Two years ago, Katie Wood was gracious enough to let me post her essay [Why I Ride by Katie Wood]. This year’s winner is Rachel Wamble.
Requirements for the Outstanding Youth Award given by the American Saddlebred Horse Association of Alabama include academics, extra‐curricular activities, community service/volunteerism, and an essay about one of these topics: 1) What riding means to you OR 2) Ways in which you have promoted the American Saddlebred. Minimum of 250 words for Senior Applicants and 100 words for Junior Applicants. Prize is $1500 or a new saddle.
This is the winning essay in the Senior (13-17) Division. Rachel rides at Stepping Stone Farm. Welcome Rachel.
What Riding Means to Me
I started riding around the age of five and I immediately fell in love with it. I was that typical little girl excited to gallop on a pony. At this young age, I never dreamed the impact and the valuable life lessons I would learn. All my life I’ve felt different. I’ve always thought it was a bad thing, but I’ve come to realize that it’s definitely not. It’s a beautiful thing and here’s how I’ve come to this conclusion.
Life had become more complicated when I started middle school and I began to really see the changes. I began noticing how people looked at me and their negative perception of me. I wasn’t popular or considered pretty in middle school. I was the weird obsessive horse girl that everyone made jokes about and avoided. Others ignored me and I was made to feel inferior because I did not hold the same interests. Most other kids my age were focused on sports and academics. The girls mostly were interested in boys and focused on cheerleading or dance. I rode and showed horses but I also wanted to fit in. It was apparent how different I was compared to the other girls. Girls made fun of me for riding horses saying things like “that’s stupid”, “it’s easy”, and “riding does not take any skill or talent.” I was teased for spending time at the barn because “that’s nasty and dirty.” I was told I was ugly by both girls and boys. It was clear that I just didn’t “fit in”and it started to take a toll on me. I lacked self esteem and confidence. I remember sitting in my horse’s stall and just crying until I could not cry anymore. Bama would just listen, nudge me, and never judge me. He always showed me unconditional love. I thought I wanted to be “normal” and do normal girl things like dance and shopping. I changed my appearance and joined the dance team. I started treating my real friends like they were not important and tried to hide the fact that I rode horses. I had changed myself for other people and I became extremely unhappy. I started treating people badly just like those people treated me. I had tried to transform myself into what I thought others would like but deep down I was heartbroken. How could anyone like me if I did not even like myself? Why couldn’t people like the real me? Why did I need others’ approval? Why should I be embarrassed to tell people about something I love and that is such a huge part of who I really am? I would go to the barn after school, and I would feel like myself again. I wouldn’t feel the pressure to be someone who I wasn’t.
My freshman year of high school I had to make a choice: homeschool and attend the World’s Championship Horse Show that I had worked so hard to attend or bypass the World’s Championships and enter a high school where my dreams, hard work, and dedication would not be recognized or supported. Because, once again, someone didn’t support my riding or see the importance of riding, I chose to homeschool. I was angry about the situation at first but in the end, it was one of the best things for me. I was able to ride as much as I wanted and spend quality time with my horses. Although I was still unhappy, I started to fall in love with riding all over again. I started noticing the beauty in it all.
In late January of my freshman year, I came across a rescue horse on Facebook. He wasn’t pretty and he had obviously been neglected. I again was met with negative criticism and questions about why I would want such an ugly useless horse. I knew right then I had to save him. He was an outcast just like me. We were the same, broken and lost. I begged my mom and my trainer until they both agreed to let me bring him home. He was in pain and wasn’t very trusting but when we brought him home we bonded instantly. Lou would follow me around the barn and we would take naps together. I watched his health improve and become more trusting. It healed my soul to watch him go from pitiful and sad to happy and full of life. He was fixing me just like I was trying to fix him. I noticed a warmness in my heart when I opened my horses’ stalls and a relief that washed over me when I walked into the barn. I noticed that when I would ride I would feel like the most beautiful and happy girl in the world. That’s something I’d never felt anywhere else. It became clear what riding truly meant to me and I gained self esteem and confidence as I saw everything fall into place.
Months passed and Lou seemed to improve but soon came to a halt that October. Lou started having more health issues and started losing weight. After I returned from a horse show, he was very sick and deep down I knew, despite my best efforts, I could not save him. I miss him everyday but will always be thankful for the short time we had together. He had help heal me more than he’d ever know.
Riding has shown me so much. Riding has shown me what it’s like to be surrounded in love. My barn family is some of the most genuine, crazy, and caring people who I have been blessed to have in my life. They don’t care how grumpy I might be or what I look like. Riding has shown me what it’s like to be myself. I don’t have to pretend that I’m someone I’m not. I now understand that I should not take others’ opinions about my appearance or my choice to ride so seriously to the point I lose myself. Riding has taught me about winning, losing, sportsmanship, hurt, and loss. Riding has shown me disappointment but also how to overcome adversity. It has shown me responsibility and trust. Most importantly it has shown me who I am and who I’m not. I’m thankful for every opportunity and every horse or person I’ve come across. I’m truly happy and I hope I continue to be this way. If I hadn’t ever taken that one lesson when I was younger, I truly do believe I would be a completely different person than I am now. I don’t think I would be as happy or as strong in who I am. I’m so thankful for these life experiences because it has shaped me, changed me, and most importantly helped me figure out who I am.
Photos by Julie Wamble. The competition image is of a photo purchased from Doug Shiflet Photography. This is the same wonderful Wamble family that allows us to ride and drive the awesome Alvin. RS