Epilogue: Milestones

I think I’ve wanted to write this blog post for a long time. My last blog post. An explanation of sorts, for why I stopped writing. Some closure. Ever since returning home I’ve been hung up on milestones – waiting for them, commemorating them, thinking wistfully of what was, and watching it slip further away. A year since traveling Europe. A year since waking up in Aiken. A year since completing my first event. Finally, a year since coming home.

You would think that after a year, the “homesickness”, the longing, the sadness at leaving behind friends, horses, a lifestyle, would have faded. It hasn’t. I still follow the North American eventing websites, the live results, the social media accounts. I wouldn’t know anything about the Australian eventing season, but I could tell you who’s winning back in Canada. Re-adjustment, re-integration back into an equestrian community is hard. I’ve been fortunate enough to find something to ride, but after my time abroad, I am spoiled for anything less than the best. Riding in my old second-hand saddle, in a paddock not quite flat, with no arena, no coach, and not much of an idea of how to re-educate a young polocrosse horse, I struggle to find the enjoyment that once came so easily riding the Rock. Babies and greenies are fun, but most of me yearns for the experienced horse, the one I can just get on, and lose myself in the nuances of a shoulder-in, or the art of riding an angled line. The one that teaches me, instead of me teaching it.

I miss the people, the horses, the lifestyle as much as I did the day I flew home. The milestones bring sadness and smiles – sadness because they’re over, smiles because they happened. A constant balancing act.

I’m not writing this to be depressing, or melodramatic, but rather to help myself find some closure. Today, without even realising it, I passed another milestone. I went to work, I walked into a room, I sat down, and I spoke with a small group of graduates aspiring to work where I do. A process that I went through about a year ago, when I managed to make it through all the applications and tests to attend an assessment centre for a highly regarded graduate program in a government department. A year ago, I left the assessment centre feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of my chances. Today, I shared my experiences with others in that situation, detailing how much I have experienced in the six short months I have been in my job. I have met wonderful people and worked on challenging and exciting tasks. I have moved states, moved cities, and moved out of home. I have capitalised on five long years of study, and attained the job I always wanted but never knew existed. I have started creating new memories.

For me, it’s hard to accept that I no longer have the luxury to drive five minutes to a beautiful barn, fetch an amazing horse, tack her up in beautiful gear and go off to ride with an amazing coach in a stunning arena, or through miles of forest, or around a perfectly manicured jump course. That simply does not exist here. What does exist is the beginning of a career, the forging of new friendships, the slow re-integration into the equine community, the slow re-education of a new horse. What exists now are memories, of the best kind, and new milestones.

 

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The next adventure…

Don’t get too excited.  I’m not too sure what it is yet!  But I have been overwhelmed by all the lovely comments I’ve been reading on here lately, along the theme of “good luck/I can’t wait to hear about the next adventure”.

Right now, the current adventure revolves around replenishing the bank accounts, through contract promotional work.  Not my favourite job, but a well-paying one, and therefore a necessary one.  Although the first two days were torture, since I had to stand at a desk right opposite a travel agent, looking at all the international flight prices, whilst trying to focus on doing my job.  I’m still not sure what kind of full-time job I want yet, since I have changed a lot in the past year and discovered passions and talents I never knew existed.  In light of the feedback I received from numerous people back in Aiken, including my coach and many of the clients, I thought I’d share one of them on here.  Throughout my entire trip, I was never far from my cameras (yes, I had to take 2), and I could often be spotted snapping away at weird things or setting up some sort of obscure photo opportunity.  At the end of my time as working student/barn manager, I presented my coach with a book of photographs I had captured over my time with her, as a thank you and a sort of memoir.  I hadn’t expected it to receive so much praise, and it only made her more determined that she should convince me to take up some form of photography or videography. (I also created several video projects of our eventing exploits, although I am unable to publish them online due to copyright regulations.)  Since one of the most important lessons I learnt during my gap year was to always listen to my coach, I have spent a bit of time compiling my photographs, and creating a place where they can be viewed.  I don’t really think it’s a significant career move, but it’s something to explore, and if you’re dedicated enough to read a) this much of my blog and b) this much of this post, you’ll probably be interested in seeing what I’ve come up with.  Many of these have probably already been featured on here, but hopefully there are some new and exciting ones too!

The online version of the photobook I created can be found here:

My tumblr, where my photographs are posted, can be found here:

 

Practising my photography on Emma Green and Bellscross Sunny Cruise.

Willing photography subjects Emma Green and Bellscross Sunny Cruise.

Homecoming

So finally, after a whirlwind year of adventures, I’m home.  It’s very strange, and a little surreal.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  There are still some Aiken tales to be told…

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The Rock contemplates the risks involved with riding.

The final days in Aiken were filled with lots of riding and lots of packing, and lots of memories that I will treasure always.  I had my final jumping lesson on the Rock the day before I flew out, and it was an absolute blast.  Having not jumped since our event at Full Gallop almost 2 weeks prior, she was (predictably) raring to go, so we blazed through a small course and worked on angling a 3ft oxer, which was wicked fun.  We came round to jump the first jump in the angled line for the last time, and about 6 strides out I realised that one of the dogs was sniffing around for a mouse under the rails.  Naturally, I yelled at her to move, and when she didn’t, I yelled some more.  It soon became clear that this dog wasn’t moving, so there was nothing much to do but just… jump!  And jump the dog we did.  We kept it short and sweet and I spoiled the Rock with a bath and some mints afterwards.

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I was relieved to wake up on my last morning in Aiken and discover that my nightmare of my coach forgetting to take me to the airport was in fact just a nightmare.  My final day was spent with a morning hack, more packing, and then a trip to town for lunch at the Aiken Brew Pub – always enjoyable – and a frantic rush to post a large box of stuff home.  Finally I returned back to the farm to shower and pack my last few things.  The time to departure ticked closer, so I decided to call my coach, who had taken some health papers for signing in Columbia, to see if she would be back in time.  Turns out the nightmare wasn’t totally over – she’d got a flat tire and was only just leaving the mechanic – and wouldn’t be able to make it back in time.  Frantically, I called one of our other working students at our other barn who (thank goodness) came through and rushed me up to Columbia.  My relaxing departure became a rush to say goodbye to people, ponies, and puppies before I jumped into the car and we set off, only just making it in time.  But of course nothing ever goes smoothly for me, (remember racing for the train in the Netherlands?) and my suitcase was too heavy.  So began the rearranging of things across suitcases, and I was eventually forced to (reluctantly) concede that I couldn’t bring my helmet, the GPA that was gifted to me by Rolex rookie Rachel McDonough.  It will remain in Canada (I hope – you guys better not have abandoned it somewhere!) just in case I do venture back…

So I then waited for my coach to meet me outside the airport for the final, hardest goodbye.  It was a poor substitute for the half an hour goodbye I’d expected to have in the car, but on this occasion, it was what life threw at me, and there was nothing to do but shed the tears and make the most of a brief, very teary goodbye.  We both expressed our gratitude for everything the other had done or given them, and then we stood in silence.  There were no more words to say, just tears, and more hugs as I reluctantly headed off to board my first of three flights home.  I fought back tears as I passed through security and waited at my gate, calling another friend to say goodbye.  Then it was off to Washington, sitting next to a lady reading the most southern magazine I’ve ever heard of – Garden and Gun. Oh yes.  It’s a thing.  After a few hours and a bite to eat in Washington, I boarded the first of the long hauls – a 13 hour flight to Abu Dhabi where yet again I had issues with the weight of my carry-on luggage.  I should have just taken the opportunity to board through the business class lane when offered – ain’t nobody weighing their luggage. As soon as dinner and drinks were served it was time to pop the sleeping pills… and just as they were taking effect, the man next to me started up a conversation and a photo tour of Abu Dhabi and Dubai via his iPhone.  Sleep was cut short on that plane.  Arriving in the UAE for my final stopover I did the last bit of present shopping, tried (unsuccessfully) to find a powerpoint to charge my iPhone before realising I didn’t have the right adaptor anyway, and wrote a quick blog entry before getting on the last 13 hour flight home.

Going the long way round does have its advantages, although small compared to the amount of time I had to spend in aircraft.  I got to see the edge of Australia – the pristine sandy beaches of Western Australia, the bare red desert of the Red Centre, through to the rolling mountains of the Great Dividing Range, all the way to the blinking red light on the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  As the plane touched down I could barely believe my trip was over.  In a daze, I made my way through immigration, baggage claim, and eventually customs before emerging on the other side.  Seeing my family waiting at the arrivals gate I nearly fell over my suitcase down the ramp – no, seriously, if there hadn’t been a wall there I would have faceplanted it in front of everyone – and I rushed straight into the arms of my mother, father, and sister.

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Having been home almost a week now, it still feels odd.  I feel a little like a foreigner in my own country.  I’m constantly aware of the accents of the people around me, everything looks and feels small, and I’ve finally crashed and succumbed to the inevitable post-travel illnesses.  I’m subject to the same sort of questions from everyone, which although it’s great people are interested in my future, does get tiring, and I turn on the windscreen wipers every time I go to put my indicator on.  Then there’s the comments on my changed accent, the fact that my dog has suddenly become a pensioner, and the realisation that after living out of a suitcase for a year, I couldn’t possibly need all the STUFF that’s in my bedroom.  I can’t get used to milk instead of cream in my coffee, I can’t get used to not drinking filter coffee, and everything is built so close together that I feel claustrophobic.  I can no longer sleep in past 8am, I get an itchy feeling not riding and exercising and mucking stalls every day and get hopelessly bored around the house whenever I take a break from cleaning, organising, and job-applying.

Being home is great, but it’s different, and it’s going to take quite a bit of time to settle back in and figure out what the next step may be… stay tuned if I ever figure it out!