Why I gave up competitive horse riding

It ruined my social life

I have been riding since I could walk, and starting competing at around seven years old. Until the age of 16, it ran my life. I had to train most days, keeping myself and the horses at peak fitness, and my weekends were dominated by competitions. I had to quit because, knowing I wasn’t good enough to turn pro, what was the point in allowing my youth to be based around a hobby?

My first pony, who was free

Eventing consists of dressage, show-jumping and cross country, three elements which at most events are done all in one day, until you get to a very high level. Eventing is a tough game to be in because it takes a really talented horse to be able to get a good score in dressage, meanwhile having the ability to jump clear in the subsequent rounds. This means that it’s about money on top of the rider’s skill, and we weren’t the kind of family that agreed with this philosophy, hence I trained hard and didn’t win that often. So what was the point?

That expression says it all

Doing any kind of competitive sport as a child is healthy and teaches you how to deal with challenges that you face in later life. In the world of eventing, the most prominent lesson you learn is how to deal with is disappointment. The elation you get from winning – which I got every now and then, when luck was on my side – is such that you forget about the early mornings, the mucking out, the grooming, the tack cleaning, being covered in horsehair all the freaking time. However, you learn to realise as you get older that you’re not going to make a career out of this, it really is just a hobby. And you suddenly feel like you’re wasting your time and your money.

Ella Malla Mou, the superstar who took me to the nationals

I have to admit that I tried to quit a few times once I hit my teenage years, and broke my mother’s heart many times when I said I’d rather hang out with my friends than ride the horse than she’d been looking after and paying for. At that age you become selfish and get serious FOMO: I was no exception and starting to get bitter that I had to sacrifice my weekends competing rather than chilling in the park drinking and smoking and learning dressage tests instead of texting boys.

I am glad I didn’t quit for those selfish reasons. Learning that you have to make commitments in life and appreciate the work others do for you taught me a lot and made me into a better person. But you have to admit defeat at some point, and unfortunately it took a few disasters for me to get to this point.

My first appearance in a magazine, with my name spelt wrong

After pushing myself, and my lovely little pony too far when training for the Pony Club nationals, we took a serious tumble which ended in an unconscious trip in an ambulance, a very bashed up face, and a haematoma in my leg after she landed on me. This obviously gave me a real shock, and we later found out that it gave my star pony a back injury. It was all a bit too much and affected us in the future.

Once we got to the nationals, it all ended in tears when I let my nerves get to me and got eliminated in the show jumping by knocking down six fences and being deemed unsafe to progress to the cross country phase. It was embarrassing, and I let my team down. I knew then that it was time to let the childhood dream go and hang up the bridle.

I carried on doing the odd competition on my kind and safe horse that I have now, but I would never attempt the huge fences I used to jump back in the day, I just don’t have the bottle. Even when out hunting nowadays, I miss out hedges that my mum does. I don’t have the ignorant bliss of my youth anymore, I know how dangerous it is.

I made the best friends riding as a child, some of whom are still my closest friends today, so I don’t regret a thing. Riding competitively is the best thing you can do if you have the chance, you just have to know when you’ve reached your limit before you get hurt and disappointed.