78: The Horsey Girl

78: The Horsey Girl

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

The Horsey Girl

Horses lend us the wings we lack.

~Author Unknown

There were two things that set me apart from most of the kids I went to grade school with: I rode horses very well and I was a pretty lousy student. Not a troublemaker or stupid necessarily, but very shy and somewhat lazy and distracted. My teachers hated me.

My school had a riding team, however, and my riding coaches loved me. I had been riding competitively since I was seven years old, and I knew my way around a show ring. I had no fear on a horse. I would ride any animal in the barn and could compete with riders of any age. My schools were small and private, and both (I switched in the sixth grade for academic reasons) had high school riding teams. I rode on the varsity teams from the fifth grade on.

Kids in my class didn’t know what to think of me. Mostly, I doubt they thought of me at all. I was the weird, quiet kid who rode horses. I may have had my very own high school varsity letter in the fifth grade, but it didn’t get me out of gym class. That was all anyone really needed to know.

I progressed through my school years this way, riding horses and being shy. I stumbled through my classes and got in trouble for not finishing my homework. In tenth grade, I got an average score on the PSAT and people started rumbling about college, largely pressing me to bring up my grades. In my junior year, I took the SAT and people started outright harassing me to work harder in my classes. I kept riding, kept bringing home ribbons, and tried not to think too much about the college issue.

Eventually the day came that I had to sit down with my school’s guidance counselor and come up with a plan.

“Well, you want to ride, of course,” she said, flipping through her file.

“Yeah,” I nodded, head down. “Not really.”

“You don’t want to ride?”

“Yeah, no. I mean, it’s not that important.”

It’s fair to say that everyone was shocked. Actually, even I was shocked. What was I without a horse? Everyone assumed that a series of large, four-legged animals would bear the entire burden of my academic career. When all was said and done, I would end up teaching riding at a small, private school very much like the one I was about to depart. Possibly, if I could bring my grades way up and survive college, I might get into veterinary school one day. No one, least of all me, thought I could do anything even remotely notable without four legs underneath me.

There was, however, a problem. Over the years I had lost the drive. It wasn’t that anything else seemed all that important; it was just that I had developed this itch to be someone else. I began to feel like I was faking it, and I noticed that I was wrestling with horses instead of riding them. However, I also didn’t know how to stop. Who on earth was I if not the girl on the horse in the yearbook?

“I just want to go somewhere different,” I said to the college counselor. “I want to go away.”

My counselor selected several small, liberal arts colleges for me to look at, mostly in upstate New York and Ohio. I suppose she considered this far enough away from my home in Maryland, but not so far as to be completely foreign. Their common thread was that they were pretty remote and not particularly selective academically. After all, take away the varsity riding, and I was an unmemorable C student with a very awkward personality. There weren’t going to be that many options, clearly.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll look.”

I did everything she told me to do and prayed that I would be accepted somewhere. I wrote my essays about books I liked. In my interviews I talked about wanting to experience the broader world in general, if uninformed, terms.

All these years later, it’s hard to remember actually being accepted to college. I’m reasonably certain my acceptance letter came with as much panic as relief. Relief that I had somewhere to go, panic that there would not be a riding program to disappear into if I changed my mind. What I do remember is arriving on that first day wearing a long green skirt and a neat new white blouse. I remember walking down the path to the student center like an actress going to accept an award, determined to present a different me. A me who would not be shy. A me who did not have a saddle on my hip. A me without a fall schedule of competitions and daily riding practices. I was good at nothing, open to everything, and hopelessly naïve about the rest of my life.

It was the best feeling ever.

I turn forty years old this year and haven’t ridden horses since high school, other than a few trail rides on vacations just for fun. Do I miss it? Sure, sometimes. Was giving it up the right thing to do? For me, yes. The things that have filled the void—great friends, a career, a passion for reading and writing, a husband and children—are beyond any expectation I ever allowed myself to have in high school. Shedding the life of a horsey girl was what I needed to do to allow myself to grow into me, which was the most important gift my four years of college had to give.

When I think about my middle and high school years and the horses that carried me through them, I sometimes feel as though I was brought to the gates of adulthood by some mythological beast, a beautiful animal who cared for me when I was afraid and guided me when I was lost. When we parted ways, we looked each other in the eye and wished each other well. And then I turned toward that little campus in the center of Ohio and began the rest of my life.

~Christina Kapp

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