If you’ve ever listened to Chris LeDoux’s, “National Finals Rodeo,” you’ll know this is a question he poses to himself, except from more of a full-time perspective. Presumably because of the countless miles on the road, the sleepless nights, the broken bones and the empty pockets.
But you don’t have to be a professional rodeo cowboy to ask this question, do you? In fact, I think if you ride in your spare time and maybe compete on the weekends, it is even harder to answer. You’re not asking the question while competing at the NFR. You’re asking it when you have to decide between groceries and hay, or when you’re working overtime to fund your horse habit and consequently have no time to ride.
And for what?
It isn’t your career. Your livelihood doesn’t depend on it. It’s a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun. And sometimes after countless hours of practice and countless dollars spent with no real, tangible results to show for it, it can be downright discouraging.
But then there are the fleeting moments of brilliance. Those times when you feel like one with your horse. When you can look in the mirror and smile with pride at how far you’ve come. A buckle, a check, a pat on the back from your trainer…
When things are tough, we ask the question. When things are good, it’s an easy one to answer.
As you can likely imagine (being that I created this blog and all), I do think this lifestyle is worthwhile for so many reasons. The question is, is it worth it to YOU? Is it worth YOUR struggle? If you can’t answer that question affirmatively, well, maybe it isn’t, and that’s ok.
Here’s why it’s worth it to me:
Horses are not a “have to,” they are a “want to,” so why do we spend so much time, effort and resources on them? I recently wrote in an email to my subscribers that having horses as a hobby is a huge commitment. While becoming proficient at golf might be challenging, I’ve never heard of a set of clubs needing to be fed $200 a ton alfalfa or costing its owners several thousand dollars in vet bills. Not to mention if you go without swinging them for a few weeks, they are likely going to behave the same way they did when you tucked them neatly in their bag.
But part of the appeal for me is the struggle. It’s not a commitment that just anyone is willing to make. To own horses. To commit to striving toward something that is so foreign to most people. That’s what makes horse people and the western community so special. That’s why we stick together. We’re all a bunch of weirdos who can relate to the other weirdos like us.
Those of us who skip vacations when we can’t find anyone to feed for us, who would prefer to clean the barn rather than the house, who will immediately wash our hands after pushing a cart at the grocery store, but eat a sandwich after getting off our horse without giving it a second thought.
The struggle might not always be fun, but it’s part of who we are. And a big part of what makes this lifestyle worthwhile.
I recently found out that I will be giving birth to a baby girl in just a few short months. To be clear, I’d known for awhile that I was pregnant (my first) and had already run through the gamut of emotions that goes along with that. But finding out this baby is a girl brought on a whole new set of worries and concerns coupled with excitement.
You see, I remember what it was like to be a young woman. The crazy mood swings and hormones, the fights with my mother, my dad looking at me like I was an alien from another planet…
Yes, I know I drove my parents crazy. But I also had an outlet that so many other women don’t – my horses (you did good, Mom and Dad, I could have been much worse).
I wasn’t an angel, but I got good grades, never got in any real trouble, and had very little boy drama (besides the stuff I created in my head). Plus, through high school rodeo, I made the absolute best friends I could ever hope to have. Same with cutting horse shows. Not just friends but extended family – for life. I am beyond blessed to be part of the community of people I am.
Not to mention, I know how to handle livestock, where my food comes from, and I don’t mind getting dirty. How many kids from the city can say that?
If I were to give up when I get tired of paying the feed bill or the vet bill or discouraged because I’m not progressing toward my goals as quickly as I’d like, my daughter would not have the same opportunity that I did. To love an animal so much, the thought of losing that animal makes it hard to breathe. To want to compete so badly that getting a bad grade and risking ineligibility was not even an option.
I didn’t need a boyfriend in high school to teach me about love. My mare had my heart.
I want that for my daughter. Anything less would be an injustice to her.
I am a horsewoman, a cowgirl, I’ve even been called a “good hand.” These aren’t titles that are given freely. They require commitment and sacrifice. They require hard work. They have to be earned.
Most importantly, we have to actually believe them ourselves, which is sometimes easier said than done.
What would I be without my history with horses and as a part of the western community? I honestly don’t know.
To be clear, I am many things beyond a horsewoman or a cowgirl, but none of them fill me with as much pride. And the struggle I mentioned above has a lot to do with that.
My identity is completely intertwined with what I can do with a horse, what goals I set for myself and actually accomplish, and how much I grow each year as a horsewoman and a cowgirl. After all, these titles can be revoked due to lack of use. Kind of like how you can lose your real estate license if you don’t do the continuing education.
Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. Especially mine. Isn’t she cute? But, a dog and a horse are very different animals. When my dog decides she wants to run off after a deer and ignore me when I call her, it’s not that big of a deal. I know she will eventually come back. If my horse were to do that, with me on his back, we would have a problem.
There is something to be said about silently communicating with an animal many times your size. One who could easily hurt you or kill you. You will likely never duplicate that relationship with any other living creature.
Just to be able to go for a leisurely trail ride is amazing in itself, but to take it a step beyond that where you can actually rope another animal from your saddle or lay your reins down on your horse’s neck and have him beautifully work a cow for 2.5 minutes in the cutting pen with no visual cues from you…well, that’s downright phenomenal.
When I am in the saddle, my horses are an extension of me. My emotions and what I’ve asked of them are clearly visible in their responses. They are mirrors and they are going to tell on me when I’m having a bad day.
When I think about what my horses are willing to do for me, especially the really great ones I have had the good fortune to ride over the years, I can’t help but get all weepy. Same reason I cry during the Kentucky Derby. If you are ever truly been in sync with a great horse, it will change you. And there is no going back.
Those are my reasons… Now I want to know, why do you think this lifestyle is worthwhile? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!