It’s Supposed to be Fun
By April D. Ray
I have been riding since I was six years old, which means I have been riding for, let’s just say, a long time. Okay, I will admit that I have been lucky enough to call myself a horseback rider for nearly 29 years now. I started taking lessons after my parents got tired of me begging, and sent me and my older sister to a nearby stable. Once a week lessons eventually turned into working at the barn to earn more riding privileges and in general spending more time at the farm.
As the years went by, my involvement in the sport grow. I was working, leasing, horse showing, and doing whatever I could to spend more time at the stables. Along with a number of friends, I was lucky enough to have a great place to call our second home - Stratford Stables in Victoria, BC. We worked there, rode there, and probably spent more time there than at our own homes. In addition to working and riding, we also swam in the pool, played Ouija board in the back tack room and hide-and-seek all over the farm. And we had so much fun with it all. I look back at those years knowing how lucky we were, and with incredible warmth in my heart and a smile on my face.
As I got older, I knew I wanted to work with horses for a living. At 18 I took a gap year and worked at an all-girls boarding school that had an equestrian program. It was such a great opportunity and in exchange for working my butt off I got to live in another country, earn my British Horse Society Assistant Instructor (BHSAI) qualification, and travel all over the world. I met a lot of great horses and horse people alike. And it was fun, not always but enough to make it all worthwhile.
When I came home to Canada I had a few jobs before I landed a position managing a new barn here in Victoria. It was an amazing opportunity and one I am still grateful for. So much has happened in the nearly ten years since then but no matter what, horses have always been part of my life. During the times when I had to step away, I always knew that I would step back in when the timing was right. No matter what happens in my life I know that horses will always be there, even if just a small whisper in my ear.
I was riding and competing a couple of years ago, teaching and working pretty hard to be able to do it all. I was at a horse show and over that entire season I had been putting such crippling pressure on myself to do well, so much so that in fact I did horribly. One day my parents came out to watch me ride. No matter how old I am, I always want to make my parents proud. I want them to see that all the blood, sweat, tears, and heartbreak they’ve witnessed over the years is worth it. And sure enough, I had terrible rounds that day. I had put so much insurmountable pressure on myself that I couldn’t even really function. I had a great horse under me, but he pretty much told me that if I wasn’t going to try then neither was he. I abandoned the skills I had worked so hard to build, and the worst part of it all was that I was having a terrible time.
Razz and I in one of our better moments. Photo: Ella DeGea Photography
My parents came back to meet me at the barn and I had tears in my eyes. I beat myself up. I talked about what a horrible job I was doing and how I was letting my horse down. And in turn I was asked, “Why are you doing this? If you aren’t having fun maybe you shouldn’t be here.” Because after all – isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about? Everyone’s version of fun is different. Maybe you think it’s fun to learn a new skill with your horse or go for a trail ride. Maybe it’s the perfect hunter round that fills your spirit, or a fast and clean jumper round that makes your heart go pitter patter. Regardless, for me I had lost it all. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. The farthest thing from my mind was having fun.
Now don’t get me wrong. I know that this sport is full of hard work, sacrifices, and tough days. But if there isn’t any fun to go along with that you have to start to question your motives and commitment to it. We all work way too hard and pay far too much money to be involved in this sport to not have a little (or a lot) of joy now and then. In the past I have taught students who were so crippled with fear or anxiety that I wondered why they continued to ride. I’ve seen riders who just didn’t seem to enjoy themselves in general. It’s easy for me to say to them, “It’s supposed to be fun!” and if it isn’t it’s time to reevaluate. And now I get to do just that for myself.
I am the proud owner of a three-year-old mare and she is really, really special. But whereas with my last horse my goal was to make him my big jumper, my goals have changed dramatically with this new one. I want to have fun. And I want her to have fun doing whatever it is we do. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that yes, I would like her to be a jumper. Her mom was a phenomenal one and I do hope that she follows in her mother’s footsteps. But I am placing no huge expectations on her or on myself. I have learned the hard way that doing so for me usually results in disappointment and a lot of heartbreak. This time I want to have fun. I want her to be happy and healthy and I am making that my priority. Because at the end of the day, if you aren’t having fun, then why are you doing it at all?
I hope you can all join me on my journey to find the fun again.
“Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun.” ~ Randy Pausch
Riding in a tutu just because = FUN!