The World of the Winter Equestrian Festival

I sit down on the 5pm flight from Newark airport and open my backpack, trying to recall what my Chemistry teacher told me was my homework in our meeting yesterday. I grab my bag of SmartPop! popcorn and begin my math homework as I fly into the air as if it were second nature, all while my classmates are still in their after school sports or tutoring sessions. Competition day is still too far away to already be nervous; now I need to focus on my school work, which I carefully organized in individual meetings with each of my five teachers. The bumps and shaking of the turbulence interrupts my work, but my chaotic schedule gives me no choice but to press on. As my eyes are pulled closed by the stress of teenage years and being a competitive athlete, I have no option but to continue my work.

My flight touches down in the Palm Beach International Airport, and as I walk towards baggage claim, I see at least ten of my competitors that are preparing to compete in the Winter Equestrian Festival which begins in 4 days. Like me, they are in the middle of the 12-week competition circuit held in Wellington, Florida, and like me, they have settled into the routine of chaos and travelling.

The Winter Equestrian Festival is the world’s largest and longest running horse competition that brings together 2,500 riders together each winter. There are world class riders involved in the competition, yet many are part of the junior competition. The 18 rings throughout the show grounds are consistently filled with horses, spectators, golf carts and food. Show days span from as early as 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., requiring the complete focus of the trainers, riders, parents and horses.

While the focus of trainers and adult competitors is uninterrupted, this is not the case for junior riders. The life of competitive teenage athlete is spent trying to juggle sports, school, and a social life. The hours of my life are filled with a busy schedule, trying my best to do it all and constantly not being satisfied with any of it.  I must be able to balance the value of my education and my passion. My teachers do their best to accommodate my sporadic schedule, although finding time to make up missed work proves challenging. It is the struggle between how to give equal attention and focus to riding and school work. It is hard to fulfill the expectations of my teachers, trainers, and parents, as well as myself. Amidst the chaos of competition, travelling and school work, it is hard to find my place among the natural disorder of teenage social life. Yet through this precarious balancing act, I would never trade a “normal” high school experience for the rush and pure joy of horseback riding.

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