Boots and Backpacks: Equestrians at College
by Gabrielle Sasse
New laptop? Check. Dorm sheets? Check. $600 worth of textbooks? Gulp… check. Saddle? Both are already in the car. My new life adventure called college would not be complete without my horse at my side. In fact, my entire college experience was to become all about what was already a dominating factor in my life: riding and showing horses. In 2009, I began my (hopefully only) four-year trek to obtain a bachelor of science in Equestrian Studies, emphasis in Western Training at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. Here I am, halfway through…and loving every minute.
Who knew that eleven years ago, when my mom first signed me up for riding lessons, that I would be starting what would quickly become an all-encompassing lifestyle. She certainly never believed when we joined 4H that I would one day be striding into the show ring in Oklahoma at Quarter Horse Youth World. We couldn’t even imagine such a show. In fact, she never thought I would really “take” to showing. She even missed my first one. But I was bitten by the bug that seems to afflict so many young people’s hearts, and their parents’ wallets. I am an equestrian.
Equestrians are crazy people. No doubt about it. Who else would be willing to spend hours trying to catch a horse as the sun sinks lower and lower while your own stomach is growling as the frisky colt munches on grass? Or, for that matter, be thrown into the mud in a $500 outfit, brush it off and get back in the saddle? Then there are the muscles torn, bones broken, fingers chomped, toes frozen, and hay found in places where there should never be hay. There is just something about the pony that bounces your guts out… or the rolling lope of a well-trained pleasure horse, not to mention the “holy cow that’s a big horse!” when one goes thundering by on a draft. There are feelings that cannot be expressed when your horse picks his head out of the hay to meander over as you come home after a long day of sludging through a research paper. Nothing can compare to the joy of a first blue ribbon, nor the pride in a perfect jump course or the self-pity from a forgotten pattern. What else would I do with my life other than work with the very beings that have given me so many life experiences?
I found Findlay and knew that I had discovered the very thing to start me on my path. My senior high school self had no idea that would mean waking up at 5:30 a.m. to be on a horse by 6:00 for my sophomore semester, or trying to balance clubbing with collegiate horse shows. And the best part is, I’m surrounded by people jut as crazy as me! The western, English and dressage majors are a huge draw and leave the campus cluttered with hunt boots, cowboy boots and a constant chatter of horse talk over the dinner table. Let’s not forget the dirty looks from the supposed smell. And no matter how many pieces of hay I pull out of just-washed sweatshirt pockets (I didn’t even wear that one to the barn!), or how many weird looks I get stomping through Wal-Mart in boots and spurs (hey, it’s on the way back from the barn), or how many times I have to explain just exactly what my major is (Yes, I ride horses. No, this is a real college), there is never a struggle in trying to balance the barn and my “other” life. Because there really is no other life. I am an equestrian, and horses are my life. Everything else just fits around it.
About the Author – Gabrielle “Gabe” Sasse is from Wisconsin and about to enter her junior year at The University of Findlay in Ohio where she is studying Western Equestrian Studies, Equine Business Management and Marketing/Advertising. She began riding 11 years ago when her mother signed her up for a “few lessons.” She fell in love with riding and showing from those very first lessons and the first 4H county fair. She now owns two horses that she shows on the Quarter Horse circuit: Guccis Outlaw or “Winston,” her all-around gelding and The Last Nickel or “Nickels,” a hunter/jumper mare.