I’ve heard it said that smell is the sense most strongly connected to memory.
I’d believe that. The smell of my tinted moisturiser I use as foundation first always made me think of nights out on the town, and then when I started as a waitress and in a jewellery store, of working. The smell of the new moisturiser I got conned into buying at a large mall early on in my stay in America always makes me think of summer. The smell of febreeze will always remind me of my first night in America. Garlic and onions frying in oil conjures up pictures of my mother cooking in the kitchen back home. Coffee makes me think of early Saturday mornings before the rest of the CBD was awake, sitting on a bench in the relative cold waiting for it to be time for work.
It feels like 2013 should be full of memories that specific, that attuned to a certain place in my life, standing out among the 22 years’ worth of other memories I have. After all, 2013 was the year I took all the risks, and followed my dream: I moved out of home, I flew around the world, I embarked upon a job within the career path that I would ideally choose. And certainly the things I have done have created memories, recollections I will never forget, but at the same time the year has been lived at such a constant, frantic pace that I’ve now been in America for over eight months and I can’t decide whether it feels like two weeks or three years.
The start of 2013 was one filled with anticipation and change. Whilst it hadn’t happened yet, I knew it was going to happen. Applications had been filled in and submitted. Then came the waiting game.
Throughout that, I worked two jobs, earning the most amount of money I’ve ever had in a bank account ever. Oddly, I thoroughly enjoyed the two jobs, too; working in a jewellers (and I thought I liked jewellery before then…) and as a waitress. It was difficult because it meant that I didn’t really get a ‘holiday’ after uni finished – but it was worth it, because I knew that every single dollar I earned was going to go towards me achieving perhaps the biggest thing I’d ever aimed for in my life.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to say that it was strange to think that it was actually happening. I still sometimes think I’m just dreaming.
The hardest part of that first part of the year was selling my horse. Due to my insecurities more or less convincing me that my Plans weren’t actually going to happen, I put off offering him for sale until the last possible minute. This resulted in a lot of stress, both emotional and financial; I did not end up selling him for the price that he was worth, simply because I didn’t have the time. However he did end up going to the perfect home; a girl that loved him and that wouldn’t push him beyond his limits. It was a bittersweet ending. That horse taught me so much, not the least when to accept a horse for what they can offer you and move on. He tried his heart out for me, even if he wasn’t perfectly suited to the life I wanted him to live. He was one of the special ones, not because he gave me rides at the highest level I’d ever ridden at (though he did); but because he convinced me not to give up on horses at a point in my life where I considered it.
Real confirmation of my leaving came in late January or early February, and from then on it was a constant race to organise myself. I packed up my entire life back home, putting most of it into boxes and then into my parents’ garage (I’m still not sure I’ll ever be able to get rid of some of that stuff… maybe one day when I mature! ;)). I researched and researched luggage and what would be best, weight limits on different airlines, airfares on different airlines, and finally made a decision and stuck with it. I went the more expensive suitcase with the much lighter-when-empty weight. Definitely a good decision! Although I didn’t pack many winter clothes (as I was flying in for an American summer), having to include a lot of horse stuff meant that weight and space limits were quickly used up.
I flew out on the 17th of April, landing in America (due to having to wait until my visa was confirmed to book a flight) in the evening of the 19th. (For those of you playing at home; what happened was that I flew the long way around the world, with a layover in Abu Dhabi, making the approximately 36 hour flight actually take approximately 36 hours. The advantage of this was that I experienced almost no jetlag – as I hadn’t technically lost a day. The disadvantage was, you know; 36 hour flight.) Saying goodbye to my family was one of the weirder experiences I’ve had. I think because I’d been so keen to leave home for so long, I wasn’t particularly emotional. With the technology we have these days, I knew I’d be able to stay in touch with them. And for me, I was embarking on an adventure, a real life, away from the small-minded town I’d grown up in and away from the painful memories. I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t care – I did – but at the same time, no tears were shed.
Arriving in America was nerve-racking, but I was quickly comforted when the first thing my new American family did was offer me a glass of wine. That definitely set the trend and I’ve really felt I fit in well with them, at the very least. The first competition I went to over here, about a week after I started work, Rolex 3DE was on and it was raining; we ended up in my Boss’s dad’s RV, watching Rolex on an iPhone and drinking wine and gin and tonics. I had to glance around to make sure my mother and aunty weren’t there. They would’ve fit right in!
So in some aspects I feel that I’ve fitted right in, over here in America. There’s definitely aspects where I don’t feel that way. Living on the farm, isolated from even nearby towns, with only certain workmates to deal with; my social life has suffered, and mentally that’s hit me hard on and off. The politics – those which you get in any workplace, it’s true, but see above re: isolation and lack of other social life – have been extremely hard for me to deal with. I’ve gotten to know myself better and to recognise the parts of me that I’d like to work on changing, and the parts I’d like to maintain and nurture, and why. Parts of this experience have been challenging, but I also think they’re largely the parts which have taught me the most.
And then there’s the horses. Oh, the horses.
I’ve certainly developed exponentially as a rider and a horse professional since coming over here. I’ve recognised a passion for groundwork that I didn’t realise existed within me. I’ve learned basic stable management and the day-to-day care of horses in a professional barn environment that you don’t get from just caring for your own horse on a private property. I’ve been privileged enough to ride horses trained up to the Prix St George level and horses literally claimed straight off a racetrack. I’ve developed enough of myself to feel although I could take a horse at almost any level of greenness and train them up to be comfortably competing at the lower levels. My upper-level work is still a work in progress, but that will come; I’m much more excited about my ability with the greenies. I’ve sat bucks that feel like you’re literally six feet above the ground and bailed off of a rearer. I’ve been thrown around on the end of a leadrope, the only thought going through my head being ‘if you let go of this horse your Boss is going to literally kill you’. I’ve been out at the stable til 9pm with a colic case. I’ve gotten to the point where three-legged lameness is less of a concern to me than is a slight niggle at the trot. I’ve rehabbed multiple horses and I’ve watched a particular horse with a particular amount of talent make his way from an injury to walking, to trotting, to cantering, to jumping. I’ve learnt so much about these animals and so much about the professional business involved with them.
And, insanely, I still want to be involved in that business.
That’s not a knowledge that I wake up and say to myself every day. Some days I drag myself out of bed at 6.35am and struggle to be out at the barn by 7am. Some days I don’t want to talk to anybody and I don’t want to touch a horse. Some days I have to wait five minutes before I can get on because if I got on feeling like I did, the ride would never be productive at all. It’s a knowledge that is more intrinsic, even innate. It’s a knowledge that springs to mind whenever I think about doing something else with my life. It’s a knowledge that appears with operatic solos and rainbows whenever I have a particularly good ride. And it’s a knowledge that creeps up on me when I walk out to the barn at 7.03am and flick the aisle lights on, and big grey heads blink sleepy eyes at me, and I smile.
After seven months – seven crazy months of learning how the barn runs, how to groom at big shows, how to deal with clients, how to ride – I planned and schemed for a week off. A week off to finally get into Washington DC (sadly a 40 minute trip from the barn, but no rest for the wicked) and perhaps elsewhere, depending on funds and timing and what my heart thought at that moment.
It’s a week that I’ll endeavour to always remember. Travelling by yourself can be intimidating, but for me it’s more exhilarating, and it increases the people you meet tenfold. I stayed in a hostel in DC and at a friend’s place in NYC – and I realised, speaking in the hostel to other travellers, just how much of a nomadic heart I have. I’m certainly not ready to settle. I haven’t found a place that calls to me and that I don’t want to leave. So far, all I’ve found is more places I want to explore, more people I want to meet, more experiences I want to have. Long-term, horses may not be the best business for doing that. But short-term, while I’m developing my resume and trying to find my niche, it’s perfect.
And even long-term, competing horses provides an opportunity to at least see other places – even if you’re surrounded by the same old people. I’ve travelled up and down the East Coast going to competitions. I’ve covered Virginia and Maryland, and been lucky enough to go to the prestigious 3* at Fair Hill – perhaps even luckier because the Boss was competing in the Young Horse, so I got to see more of the 3* competition than I might otherwise have. I’ve watched Boyd Martin, Buck and Bruce Davidson, Phillip Dutton, Sinead Halpin, Jan Byyny, Sharon White, and so many others over courses varying from Novice to 3*. I’ve been exposed to so much, more than I could ever have imagined when coming over here.
And who can forget William Fox-Pitt teaching a clinic at my barn? Or Karen O’Connor randomly walking down the aisle one day?
2013 was jam-packed, full of experiences, so many that I’m sure I’m missing some key ones. And what does that mean for 2014?
For me, it’s a continuation of what began in 2013. 2014 starts with a trip to Florida – seeing more of the sights America has to offer, another culture-within-a-culture, another barn albeit with the same people. We return to Virginia in mid-February, and as the weather warms the competitions start to heat up. I may be able to hit a few of the early Spring events, depending on what the horses (and riders) are doing.
Then comes April, and the end of my American working visa. I have thirty days to travel before my visa officially expires – and I’m going to make the most of those thirty days. So far I’m throwing around names like Rolex 3DE, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas. Realistically (read: financially) I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be able to do. Chicago will happen, regardless of all else. And I’m sure I’ll make the most of whatever I can.
Come the end of May, and I’ll be heading to Europe. Any luck I will have a job lined up there… there’s a few options on the horizon already, and I think they will only increase as I start to really knuckle down and make it happen. I’m not yet sure whether it will be an eventing barn, or a dressage barn, a young horse barn or a showjumping barn. I’m not yet sure what will be best to benefit my career or how I would make it work. I’m not yet sure even which country to really start looking at, or how the visas work.
So 2014 will bring a lot more of that research I did in 2012, as well.
The idea of packing to leave for Florida scares me, as it seems like a dry-run for packing to leave in April/May. It’s going to be difficult to pack my life away, to choose what to bring and what to leave. To leave the place that I’ve made my own and strike out again. I know I’ll be able to do it; but to say I’ll do it without fear would be a lie.
I’m not yet sure when I will get back to Australia to see my family. June 2016 is my deadline; I have to make it back then. What happens before then is up to fate, and (primarily, as ever) finances.
After I (*fingers crossed*) land and start a job in Europe, who knows what 2014 will bring. There will still be seven months left in the year and I’m sure they will bring so many new faces and experiences that I’ll have the same trouble this time next year, remembering everybody and everything that made the year unforgettable but still somehow unfathomable.
People have a tendency at this time of year to make resolutions. I rarely do, and even if the fancy strikes me I’m one of those people to have forgotten it by mid-February. And, y’know, I could do all of the typical ones; moving to America saw me gain 10 kilos (!). I’m probably drinking too much. I could eat healthier, and probably less. I could move more. But, the thing is, saying I’m going to start doing that tomorrow seems ridiculous. I will; I know I’ll work on getting healthier, physically and mentally, at some point next year. It kind of has to happen, and I know that. Making a resolution about it just seems hackneyed, to me.
I prefer goals, to resolutions. And I have small, and medium, and even some large goals which I’m working towards. But as far as yearlong goals go, I’m kind of forced into achieving them:
- Find a job in Europe (inc. research visas etc)
- Experience as much of America as I can before leaving
- Ride as many horses as I can, both before I leave America and while I’m in Europe
- Be proactive in working on my mental and physical health
So then, 2014. It will be another year of change and another year of travel. Another year for me to work on finding myself and what and where I want to be. A full twelve months without seeing my family (in all probability). Another year where I have to forge my own support network in the place I currently find myself.
Another year full of opportunities, another year full of challenges.
And all I can say; bring it on.