Making it Work: Celebrating the Sacrifices Required to Live a Life with Horses
By Meghan Margewicz
I’m officially a “re-rider”…. the token adult ammy re-rider at a beautiful barn in New York, just over the Connecticut line, packed full of those insanely amazing junior riders with beautiful equitation horses; who spend each year chasing points to qualify for all the finals and spend their fall at indoors (while I stare at dual computer screens at my “not-so” 9-5 office job and secretly stream each indoor show on the one screen that’s turned away from my office doorway). Now at thirty-seven years old, after taking 18 years off from riding, I’m back at it (If I could scream it from the gorgeous cupolas that adorn so many barns in Westchester, NY, I would…but at best, I would be screaming down the hallway at my corporate job, which probably wouldn’t go over too well).
For most of those 18 years without horses in my life, I thought about horses and how I missed them. I endlessly played the barn memories in my head…that first barn I started riding at and where my parents were first convinced I “needed” my own horse, my barn-rat friends that spent days and nights tacking up school horses and cleaning tack, the early mornings with my mom while I braided for horse shows, the long afternoons that turned into evenings when I was that junior who rode multiple horses each afternoon (the horses of all the adults who couldn’t make it to the barn because they had “responsibilities”), that time my horse colicked and I slept at the barn for too many cold winter nights changing IV bags, when I got that dream equitation horse I always wanted….The memories go on and on, and I missed each of them dearly.
In those 18 years without horses, I was doing things with my life like most juniors that age out and move away from horses. I graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in marketing; got a job with a fashion watch company where I learned how much I love to travel; enjoyed a social life now that I wasn’t spending every weekend at a horse show; got a Master’s Degree; got married; had a daughter; got divorced; got remarried; gained three step kids; got a new job at one of the world’s largest event production companies...and was FINALLY then able to try my hand (and seat and leg) back at riding. I did all those growing up, adulting things, and now I finally had the time and finances to get back into riding…but did I really? It didn’t matter. I decided it was time to #keepriding and that’s all that mattered.
Let me tell you, this was the best decision I could have made….and I’ll get to why later on. It is also one of the most eye opening decisions I ever made. How on EARTH did my parents ever afford my riding?! How did I have NO idea how much they sacrificed and worked and struggled to afford such a luxury for me?! Now that I’m paying for my own “riding habit,” it is a WHOLE different ball game, and yet I’ve figured out a way to make it work (for now). And then I start to think back to those memories of riding once again, and how it all came together with the support of my parents……
I was nine years old and had no interest in riding. My mom had a friend whose daughter rode at the local hunter/jumper barn – that barn every kid in the area seemed to take their first lesson at. You know those barns. It didn’t take long before I was hooked. Horses were incredible! I had always loved animals, but this was a whole new obsession. Immediately the Saddle Club Books were in the house, the “Ultimate Horse Book” (who didn’t want to learn all about the breeds and pick which ones – yes, multiples – she would own), that random too big, old saddle with the sketchy tree that my dad’s chiropractor-friend dug out of his attic from his daughter’s storage box (which I “trained” on nightly using my childhood rocking horse as an imaginary living equine). The weekly lessons turned quickly into spending all weekend at the barn. Running tirelessly up the long path to the lesson horse barn to tack and untack sweaty tired ponies and fill water buckets, while making sure the big grumpy chestnut didn’t take a chunk out of my arm when I turned my back on him. Yet, I couldn’t get enough. I was officially that weird horse girl.
The Author and Lily
About a year into riding, my parents got the call. “Meghan is doing really well riding. But for her to really progress, it’s time to invest in a horse of her own. The lesson horses just can’t bring her any further. And…we actually just got one in that would be perfect for her!” I’m not sure what my parents were thinking (my current adult brain is shaking my head for them). At this stage, I was still so young that I had no concept of money. But there I was, at the barn. Watching one of those “perfect leggy junior equitation riders” I so looked up to ride a beautiful 16.1 flea bitten grey mare with dapples on her hind end and an adorable pink snip on her soft grey nose. Beautifully rounded, light on the bit, and flipping her toes out with each step in her (costly) aluminum shoes. Instantly, I was in love. I had to have her. I got on and she ran away with me, but hey…I was only 10. I’d learn. It was me, not her. Well…a mere $5,500 later and I was gifted my first OTTB mare (I still have my proudly framed Bill of Sale to prove it). We’d call her Lily. My mom named her. It was short for Elizabeth – my middle name. And her show name was Twist of Fate, which feels like it would become the theme for my future life.
Lily was a hard keeper. She wouldn’t keep weight on, so she was on every supplement and “fattening food” under the sun. This turned into my mom and I spending endless hours at the local feed store getting all the “supplements and special food” Lily needed (a.k.a. the expensive stuff). I needed all new tack, a saddle that fit the wither-y mare, pads, wraps, shipping halters, new chaps, you name it. It all seemed so wonderful to me! Shopping sprees on the regular. But….my dad was now waking up at 3am to deliver newspapers to support my riding habit. He would get back from delivering the papers at 5:00am while I was still in bed dreaming of horses, and then head to his daytime job 90 minutes away as an English teacher in Mount Vernon, New York. My dad worked tirelessly – day and night. My mom also worked, but had a flexible schedule that allowed her to pick me up each day after school and drive me straight to the barn and care for our new “money pit” (as my mom so lovingly called her). The vets, the shoes, the dentists, the training, the lessons….that was just the beginning. Then the shows started. Starting in jodhpurs and garters and Short Stirrup classes, I quickly moved up...just as Lily was becoming more and more UNRIDEABLE. Endless days and nights filled with tears and dizzying lunging sessions before even getting on. (I still have the newspaper clipping of when I tried to personally sell Lily in the local paper because I couldn’t take it anymore). My mom would sit in her car every evening while I was at the barn and read. We’d get home around 7:30pm to have dinner with my dad and do homework, go to bed, and do it all again the next day.
With Lily becoming increasingly difficult, we barn hopped to new trainers and new barns, and ended up at one of the most expensive barns in town. Next on the list were the custom Clothes Horse blankets with the barn colors, the “approved” tack trunk, the latest bridle and tall boots…But now, I was 13 years old with an amazing and respected trainer, showing in the Children’s/Adult Jumpers. Lily and I finally found our niche! We were winning every show and having a great time. But at this point, I needed more lessons and needed to go to even more shows. My parents did everything they could financially – putting off vacations and their own “fun” to see me smile at the barn. They knew it wouldn’t last forever. I would age out eventually. But for now, they were dedicated to seeing their daughter happy. I helped where I could, too. I first taught myself to braid. My mom would come to the barn with me at 3am on show days while I braided my friend’s horses. The ones who didn’t have to wake up early to earn some extra money to afford this “luxury” hobby. I learned to clip. “Hello” my very own red WAHL clipper box. I learned how to garden and my trainer “kindly” let me weed his gardens at his house (where I was met with a very unfortunate case of poison ivy one summer). But I did what I had to, just like my parents (I’m positive now, that’s where I get it from).
Lily and I found hit our stride and were getting ready for the Vermont Summer Circuit. I finally made it! The big leagues! Until I didn’t….the last lesson before we left, Lily and I jumped a bounce. One of the last times around, Lily tried to jump both jumps as a single oxer; she fell and broke her shoulder. The barn manager rushed out to escort me back to the barn, while the vet came to put Lily down where she fell – in that incredible Grand Prix field at the most expensive farm in town. The place where dreams were made seemed to take mine away instantly. It was devastating to say the least, but the support from that amazing barn family and my own family was endless. My parents once again put their own desires aside, refinanced the house, and lovingly purchased my new horse. That big, black Hanoverian equitation horse. He came complete with a shiny coat, an extensive list of previous wins, and a loving personality (although he hated dogs). He also came with a $30K price tag. (Of course we never talk money in the horse industry, and $30k may seem like peanuts for a horse in 2019, but it’s STILL ok to think it’s an absurd number to spend on our four-legged friends. It’s all absurd. We know this. We’re in it together). Wolfie (Big Bad Wolf) also came with a passport from his European upbringing. Neither I, nor my parents, had passports. Our horse expenses limited that kind of travel.
The author and "Wolfie."
Soon after I turned seventeen, my parents noticed my lessening desire to be at the barn. They offered me a brand new car in exchange for selling my horse, and I happily agreed (the monthly cost of a brand new car seemed like pennies compared to what my riding habit entailed). Teenage social desires and upcoming college experiences meant more to me than Wolfie did, and we sold him to a wonderful family at the barn who had a daughter moving up from her pony and into the equitation. My parents agreed to sell him for less than they paid so he could stay at the barn we knew, with a family we know would love him completely. That’s what you do for the ones you love…
Fast forward to two years ago, when I was 35. I’m not sure what came over me, but one Friday at work, I started calling and emailing local barns to get lesson pricing. I was still dreaming about horses. That feeling, that partnership, the barn family, the outdoors, the freedom, the challenges…I missed it all. I definitely didn’t take into consideration the financial strain, but it didn’t matter. I was shocked when one barn told me $150 per lesson. Was I crazy? Could I do this? I had to. I found an “affordable” barn charging $75/lesson and graciously scheduled my first “evaluation.” I don’t think I could successfully get back on a bicycle but I could get back on that horse. A bit nervous and with muscles that didn’t listen, it still all felt so natural. So normal. Like I never stopped (until a few days later when I was so sore I couldn’t sit down without wincing in pain). But it got easier, and I got better. And I fell deeper and deeper back into my love for horses.
The author back in the show ring in 2019.
I currently part-lease a “show quality” lesson horse when I’m not traveling for work, and when my finances allow. His name is Eli and he’s a beautiful, sensitive bay who occasionally reminds me I’m not just along for the ride. I show in the adult hunters and the adult equitation when time allows, and when I can save up for it. My horse’s owner is amazing (she also owns the barn) and kindly works with my crazy schedule trying to balance work travel, a new job launching EQUITANA USA - an equestrian trade show and exhibition at the Kentucky Horse Park next year (@EQUITANAUSA), shuttling four kids to and from activities, and the unexpected expenses life seems to throw your way at the most inopportune times (like when my car overheated after driving back from an event at the Hampton Classic and it decided it wanted a new water pump). No matter what, though, I’ve found that there are always ways to #keepriding…ways to make it all more affordable.
Just recently, I was dying, yes dying, for a tack trunk. I had dug through my old tack and equipment, and cleaned it up so I was feeling very “real equestrian” with my piles of grooming tools, saddle pads, bridles, and the rest of the pieces my parents had purchased for me eons ago. (I still have those show shirts with monogrammed chokers in case they come back in style one day). Of course I wanted to buy all new things, but the reality of funds I have available for Christmas gifts and home expenses forced me to “renew” my old items instead. I just can’t drop $800 or more on a tack trunk. So, my husband sweetly found a “coffee table/storage trunk” on Facebook Marketplace for $200. I debated…I even sent the picture to my equestrian friends asking “does this look like a trunk?” (I still have that need to fit in at the barn…I wish I didn’t sometimes). After a handful of “yes, it’s trunk-acceptable” responses, I met the seller in a local grocery store parking lot, handed over $200 cash, and whisked my new “tack trunk” away. My husband found the perfect hardware for handles and a latch, and affixed them to the trunk while it lived in my living room for a few weeks. I just recently dropped it off at the barn to many “wow, beautiful trunk” comments. And now…I’m in the process of saving for that “tack trunk cover” we are required to have for trunks on display at the barn.
A proper horse hubbie working on the new tack trunk.
Some things never change…but that’s one of the biggest reasons why I #keepriding. The things that never change. The world changes, life changes, but the barn….the feeling you get pulling in…the feeling you get with the horses…the barn family….the struggles…the lessons where everything goes right…the lessons where they don’t and that make you want to try harder next time….the memories…...the traditions...all of it, that never changes. That is always and forever a love ingrained in your heart…especially when you are forever and gratefully that weird horse girl.
To anyone at any age, wondering how to make it work: there are ways, trust me! Always #keepriding! I’m already worried that my 5 year old daughter is horse crazy. She already asks to come to the barn to play with the grooms and be the “carrot fairy”…and her toy horses are already expensive enough! But I can’t deny that growing up with horses was the most incredible experience and I want the same for her. And just as my parents did for me, I’ll do everything I can to fulfill her dreams so the both of us can #keepriding together.
The author's daughter.
About Meghan: Meghan Margewicz is a 37-year old Adult Amateur re-rider from Connecticut who rides in the Adult Equitation/Hunters, with dreams of owning her own horse again one day, finally making it to WEF, and maybe even qualifying for indoors. She lives with her husband, daughter, three step-children, Mini Golden-Doodle puppy, and an elderly Bichon Frise. Meghan has a background in marketing and supports her desire to #keepriding with a day-job as the Event Director of EQUITANA USA (equitanausa.com), the new equestrian exhibition taking place at the Kentucky Horse Park, September 25-27, 2020.
Connect with Meghan on Instagram to swap horsey stories, share “saving money secrets,” chat about EQUITANA USA…or just to say hello!