My fellow students are often surprised to learn that I have a horse while I am at university. It isn’t something that I particularly endeavour to tell people – partly because they don’t have any reason to need to know, and also due to the fact that I do not want to be on the receiving end of the judgemental attitude that equestrians are unfortunately often subject to.
Firstly, I would like to point out that this is not your average twenty-one-year-old student who happens to have a horse: Dakota does not belong to me (I have her on a part loan agreement) and as well as working every weekend I am also setting up and running my own business which fits around my university commitments.
Naturally, caring for Dakota is quite time consuming and this can, on occasion make things a little stressful – although I would say my time-keeping skills have definitely improved as a result!
So why did I decide to do this? Why not wait until after university to loan or even buy a horse of my own?
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to learn to ride. I can recall gazing out of car windows at every horse we passed, and consistently pestering my mum to take me for lessons. At the age of six I had a couple of lessons, and in the second one, lost my balance, fell and broke my arm.
One journey in an air ambulance, one night in hospital and some months of physiotherapy later and I was still asking for lessons, but my mum had witnessed the fall and was quite frankly terrified to let me ride again.
So, began a long eight years with intermittent lessons and many sad moments as I saw school friends going for their lessons and progressing, until at the age of fourteen, I finally persuaded my mum to let me try again.
The rest is history really. I could bore you with the details of how I have struggled with my confidence on horseback, or how I met some amazing people who taught me how to ride ‘real’ horses and gave me so many amazing experiences, but this blog post might end up turning into a novel if I do that!
What you need to know is that in that time, a lot of things changed, but what never changed was my longing to learn to ride well and to have a horse of my own.
During sixth form, I had periods of time where I was unable to ride due to horses being out of action or bad weather, and then when I left home for the first time I found that lessons in riding schools were incredibly expensive, and I didn’t seem to get an awful lot out of them. I can honestly say that the lack of horses in my life made me highly miserable, and when I returned home again, finding horses to ride was a huge priority.
When I made the decision to leave home for the second time and return to studying, I knew I couldn’t give horses up again. Just a few weeks after I had moved out, I saw Dakota’s advert and (after initially discounting it, thinking she would be too difficult for me) I went to try her.
Now I ride her three-four times a week, I can take lessons whenever I want (well, when my bank account allows it) and am on a lovely yard surrounded by friendly, encouraging people.
The benefit of this to my mental health has been enormous. When I am at the yard, I can momentarily forget about other things and just enjoy where I am. Building a relationship and achieving new things with Dakota has built my confidence both around horses and in other areas of my life. The exercise means I can usually get to sleep more easily than I used to be able to, and I rarely have a day where I don’t want to get up.
Dakota isn’t the easiest horse to ride; I am very fortunate in that she is not naughty and doesn’t buck or rear, but due to her being a trotter she will rush if given half a chance, and she is also quite easily excited!
This combination is perfect for me: I know she is safe enough that I am not going to be put at risk, but she is challenging enough to enable me to improve my riding. I have many aspirations for things I would like to achieve with Dakota, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity.
It definitely isn’t always easy, and there have been moments where I’ve panicked and wondered how on earth I’m going to manage to look after the horse, go to work and manage to get my studying done, but somehow, I made it through the first semester with good results, so I guess it can be done!