It’s funny to think that a little over two years ago, I had no idea what this magical place was and never imagined a life as amazing as this.
Growing up in the horse world and working as a professional hunter/jumper groom, I always thought that doing something in the industry was what I wanted to do. But being someone who didn’t come from money, this was quite a difficult thing to accomplish, so to gain access to an education and horses at a school like Albion was all but a perfect dream for me. The facility of course was what initially attracted me – like many others – to the school, but the people are what made me stay.
After a pretty serious injury my freshman year while riding at home, however, I got pretty down and kind of lost my way for a bit. I fell deeper into a search to locate the path I needed for life, buried myself in my studies, and wound up finding my calling in photography and oil painting. Over the next four years at Albion, I continued to push myself to be better while getting back into horses slowly but surely (after three years of consecutive surgeries).
One day my painting professor, Michael Dixon, came up to me and said (in a nutshell): “Strive to do more with your life than just horses.”
At the time I thought this was a crazy idea: Horses were my life and all I knew. But he kept pushing and, after spending an entire semester doing my senior thesis on an African-based wildlife photographer, I started having dreams to go to Africa.
My family thought I was nuts, but my friends and roommates (all Albion equestrians) told me if that’s what I wanted to do, I should do it. Those who know me know that I don’t wait to second guess, that if I want something, I go for it.
Just like that, I booked an eight-week volunteer experience with Glen Afric.
Glen Afric is a place like no other. When I came, we had 12 lions, a leopard, two tigers, two cheetahs, one hyena, three elephants, and an abundance of wild game like zebra and impala. We also had one very special girl, a white rhino. Now for a suburban-raised girl, you can only imagine what this experience did for me: I was happier then ever before, learning a new way to socialize with people who wanted nothing more than the happiness of these animals – which is why the poaching of our rhino, Isabella, hit so very hard.
This significant moment sent me home with a new view of the world – the view Michael had tried so hard to show me back in Albion:
I was determined to try and do more with my life than just horses.
Fast forward to April 2016: After graduation, I focused my time working to make money. I returned to grooming and started to bring along horses of my own, all while keeping in contact with my friends from South Africa. During this time, I hit another rough patch. I ended an abusive relationship, struggled financially, and had burned myself in the horse world.
I finally sat myself down and said “Where were you the happiest?”
The simple answer was (of course) South Africa, so I contacted Joy, the riding instructor at Glen Afric, and asked if she needed help. One quick week later I found myself planning my return to South Africa.
I have now been back to Glen Afric for almost eleven weeks. The lion cubs I helped feed on my last stay are now two and a half years old and as gorgeous as ever. We have a full barn of horses (including one I personally own) and my passion for people and conservation is thriving.
The point of all this is simple: Have a good life.
I’m 25 and I’ve learned being happy is sometimes better than planning this, that, and the other about how to make your future work. One small sentence from one professor literally changed my life. I hope to leave this place one day and find a job with animals that makes me this happy every day and I thank Albion again for its people. The wonderful community of friendships that I still have thanks to the equestrians there is the reason I know I can do crazy things like drop my entire life and move to another continent.
Above all, I am thankful that had professors who pushed me to never settle and do something that might seem out of the ordinary. So for now I’ll continue this adventure and go home to prove to myself that I can do more than just horses as long as I have a little help and support from some amazing people.
Lindsey Memering is a 2014 graduate of Albion College and former member of the hunt seat team. An artist, avid photographer, conservationist, and world traveler, you can follow her African journey on her own blog, as well as on Instagram and Twitter.