Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Young Riders: A Reflection

This past weekend, I made my first visit back to the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships since my own ill-fated trip there as a competitor with Dually back in 2007. It was a strange experience for me to come back to this competition. Between my own failed experience in 2007 to the moment I aged out in 2010, I can safely say that Young Riders was in my mind every time I got on a horse, ever. I have not yet ever wanted anything more in my entire life, and the weeks where I realized that the dream was, at last, at an end, were unbelievably crushing. I had never staked so much and lost.

(Me and Dually at Young Riders in 2007)

Now, two years out, the amount of suffering that I put into going to Young Riders seems almost mystifying. I remember feeling like my entire worth as a human being was bundled up in standing on the podium, like I would somehow be a better person if I had one of those little US shields with the "YR" stitched in the middle on my jacket. That to fail meant to fail utterly, and to be denied a future in the sport I love so much.

That, of course, is ridiculous. I certainly did not stop improving after my last Young Riders came and went without me; in fact, I like to think I am a considerably better all around rider and horseman than I was when I was trying to qualify. I certainly didn't lose any of my love for horses, and indeed being able to ride without the constant pressure of making Young Riders was refreshing and wonderful, and made me appreciate my equine partners even more. And I certainly became no less of a person for failing to qualify (though admittedly I was probably pretty hard to be around for a while there right when I realized it wasn't going to happen... sorry about that, World).

(Yeah... pretty sure I can ride a little better than I did then)

Coming back to Young Riders as a spectator, I wish I could say that to every disappointed-looking kid I saw (and there were many). Life does not end with Young Riders, and though it is great to win, it is, at the the end of the day, just another horse show. There is a lifetime of victory gallops to aim for if that is what you want; there is also a lifetime of enjoying horses in a not as competitive setting as well.

(Big D... the love of my life)

Even for young riders for whom NAJYRC marks the end of parental financial support (which obviously puts an understandable pressure on getting to the big show), just remember: if you truly want to ride again, it can happen. It might take 10 or 15 years to get to a place in your life where horses are a possibility, but 10 or 15 years is longer than an eternity. That is what makes riding so special: it is a sport you can do, and enjoy, for an entire lifetime.

I deeply enjoyed my return to Young Riders, despite the bittersweet feelings it brought. It was legitimately exciting to see these teenagers and young adults achieve the dreams that, as I know from personal experience, they've treasured for a long, long time. I only wish there was more of a sense of balance: the celebration that these wins deserved, but also the acknowledgement that Young Riders, and even a medal at Young Riders, is but one tiny piece in the overall equestrian experience.

Maybe someday.


Alighieri said...

I agree with your sentiments about Young Riders. I was lucky enough (lucky!) to not have had a shot in hell at attending, since I didn't get my first horse until I was almost aged out. I was generally blissfully unaware of YR until I started riding at my barn, where YR was often the end all, be all. To watch the crushing disappointment some of these kids go through, I tried to tell them that really, really, YR was not the end game. I didn't often get through, though.

On another note, I saw you taking photos at the coffin during the 2** and meant to say hi, but you'd disappeared before I got a chance!

Katherine Erickson said...

Oh bummer, I would have loved to have met you! I was on a mission to get good photos that day, though, so I might have been a bit distracted, haha.

AnEnglishRider said...

I'm really glad I never heard of young riders, or A shows (since I ride at a hunter barn now) until... basically this year. I feel like I didn't miss out on anything by never showing, and having to work to ride just made it a normal part of my life that I knew how to afford riding and horses without my parents input.

Someday though, someday I will show, and I can't wait.

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