The Horse That Built Me: Riding in College
Tahoe sent me off to college with a “world champion” belt buckle and an athletic scholarship. The climax to a four-year goal was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Followed by an overwhelming sense of “what do I do now?“
What do I work towards? Who do I want to become? What do I want to achieve?
Miranda Lambert penned a song about the house that built her. The lyrics portray her revisiting her childhood home to collect old memories – hoping that by touching the place she grew up, and reliving milestones in her life, she could stitch the pieces together to find herself.
This summer, I’ve attempted to revisit the horses that built me. The horses that I’ve owned and leased over the course of my life. The horses who shaped my experiences, personality, and childhood. I wanted to take their portraits to immortalize the memories I have with them.
Click here to read about my first horse, Sunny. When I was ready to step up from my second horse, Raz, my parents bought me a palomino paint named Junior. The last horse I owned, Tahoe, made all of my dreams come true.
The sting from the sale of Tahoe was temporarily numbed by the excitement of trotting off to college. In mid-August I flew 2,000 miles to make a new home in Fort Worth, Texas at Texas Christian University. I was ushered into long practices in the 100+ degree heat, 6 am workouts that nearly killed me, more study hall hours than I can count, and a full class schedule with a broad range of topics. Campus was beautiful, my teammates became my new best friends, and my legs were always sore.
But even though I was distracted with a full schedule, and even though I was being stretched mentally, physically and spiritually every single day, I could never quite shake the feeling that part of my heart was missing.
Riding in college was significantly different from anything I had done before, and I’m not sure anything can prepare someone for the experience. First, I was on a team and no longer riding for myself. With this came a new dimension of pressure I had never experienced before. Second, I rode the school’s horses and not my own (TCU owns about 40 donated horses). Every practice we would be assigned a horse to saddle and warm up, but we would end up riding several horses each afternoon. After practice, I always rushed off to study hall or night class and I was deeply missing the relational aspect of being an equestrian. I discovered that I didn’t love riding because I loved to compete, I loved riding because I loved my horse.
Going into winter break my freshman year was the hardest. Unprecedented stress from finals and stress from the team was piling up. Horses – once a refuge from stress – was now a stress trigger. In pouring my heart out to a senior on the team, Ashton Gerrish advised that I connect to a single horse on the team – a horse that I could treat as my very own. Even if I was assigned a different horse for the day, I needed to treat ‘my’ horse like a king, bringing him apples from the cafeteria, spending more time bathing him and grazing him, and spending more time bonding with him in the grooming rack.
Vinny, a little reining paint gelding, became ‘my horse’. Vinny was the sweetest horse I had ever met, and surely a team favorite. He was a bit of an ‘Eeyore’, but always tried his best and never argued. Allowing myself to emotionally attach to Vinny was the best thing I did. It gave me an escape from the pressure of school to just enjoy the presence and love of a horse again.
A few of my college roommates had nice DSLR cameras and I always loved nice pictures. After playing around with their cameras, I bought myself a Costco-kit Nikon camera for Christmas my senior year. I had no intention of being a “photographer”, but I had every intention of documenting my personal life with a high quality camera. After opening the box, I ran out to my front pasture to take images of the only thing that ever mattered to me: horses. And it wasn’t long before I was calling up my neighboring friends so that I could practice taking pictures of them with their horses. When I went back to school, I started carrying my camera to the barn and our equestrian competitions.
These are images I took of Vinny before I graduated. I even had Jake take some of us together so I could remember this little guy forever.