Many of you do not know that in my previous life I was immersed in the world of horses. Even though that all ended more than half my life ago, I still think of myself as a horse person but no longer define myself that way. It wasn’t just a phase. Everything, including boys, always took second place to the horses. For several years it was a way of life for my Mom, Dad and I.
Yep, that's me 23 years ago. Photo by Jennifer Bierdz
My Mom has always loved horses, but more than that, she is an expert in pedigree, conformation and horse care. She knows more in those areas than I can ever hope to, yet we both share the love for the animal itself. My Dad was our driver, logistics expert and supportive husband/father. He was a good student of the horse show world, learning more than he probably ever wanted to about the horses.
Though my Mom had horses earlier in her life, the first horse our family purchased arrived when I was just nine years old. She was a sweet Purebred Arabian mare who took care of me as much as we did her. She was an old broodmare who really didn’t want to work, but was a kind to this clumsy young rider. She was the color of a shiny copper penny and gave birth to the first foal we ever had. I showed her for two years at 4-H and local shows, forever hooked thereafter.
I have always felt a bit like an outsider in life. Even to this day I often don’t feel like I fit in, but high school was probably the highlight of my self-doubt and consciousness. I would have given just about anything to be part of the popular crowd, but at the time I was too shy to even approach them. What I did have though, were the horses. The horses provided me with confidence, experiences and a focus. Those four years we worked our way up through three show horses, and moved up from 4-H and local shows to the Class A Arabian and National Show Horse shows with hopes to show at the Nationals.
Was I the best at what I did? Not even close. I have always had some apprehension when riding, even after years of doing so. Certainly the horses sensed that. But I personally defined myself as an equestrian. It was the one thing that I knew I did well, and the one place I always felt I fit in.
We travelled the Midwest with the horses, and did fairly well for our situation. I love horses, caring for them, smelling them, just scratching their necks. But the thrill of the competition was an addiction. I loved the shows, the rush of adrenaline as we entered the show ring, the lights in the coliseum at night and the cheers of the crowd. It was intoxicating. I craved to be in that show ring, not because I wanted attention, but because of the magic of the communication of horse and rider; Because of the thrill of the moment, like the montages in every sports movie ever made. It is an experience I have been unable to duplicate.
My freshman year of college was difficult for me. I was homesick, and looking back now I realize that not only did I miss my family, I missed our horses and what the horses meant to my existence. That autumn, I was to show at the National Show Horse Finals, but my dear horse injured a tendon ending our show season prematurely. I showed in a couple of classes over the next few years, but in reality, that was when my horse show life ended.
For a decade my identity was tied to the world of horses, and much like ripping off a bandage, it was gone in an instant. I was surrounded by peers who were still showing, my family would go to shows as spectators, but we were no longer “horse people.”
I am not upset that the shows did not continue. I understand why. I was a grown woman, not living at home, no longer expecting my parents to support my
habit hobby. But nevertheless, it took many years to create a new identity for myself that I could love. I now sometimes share that I used to show horses, when we watch a show I am nostalgic for what I once had, but I am no longer defined by it.
Today I am a wife, a mom, a daughter, a friend, a gardener and now hopefully, a writer. Some nights I still have dreams that I am showing one of my old dear show horses, dreams that once made me sad. But now I have learned to cherish those dreams as my chance to remember my old equine friends, and a way to experience the thrill of the show ring once again.