They say that college is the best four years of your life. It has now been a year since I graduated from Albion College and began my time in the “real world,” and I’m afraid I have to disagree with that statement. College is great – but the best part is that it gives you a taste of what’s to come.
When I graduated from Albion, I left behind many things: friends, memories, my horse, familiarity with what I had called home for the past four years. But what I took with me was a feeling of preparedness for the real world and enthusiasm, knowing that I was taking another step in my life.
That “next step” was law school. This past May, I successfully completed my 1L year at Michigan State University College of Law. The changes were huge – I moved from a tiny town (my hometown of Washburn, WI, and Albion are both small) to what I consider to be the bustling metropolis of East Lansing. I went from an average class size of 18 to an average of 74 for all of us first years (the whole class is divided into four relatively equal sections). I used to be able to walk to class in three minutes, but now I take the bus 15 minutes just to get to campus.
In the midst of all these changes, however, the one constant was riding.
Let’s backtrack a few years…
When I studied abroad in Grenoble, France, I lasted about two weeks before finding a barn so I could take lessons. When I started law school, I researched barns in the area at the same time I was looking for an apartment. When I first emailed Ruth, owner and trainer at Stapleton Farm, all I was looking for was somewhere to take one lesson a week so that I could get my horse fix during school. What came of it was so much more.
I knew Ruth from IDA – she coached the MSU dressage team. Her farm web site offered a few lesson horses and when I emailed asking about lessons, she responded that we could probably work something out with a horse that knew second level movements. So we began with one lesson a week on a sweet Arabian mare named Lark. When Ruth left to train out east for a few days, I asked to ride Lark while she was gone…and pretty soon I was riding more horses in the barn. A few days each week, I got out of class and headed to the barn, the one place where I could think about something other than contracts and torts and how exactly one goes about filing a civil lawsuit.
In October, I started riding Koby. Bought as a project and school horse, he wasn’t quite fitting in with Ruth’s school program. He had a sassy attitude and cute face, but he really didn’t know much. I started working with him, introduced him to jumping, and we took off – literally and figuratively! By the end of the semester, I had learned where and how to sue people, what to sue them for (everything, according to my torts professor), what makes up a contract, and how to be an ethical lawyer. Meanwhile Koby had learned how jump a 2’6” course and that balance is a good thing. Both of our educations continued after Christmas, as I entered the world of criminal law and property rights and Koby was introduced to barrels under jumps, leg-yields, lengthenings, and (finally!) cross-country.
I put in long hours studying and a few “study break” hours at the barn, working with Koby along with a few others. (Fergie was my other main horse, a wonderful chestnut mare with whome I scored a 70.0% with at Training Level at Waterloo in June.) We started thinking about summer employment at school and I knew I wanted to try to find something local so that I could keep riding.
In April, I took on a training horse at the farm that was in for some jumping work. That month, I also interviewed at the Department of Human Services in Lansing for an externship position. By the time final exams rolled around, I had secured three training horses and an externship with the Office of Legislative Services at DHS for the summer. Classes finally gave way to summer and my days have been filled with the law and horses ever since. I work at DHS three days a week and am at the barn riding seven days a week.
At work I research law and policy and go to meetings. Then I trade my business casual for barn clothes and head out for a few hours with the horses. The relationships that are cultivated through horses are, I think, some of the strongest bonds we ever create. Between horse and rider is a partnership, but there are also the people at the barn. Whether it’s the equestrian center at Albion or Stapleton Farm in Leslie, the barn has always been a place to find laughter, support, and sometimes, if you need it, a shoulder to cry on.
So enjoy college, my fellow Britons – but remember that it’s just a taste of what’s to come. The best advice I can give you is that, no matter what, if you are a horse person, find time for the horses. Make time for the horses because barn time is so much more than just riding.