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Love Thy Neigh-Bour: Horse Girl And Proud

Perhaps it’s essay-induced delirium, the impending doom of (hopefully) imminent post-graduate employment, or the fact that after almost four years of student journalism, I’m running low on material. Whatever the cause, the outcome is unavoidable: I’m coming out as a Horse Girl.


Given the cultural potency of this phrase, I hardly need to elaborate. Suffice to say, for several years I epitomised that ‘low po’ed’, braces-clad, fashion-allergic teenager. My hoard of slouchy tees bore such pithy slogans as ‘Keep Calm and Canter On’, ‘I’d Rather be Riding’, and ‘I’m in a Stable Relationship’. To this last, I regret that the irony was very much lost on me.


At home, my walls were pasted with posters of photogenic horses, garishly coloured rosettes, and photos displaying my alarmingly unflattering ‘competition face’. Schoolbooks were emblazoned with ‘Rosie heart Dandy’ (my first pony, not the nineteenth-century Beau Brummel figure); while break times were routinely dedicated to ‘Puissance classes’ over the school tennis nets. At the height of my career, I even flaunted an Instagram page, in which my bio championed the phrase “I don’t need Red Bull, I already have wings.”


You get the picture.


For many years, I buried this rather bleak episode of my pre-teen past from all but the most dedicated social media stalkers. After all, a stereotype that typically implicates white, wealthy, and — frankly — weird children was hardly compatible with my Undergraduate persona.


Yet I must confess that, deep down, I’m proud of being a Horse Girl. In fact, I admire — and even aspire to — my younger, pony-obsessed Self.  


Horse Girls have a reputation for privilege and even prissiness, but you can hardly fault our dedication. For some eight or nine years, weekends and holidays were consumed by the responsibility to: feed, exercise, muck out, turn out, groom, catch, pamper, and sometimes medicate upwards of five or ten horses a day. Sacrificing parties, relaxation and. . . to be honest, I don’t know what else ‘normal’ pre-teens did, I derived genuine enjoyment from the most mundane and unglamorous of these tasks. Even if I had the time, I doubt I could dedicate my disillusioned, adult Self to anything with such enthusiasm as I did during those years. 


Nor could I dredge up the confidence that routinely possessed me to seek out ‘green’ project ponies and compete in eventing classes. One would presume a limited enthusiasm for courses that navigated such poorly marketed propositions as ‘Coffins’, ‘Tiger Traps’, and ‘Open Ditches’; yet, bedecked in my statement baby-blue-and-navy ‘colours’, these were the things that Sugar-Plum dreams were made of.


Amid all this, you could argue that I missed out on certain formative experiences. True, I rarely found time to go out shopping, keep up with Disney Channel, or immerse myself in the ‘boy drama’ frissons of Year Six. To this, I’d say you’re probably right, yet my time at riding school and Pony Club were hardly devoid of social interaction.


For every well-intentioned Horse Girl, there would inevitably be the ‘Veronica’ of Saddle Club infamy, who would delight in undermining my riding ability, second-hand equipment, or even — gasp — my precious steed himself. Riding was hardly free from social politics; in fact, the ringside often bore comparison to the Dance Moms bleachers. 


If this wasn’t enough to bolster one’s resilience, then the inevitable prospect of outgrowing your (hopelessly anthropomorphised) best friend certainly strengthened one’s emotional resources. You can scarcely imagine the heartbreak that accompanied Dandy’s eventual departure, and I’m sure this taught me far more about relationships than any pre-teen handholding could have.


I recognise that I was privileged to have been a Horse Girl, yet I’m also proud of it. In conforming to a certain stereotype, I nonetheless refused to become the skinny-jeaned, Hollister-branded clone that populated much of my school. I thought nothing of the fact that people judged my sartorial choices, and relished setting my alarm for 4 am show-starts.


So, props to all my fellow Horse Girls. We may have dedicated four years to university, but we’ll never commit to anything with such enthusiasm and determination as we did in those early, pony-mad days.

Illustration by: Clodagh Earl

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