put me into a slump.

I immediately lowered my own standing in my mind by comparing myself to these folks.  I count myself incredibly lucky to ride with a talented and knowledgeable coach who spent time with some big names over in Europe.  I count myself lucky to be leasing my chestnut draft-cross mare for the last 4.5 years.  I also count myself lucky to have these opportunities at all!

But (and there’s always a but!) I suddenly felt that I didn’t fit the bill of an adult amateur any more.  I felt that this title should be reserved for those who had the swagger, the talent, and frankly, the means and connections to get to those big name shows. 

I felt like the country bumpkin next to the city mouse.  It was almost as if I’d lost a piece of my identity as a rider.  I looked at myself with my leased, rescued mare, my borrowed tack, half chaps and paddock boots, at local entry level shows, and instead of an “adult amateur” felt like an imposter.

Now, let me be clear, this piece is not to bemoan my circumstances.  I am privileged to be able to do what I do, and how I do it.  In the horse world, you don’t get anywhere without hard work, sweat, and the passion to carry you through those sometimes heart-wrenchingly challenging days.  I don’t care how much money or talent you have.  This was a clear situation of me wrongly holding myself up next to those riders, and finding myself lacking because I wasn’t doing what they’re doing, how they’re doing it.  Reading about people who have been in the saddle for 2 years and are jumping 1.0m courses made me feel like I was seriously lagging behind, or just plain a crappy rider, finding myself sometimes still fighting through a 2’3 division.

I’ve thought about this a lot periodically over the past year or so.  The more I thought about it, the more I accepted that I deserve to feel just as good on my rescued mare, as those other riders do on their top tier horses.  I started to give myself permission to be grateful for the fact that I go into my local shows with a horse I love more every time I ride her, a fun coach, and the absolutely best barn-family I could ask for. 

I started to give myself credit for ensuring my horse’s turnout was the best as I could pull off, as we don’t have grooms.  I started to give myself credit for working my way through the challenges of a powerful mare who isn’t always keen to go hunter-speed, without pro rides to tune her up.  I started to realize that I have just as much potential as my counterparts, and it’s only a matter of circumstance that truly separates us. 

And I also started to realize that somewhere along the line, there’s probably someone who has watched me, and was maybe a little envious.  Maybe its someone who can only lesson once or twice a month, instead of weekly.  Maybe its someone who can’t show at all, let alone get to some of the big ones.  Maybe its someone who feels pressured to hit the “big shows” but would love nothing more than to have fun, casual rides.  Maybe its childhood me, watching people ride from afar, heartbroken and convinced that they’d never get to do that.  That the one thing they wanted was out of reach.

(hello childhood me – you were wrong! Hooray!)

Regardless of where someone might fall in the broad scope of adult amateurs, we all have one thing in common – the love for our horses, and the passion to push ourselves to be better riders, and better stewards for our sport.  I have no doubt in my mind that if you threw a bunch of us into a room, we’d all come together and be able to share stories and laughs about this thing that brings us so much joy.  Regardless of whether we’re riding a course of poles, or 1.10m.

Being an adult ammy is HARD, no matter your circumstances. 

We all deserve credit for balancing adulting and riding, which oftentimes are in direct contention with each other.  We’ve all done a lot of late night and early morning laundry, worked a long hard day before heading off to a lesson, and have taken vacation days (or sick days… you know who you are!) to be able to do what we love.  So if you’ve ever been in this situation, I hope this encourages you to sit up, and cheer on your riding brothers and sisters no matter where they are in their journey.  And know that I’m cheering for you too.

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