I learned to ride in the 90’s, a lifetime ago. Back then the majority of riders were girls, there was only one boy on the whole yard and at that time the differences between the haves and the have nots were immensely noticeable.
The first time it really affected me was at an Inter-schools Show jumping competition, while getting my hairy riding-school pony tacked up for my round, full of anxiety and so nervous I’d already puked twice, I could barely talk. I had noticed two girls looking and caught their eye, they turned away giggling and I instantly knew they are laughing at my outfit. Second hand jods that had been washed so much they are almost see through, they were the only pair I had so I wore them 24/7, a pair of cheap rubber boots pretending to be riding boots, a borrowed jacket that’s too big. I always looked a bit makeshift at shows and it was no surprise to me that day that my round went terribly and I fell off. This kind of situation was repeated on and off during the years I rode, from comments about my clothes or accessories to my riding ability and got worse as I got older. I eventually quit riding and left horses behind for a while.
When I did come back into horses I had been gone from the community for a very long time. I found myself with an 11 month old Connemara, initially I was wary of seeking out other horsey people or looking for help (due in large part to my previous experiences). I spent a long time being stubborn trying to handle a wild colt by myself. I was fortunate that I met a very kind lady who offered me knowledge and help and things took off from there. I slowly got back riding again. I did my first hunter trials and was introduced to hunting which I loved. Each time I went out with a group I was amazed and overjoyed at the calibre of people that I met, unused to this level of support I embraced it and found what it was to really enjoy the sport.
Fast forward to 2022, I still carry that joy and positivity when I go out and about with my horse. I learned to pay it forward. Attending my first big riding club show this year I was in my element with all of these positive, happy, supportive, funny and friendly people, the majority of which are women. I will always remember that anxious and unhappy little girl I was, and I promised her I would do better for her, for my friends and for future generations of girls and women. My mission in life is to be a cheerleader for our sport, for our women – you will find me at the start gate with all the encouragement you need, and maybe even a lollipop!