On Having to Make Tough Choices

If there is ever a struggle that equestrians know, it is the struggle of a financial sort. Honestly, horses may as well eat money with the copious amounts of cash they require. I don’t even own a horse, and I’m still too broke to even attempt the sport these days. Many of my friends are…lucky? fortunate? insane? enough to own a horse or multiple horses. Part of me is jealous of them because they get to keep riding and competing. They post pictures to Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat. They always have new tack or have excuses to go to Dover and shop for more stuff for their horses.

Me? Not so much.

Higher education is expensive. It’s stupid expensive. (And that is a colloquialism coming from someone who hates using the adjective “stupid” as an adverb to describe another adjective. But that’s how asinine the prices are.) I am fortunate enough that my parents cover my tuition and bills. But with no real paying job to cover my spending money, I have no way of being able to actively continue training at the moment. And that freaking kills me. I see these pictures and I hear these recounts of finding unbelievably low priced Ariat boots or a used saddle that magically fits the impossible to fit horse. And I get so jealous that I feel so distant from this world that I love so much.

But then I think again. My parents pay for me to live in my quiet little one bedroom, one bathroom duplex with a fenced yard for my dog. Why? Because I’ve had roommate issues since I started college. I’m a hard person to live with; ask anyone in my family. (Strangely enough, I never had issues when I lived at camp.) That’s expensive.

Then I think about the application fees and test fees for my graduate admissions process. Plus eventually I’ll have to track down a place to live while I’m in grad school, and we all know I can’t afford that kind of travel on my own. My parents are helping me with that too.

So I’ve had to make choices. It’s all a part of growing up, unfortunately.

I remember reading an article about Reed Kessler when she had been selected for the 2012 Olympic team. Her trainer Katie Monahan-Prudent was quoted as saying, “They want everything, they want to go to college, they want to travel… You don’t get to the Olympics with that attitude. You can’t have it all.” More importantly, I remember how fucking angry that quote made me. I know so many riders who would have killed for the opportunities that Reed has had her entire life. I could easily make this some sort of stance on classes and finances, but I’ll spare you my rant. (I’ve done far too much of that this election anyways).

Mrs. Monahan-Prudent, Ms. Kessler, not all of us have had the fortune y’all have had.

Some of us career-lesson riders, IEA alumni, and summer camp riders have not had the ability to continue on because our parents weren’t multi-billionaires who could afford horses of the calibre necessary to continue competing at that level. The more the rails go up or the more complex the movements required of a horse, the morse expensive its price tag becomes, and the more maintenance an athlete of that level requires. So no, you’re absolutely correct, Katie: you can’t have it all. But your quote is ignorant. You make it seem as though we can all easily afford the grand prix route. We can’t. Some of us have to make the decision to go to college because our parents can’t buy us farms and horses to go compete in Europe or Canada for three months. We can’t winter in Florida and summer in New York or Kentucky because we need to prepare for a future that we can support ourselves and maybe a horse.

And sometimes, we have to make the conscious decision to put our competitive hobbies, even riding itself, aside in pursuit of paying the bills.

Sometimes, to get it all later, we have to make the decision for education now.

And it sucks. But this isn’t goodbye to riding; it’s “I’ll be back soon.”


Clinic Report: Nona Garson, July 26 and 27

Recently, I had the absolute delight of getting to audit a clinic co-hosted by my old trainer Megan. It’s always a treat to see Megan, since she’s known me for so long now. When Megan was a junior, she trained with Nona Garson, so she provided a unique insight on Nona’s methods to me (which really enriched my auditing experience). I wish I had gotten to ride in it, because I’m more of a kinesthetic learner, but seeing as I haven’t ridden in several months (or jumped in over a year), that probably wouldn’t have been a great idea. Also, I’m still trying to scrape together money to pay a super speeder ticket, oops. Not a fun time, y’all.


Photo © Ariel Harper — I adore this pair! The horse’s name is “There’s the Silver Lining.” Also, can we talk about this girl’s heels?

Some very brief notes on Nona:

  • She’s freakin tough, y’all. Oh my god.
  • She has high expectations, as she should.
  • She doesn’t like Georgia heat, which is actual torture.
  • She says some very insightful things and some very funny things.

The clinic ran from 7:00 Am-5:00 Pm for two days. Your favorite blogger is not a morning person. It didn’t help that I had been to three doctors on Monday and was subjected to vaccines, scratch tests, and blood draws. Spoonie life is no fun. I was able to show up for the afternoon portions and watch the more novice riders and greener horses, which was excellent. Skill wise, it was about where I would be. There was nothing to leave me starstruck with the riders jumping huge fences like my trainer Megan was earlier in the morning––though I am sad that I missed her ride because I wanted to watch her sale horse go around, who looks incredibly fun.


© Ariel Harper –– This horse was a saint. I’d like five of him.

I really did see some great riding. What wasn’t necessarily great, I saw riders who really and truly tried their hearts out in an impressive way. It’s never easy riding for a new trainer since they don’t know what you’ve struggled with, so I did feel bad for these girls in a slight way. Some of the riders got extremely frustrated but pushed themselves to keep going. Some of the horses got very confused or misinterpreted rider signals but kept trying. Nona had wise words for each of them.


© Ariel Harper –– Hi I’m obsessed with this horse. His name is Wasabi.

One of the concepts she hammered on again and again is one that is near and dear to my heart: “talk to her.” In the span of two hours, I heard her use this phrase no less than ten times. Riders got themselves so coiled up with stress or were so abrupt with their mounts that things got a little wibbly wobbly and turns grew harder or distances got fuzzier. Nona’s strategy of talking to the horse is really a brilliant and often overlooked one. Talking requires breathing, and breathing relieves stress. Think about it: how many activities can a person do without breathing? Technically, none. They tell me that oxygen stuff is pretty important to one’s longevity. In addition to the whole breathing thing, the talking is another way of communicating with the horse. (What a concept: talking is communication!) When your leg or your hands or your seat are not cutting it anymore, talking is one more way to get the horse to listen to you. They are animals and can just as frustrated as we can. Sometimes, all you need is a “hey, it’s cool”to settle your nerves. It’s beneficial to horse and rider.

The way that Nona reminds a rider to release over the fences is by telling them to “balance up.” This is where she wants the riders to place their palms on the horse’s neck, as opposed to their knuckles, for better control and balance. This keeps riders from laying on their horse’s necks, which only makes their job harder. Yes, they’re thousand pound animals and we’re far from, but still… You try jumping with ten percent of your body weight laying on your spine! It’s not easy! This pulls rails or makes distances weird and messes with a horse’s bascule.


© Ariel Harper — Saint horse again. I love his expression. He’s so sweet ❤

An exercise that she used for every group was halting in the corner after a jump. This is a great exercise because it helps remind riders to use the arena!! Especially in jumpers, it’s so common to see horses and riders diving around corners and neglecting all this space that gives them time to collect their horses or themselves and reset the pace and rhythm. Why would anyone waste those precious moments? The halt in the corner also gives control and focus. It’s a clear goal, and one can never drill the basics too often because they are the foundation of what makes a solid rider.

Overall, the clinic was exceptionally educational. I would love to audit or ride in one of her clinics again. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to do just that (because hooooo boy was that riding fee hefty). Until then, I’ll be wasting away in Ammy-land or grad school. Shannondale Farm was the host facility––holy crap, it was beautiful. All photography at the clinic, as well as in this post, is copyrighted to Ariel Harper Photography, and you should follow her stuff because it’s amazing.

Coming Soon!

I have a very special report on a clinic I audited the last couple days with Nona Garson! I can’t wait to share all that I’ve learned. Plus there will be amazing, original photography!

What is time off? I don’t have that. 

Guys, this summer has been crazy. As soon as I finished my spring classes, I had a major job for my freelance writing business. It took literally my entire week between spring classes ending and summer classes starting, but that big ole paycheck makes my growing credit card debt much happier. Adulting is HARD. Since then, I’ve been taking summer classes. I’m taking four 3-credit hour classes this summer in ten weeks. (Two classes per five weeks!) it’s been crazy. But after this summer, I will be entirely done with my minor, which puts me that much closer to graduation!

Don’t worry, though. I’ve squeezed in some pony time when I can. My friend Heather recently moved her retirees back up to Atlanta, so we’ve gone to see them a couple times. There is nothing better than a good bareback ride to remind me why I ride at all. Ariel (the paint) and Flame (the chestnut) always put a smile on my face. It helps that their mom is one of my favorite people on the planet.

Prepare for pony picture spam. 

Flamey Flame!

Ariel and Flame in their pasture. (22 acres!!)

Heather and Ariel cuddling… Mostly because Heather has cookies.

This picture makes me so happy.

Squirt is the cutest!

Ariel and Flame’s pasture buds.

Last time I was home in Atlanta, I also got to see Eliza, who was my freshman roommate at my first college. Eliza has always been kind enough to share her horses with me whenever I need, plus we always have some crazy adventures. Eliza is one of those lucky people who just *gets* my sense of humor, so we always have a great time. Recently, she’s been bringing along her upper level prospect, Dauntless B. He’s like a big dinosaur who has the good attitude of Chuckie the doll and the movement of poetry–when he is sound. Poor Eliza has been trying to keep this goober sound for so long, but Danny enjoys things like cutting his leg open in the pasture or pulling shoes and kicking himself. Let’s just say Danny is lucky he’s cute.


Best snapchat ever! 😀

During my week home, on top of work, I also had a close family friend pass away unexpectedly. Eliza’s cure was a ride on her mare, my favorite Indie!


Y’all remember how hard Courtney worked in October to finally (and successfully) teach me how to ride leg to hand? Well, my muscles weakened. But I was still able to ride Indi like that for the most part. I was so excited! Eliza and her mom, who have seen me ride for YEARS, both commented on how I had improved in that small aspect alone. It was one of my prouder learning moments. My only regret was forgetting to ask Eliza’s mom to snap some video for me. But I did get some love bug pictures, so all is not lost.


Indie hugs, featuring Boo’s adorable head. 

Other than horses and school, your favorite blogger has been chronically ill yet again. I have seen 10 doctors since my summer started May 6. I’ve also had surgery for a pilonidal cyst. (No surgery pictures this time! I promise! I was in and out in about twenty minutes.) My mom has been taking good care of me. If you have had a pilonidal cyst, you know how excruciating they can be. If not, look it up. They’re gross. It’s made everything painful: driving, sitting, lying down, standing up, wearing pants with thick seams, wearing heels, and pretty much anything else you can think of. But I’m nearly healed now. I even survived my best friend from school’s wedding with it. She was a beautiful bride, and yes I cried the entire ceremony.


Photo credit to the amazing Sarah Diller Photography! I was finally tall for once, y’all! 😀

I’m hoping once I get this round of medical issues taken care of that I can get back out and continue training with Courtney. Stay tuned. I’m dying of pony withdrawal!

In (Late) Celebration of International Lesson Horse Day!

So, this is a day late, but some of us have finals to prepare for before blogging, unfortunately! I cannot say thank you enough for everyone’s continued support. It is incredibly humbling to see my blog post finding its way all over again, and I love how something like that–the idea of the average day in the life of a lesson horse–unites this community from all over the world. It really reminds me why so many of my friends are horse people: they just get me, the way that non horse people don’t.

Big shout out to Horse Nation and Jumper Nation for sharing the post again. It really makes me feel loved, which is always so helpful to me and my gloomy mind. ❤ [note: I opened a tab and googled the title “So God Made a Lesson Horse” … First result. I did that. Something I wrote is a first google result!!! O_O #dead #overwhelmed]

When I presented the project yesterday, I was proudly rocking one of my favorite t-shirts from a new brand that some of you might be following on Instagram… Ride Heels Down! I’m even on her website now. Check me out in my super luxurious Newton building classroom presentation on RHD’s Photos page. You can buy one of these awesome shirts, among some other rockin’ designs, here! If you can’t buy local, buy from small businesses! (I did both. Teehee!)

/Shameless plug.

ANYWHO. The much promised project. I talked to my department head, juuuust to be safe. Plus, he’s a pretty cool guy. But he advised me that I should not share it until after the grade is finalized because he does not want the presentation or report to appear plagiarized in any fashion. So once my grades are final, I PROMISE I SWEAR I CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO DIE that I will post some highlights and the good stuff. No worries. I think y’all will really like it!

Much love, everyone. Soon, soon, oh lord so soon, my semester from hades is over! I cannot wait to get back to the barn and spend some time with the greatest creatures on the planet. Thank you for your continued readership and your continued patience. I can honestly say that all of you guys keep me going through the tough times.


Seriously, I would hug all of you if you let me.