I was flipping through a magazine today we got from UGA’s Athletic Department. It offered summaries of the past season for various varsity sports. To my delight, the Equestrian Team was the first sport highlighted, with a huge color photo of a rider on horseback jumping a fence.
For some reason, I also dreamed about the team last night. I dreamed I was at a new college, and was joining the team there. I was nervous about all new people and horses, but I was excited about riding again.
All this made me start thinking. And missing it all. I am so proud of my time with the team, more proud than I am of my degree, anything I ever did with the sorority or any other classes or groups. Is that sad? I don’t think so.
I never doubted I could do those other things. But who would’ve believed I could’ve been on an Equestrian Team? My only experience had been an occasional rent-for-an-hour ride on vacation or weekends.
The team gave me so much. I’d like to think I gave back, but I don’t think I could ever give back enough. It gave me confidence, friendship, and most of all, time with the animals I love.
And it gave me Joker. Anytime I think of the team, I always think of him. That summer I spent leasing him was a wonderful summer. People tease me about that summer being a waste. I stayed in Athens and worked in a yogurt store – not what you’d call useful experience. But the summer was very useful.
When I first rode Joker, I was terrified of him. But my coach kept asking me to ride him again. Before long, I got to know him, and he got to know me. And he wasn’t scary anymore. He was amazing.
He was the most forgiving animal. I would take him over jumps, holding the reins all wrong, pulling in his face. But next time, he’d go right back over it again, forgiving me for my inexperience, never hesitating. And he trusted me enough to overcome some of his own fears. He’d stand quietly while someone trimmed his ears with an electric shaver as long as I stood in front of him and talked with him. He’d only do it for me. Before, he’d toss his head and refuse to allow anyone to touch his ears. But I had earned his trust, and that meant a great deal to me.
Sometimes if I didn’t have time to ride, I’d just go to barn to feed him. I’d lie in the grass while he happily munched his feed, and talk to him. The other people at the barn probably thought I was nuts, but maybe they understood. They love horses, too. He died a few years ago, and I miss him very much.
I wonder, if I were a student now, would I have been able to join the team? Now that it’s a varsity sport, there is a lot more attention on the program and probably a lot more people wanting a piece of it. I wonder if the girls on the team now know how easy they have it? No fundraising, no more hosting meets in a muddy ring in a barn too small for the teams. No more riding to meets in little vans – they get the chartered busses now. Granted, they have new pressures. They have a workout schedule, lots more practices, etc. But I hope they know what a privilege it all is.
And I hope one day I can be around horses again. I hope I can find another bond like the one I felt with Joker. Maybe even stronger, because Joker and I were not together for long. But he taught me to believe in myself, and for that I am forever grateful.