“Emma Lewandowski, champion and qualifier for the New England Junior Equitation Finals” echoed through the audience, as I achieved the greatest accomplishment of my life. During my childhood I aspired to be a junior horseback rider, soaring over jumps. I began riding as a bonding activity with my family, however, our group of four slowly dwindled. My mom had 4 kids to raise, my aunt became focused on her business, and 4 years ago my cousin went off to college. Yet the challenges that riding gave me pushed me to stay with the sport. Now I have finally qualified for the highest level of competition for junior riders in the country. My smile radiated as my trainer’s face lit up, and my parents gave me a wink as if they were saying “You did it, kiddo!” I gave my buddy Finn a pat on the neck, thanking him for being my other half during this entire journey.
Finn and I both trudged away from the trailer to the barn. I filled Finn’s stall with hay, trudged water buckets across the barn to the stalls, and scrubbed all the residue from sweat and dirt off my tack. As I carried grain buckets to the stalls, my blisters began to set in, every step pulled my skin tighter. My fingers were soggy, and my nails were black. I longed for the comfort of my warm bed.
On my final rounds, my trainer called me over and said, “I need to pick my boys up from daycare, can you help these two young girls?” I nodded as I saw two sisters standing by a pony. As I showed Peyton and Brennan the tricks to making the pony’s coat shine, the constant pinging of my phone pierced the air. Messages overtook my phone: “EMMA? How much longer can you possibly be at the barn?”, along with every other message you could imagine two bored teenage girls sending. I smiled to myself, went back to the sisters, and we laughed, lathering our hands in soap, I saw myself in the girls, who were so eager to learn the endless possibilities of riding.
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I felt a tug on my shirt, and Brennan whispered into my ear “Emma, I watched you today at the show, and you are such a good rider. I want to be like you when I’m older.” My heart warmed as the girl’s innocent voice spoke. It was the first time I had ever received a compliment so genuine. At this moment I realized I was no longer looking up to the junior riders, but I was finally a true junior rider. Occasionally, I hear people mention “I don’t even get horseback riding cause all you do is just sit there”. Yet, Brennan’s compliment made me realize that I don’t need to have everyone understand riding, because if I can just inspire one person and be a leader in my own barn community, then I truly do have a purpose in this world.
Here I am driving home in the pitch-black, just how the day started. Who knew my childhood equestrian obsession would turn my past eleven years upside down in the greatest way possible? From the countless hours spent at the barn and the everlasting connection that I have made with. Finn, and friends from the barn, I have been so lucky to experience the ride of a lifetime that has given me a lasting impact on my life. Riding has taught me to set goals and reach them and learn that a little blood and sweat are good things because it is a reminder that I am living my life with grit. Yet, most importantly riding has taught me to be humble, to be resilient, and to be brave.
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