When I was asked to write a piece, I really wasn’t sure what I would write about. The more I thought, the more I got lost until I decided to just be me and write about what I feel is such a relatable topic in our industry… the reason we do whatever we can for the love of the sport.
To give people who don’t know me a bit of background, I am a 22-year-old full-time college student with two horses. Since the age of 19, I have paid for the horses myself out of my own pocket. Of course, my Mam and Dad have always been there to dig me out if I was stuck for a vet or feed bill, but the majority of the time it was me footing the bills. For my first two years of college, I had the one and only Archie. I spent one, if not two, evenings a week travelling up and back to Limerick to ride or train while my friends would be out in the city. I had no interest in being out. All I wanted was to be home training and improving. Archie was an easy kept horse, but I felt as he was ageing and a younger horse was needed coming up the ranks. In my third year of college I worked with Archie and another horse, bought the horse box and the jeep and thought life was great. Every cent I had was spent on the horses. In November 2021, an opportunity arose to buy my very own. Like life wasn’t crazy enough studying in my final degree year I said sure why not and to be honest I never looked back.
One night I lay in bed, tired and drained. I had spent the day teaching lessons in 26 degree heat, a week post-surgery and an already 40 hour working week. I asked myself why? Why do I push myself so damn hard? Why can I not just be like other people and sit back in the evenings? Why am I not out tonight like everyone else my age? The more I thought about it the more questions I had. Why am I working so hard to pay for horses, their feet, their feed, shows and diesel yet most of my clothes are ripped and stained? Why am I not away in Greece or The Canaries like my friends? And Why do I feel like all I do is work to pay for the horses and yet I don’t have a cent in the bank? The more I thought, the more I realised that it wasn’t just me who felt like this. We are all in the same boat.
But this night in question I found myself battling with this idea for hours. Going forward and back, forward and back. Constantly asking myself the same question over and over again to get the same answer “because you love it”. I then found myself asking why? Why do you love it Niamh? What is it about it? Do you love rushing home every evening to ride two horses? to go home, eat at 9 or 10 at night and spend the one day off a week you have competing? Every time I found myself saying “because you love it”. I wish I could explain to non-horsey people what horses do for us. Horses are animals. They aren’t people. They don’t speak English. Yet, when we get up on them after a really tough day no matter what the reason they will always pull us through it. I may cry my eyes out as I gallop around the field and they just keep going till I say stop. I might be a ball of tension sending all the wrong signals but yet they will always try to understand. And I will always come back lighter, happier and ready to go again.
Horses are like a reset. For some they are their money spinner. They are their bread and butter. For me and many other amateurs, they are everything that keeps us sane even though they drive us insane. They are a completely different head space. The flick of a switch and everything changes.
So, I finally accepted the answer to MY why as “without them you wouldn’t be who you are”. I have spent nearly 17 years riding horses, and they have taught me more than just the skill of horse riding. They have taught me how to control fear, to be determined and brave and yet compassionate and empathetic and most importantly to get back up and keep going!
I often still find myself stuck asking that question again of ‘Why?’. I feel a lot of us horsey people do. Unfortunately for us, non-horsey people may struggle to understand why we invest so much into something that has such little financial return. But it isn’t for financial gain, we amateurs do it. We do it for the love of the sport and our animals. Would I change the last 2 years of my life for anything? No!! I love the life I have created for myself. I adore the two horses I have and would work double my hours if it was to keep them happy. No matter what you want to do in life, if you are convinced of your goal and determined to do whatever it takes you will reap the rewards. It’s days like July 10th in Greenogue with Archie pulled a plus 70% dressage score less than a year after injury or when Hettie placed 4th in the Eventing Starter Stakes only a few months into retraining.
Through teaching horse riding I have met so many amazing people. A lot of which have been kids with dreams and ambitions that I had at their age. I always tell them the same I now tell myself. If you want it, work for it and your dreams will become reality. Don’t listen to people putting you down saying you won’t. If you believe in yourself, you will always succeed. Initiatives like Equitas give people that support. We as a community are not individuals but a team!
My question of ‘Why’ opened my eyes to this. None of us are alone in feeling how we do. It is part of the sport, and that is the reason we all continue. As Ronald Duncan once said
"The horse. Here is nobility without conceit, friendship without envy and beauty without vanity. 'A willing servant, yet never a slave".
It is upon these words that our industry should be built both for horses but our riders as well. We are all a community working together with common goals we hope to achieve and must support each other through it to overcome the Why’s of the world!