I’m excited to finally share this post and introduce you to the four-legged friend that has captured my heart (and stolen my Saturdays). Meet the sweetest Quarter Horse who has been a gentle and patient partner as I re-enter the horse world 15 years after having been an avid equestrian. I couldn’t even begin to describe to you what returning to riding has meant to me. It’s something I never dreamed would be possible in my adult life due to the expense and extensive time commitment required. But when a friend asked if I wanted to help out with some riding, without hesitation, I emphatically said, Yes!
Of course, it’s been a while since I’ve ridden regularly (hopping on a horse here and there for a trail ride doesn’t exactly count). So, my first order of business was to try and dig up some of my old riding gear (you know, a helmet, riding pants, paddock boots, and chaps) to get me going. Turns out, most of those items that I used to own were long gone, which required an expensive investment to be made right out of the gate. The tack store where I once spent so much of my hard-earned money now seemed like such a foreign land with a currency that I didn’t have an exchange rate for. There I was, standing in the store thinking, “Geez, the last time I bought paddock boots, they were not nearly this expensive.” A couple of necessary items later, and that week’s paycheck was gone in 60 seconds.
Almost immediately after agreeing to start riding, the doubt crept in. Do I have time for this? Will I feel the same way about the sport as I did when I was younger? Am I going to be any good? I started horseback riding as a young kid in summer camp. The camp I was attending would bring horses in once a month, and we would each get a turn riding western. I never cared for western riding, but those days when the horses would come were always my favorite days at camp. Eventually, after enough time begging my mother to get me a horse, she suggested we look for an equestrian camp the next summer where I could get more actual riding time in. Keep in mind we lived in Nassau County, not exactly the horse capital of Long Island. And I’m pretty sure all of the neighborhood kids thought I was a little off when they would come over for a play date, and I would be having a “horse-less horse show” in the backyard (it’s literally an obstacle course that you jump over on foot—Google it!).
The next summer came, and I started riding at Thomas School of Horsemanship in Melville, NY, what would become my home away from home for the next five years. There, I would learn everything about horse care—grooming, tacking, and feeding—and I would eventually earn a blue ribbon on a Palomino named Timon at my first horse show. Yes, this was exactly what I was meant to do. I had been bitten by the equestrian bug and life would never be the same.
For more than decade, I took riding lessons year-round, leased horses, and eventually owned my first horse—named Steely Dan. I went to horse shows, worked with trainers, and spent every waking minute I wasn’t in school or sleeping at the barn. By the time I got to college, owning a horse and riding daily just wasn’t feasible, and I was at a point in my life where I was ready to take a break from the sport that had given me so much. I credit being an equestrian with my work ethic, sense of loyalty, and the ability to understand non-verbal emotions. Riding helped me overcome issues with anxiety as a child, made me a more disciplined student, and gave me a strong network of friends. To me, horseback riding wasn’t just a sport it was a lifestyle that I felt privileged to be a part of. I know I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without having had horses in my life.
Now that you know a little bit more about my backstory as an equestrian, let me tell you why it was the right time to return to riding. Since the start of the pandemic, most of the things I used to enjoy are still on hold. There are no workout classes, no going out to restaurants, and no getting together with people. I’ve gotten used to working at home during the week and having limited interactions with friends on the weekends. And honestly, it was starting to get to me. I feel fortunate that this opportunity to ride came up—not just to get me out of the house but also to help me return to something that meant so much to me for so long. I could never express the bond between a horse and rider, but I found this quote, and it resonated with me.
“At its finest, rider and horse are joined not by tack, but by trust. Each is totally reliant upon the other. Each is the selfless guardian of the other’s very well-being.”
So, how did I feel being back in the saddle again? Honestly, amazing. It was one of those moments where I questioned why I ever stopped riding in the first place. It felt very natural to be back at the barn, and this horse reminded me of my first horse, Steely, a trusted partner. Early on, I knew this horse would be a solid mount who would take care of me. In return, he asks for nothing more than a bag of carrots after each ride. Every Saturday when I arrive at the barn, I can find this loving four-legged creature in his paddock. He knows nothing of the week I’ve had or what my morning was like, yet he looks at me with those sweet brown eyes and silently welcomes me into his world. For those moments, I am most grateful for his companionship.
I’ve been back to riding for a little over a month now, and while I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent at the barn, my body can’t say the same for every minute I’ve spent in the saddle. It’s made me think back to the days when I was an avid equestrian and used to be able to ride 10 horses a day. Now I wonder how the heck I did it all—and went to school. But the days of soreness that follow each ride are well worth it. For at the end of every long week, I know there will be this majestic creature waiting for me and looking forward to our next adventure together.
I am so happy for you Vanessa. You look at peace walking with Alex. Alex found his partner for life. Lol
Best of Everything,,
Vanessa Steil says