“Travel Alone.”

My, how times have changed.

I’m sitting alone in an Italian restaurant in Belfast, reading (what I call) A Brief History of Modern Ireland (it’s about 750 pages long) and eating a tuna antipasto with breadsticks.

Three years ago I would never, in a million years, have dreamed I would be where I am right now. I think I might have started to eat tuna that year – so the antipasto wouldn’t have seemed as horrifying as it would have if we went back five years – but everything else would have seemed fanciful at best, impossible at worst.

What a difference a matter of years can make.

UST just left Ireland today after a short horse-buying trip with OS. We were talking about the fact I tend to (kind of accidentally) encourage people to leave their jobs – if they’re unhappy, if they’re bored, even if they’re simply dreaming of greener pastures, I always say, just go. There’s always a way out; always a way to something new, and fresh, and different.

She said “but Sondra, you are easily the most independent person I know. The things you’ve done – moving away, travelling to all those cities by yourself – not everybody could do that”.

I guess that’s true, and it’s funny because it’s something I totally take for granted. I’m eating alone, and I don’t feel judged, or pressured, or lonely for it. In that sense I’m so glad that I’ve done all this travel at this point in my life, and that I’ve done it by myself. I’ll never be nervous about going to the movies alone – it simply means it’s a film I’d really like to see. Eating out gives me a chance to read (or write!) and truly appreciate the food, whilst maybe engaging in a spot of people watching. Travelling by myself has honed my already strong streak of independence – there is not a subway or metro rail I cannot master in a matter of minutes.

(Buses, meanwhile, still mystify me, but that is neither here nor there.)

An independence so well-developed may prove challenging in the future, whenver I start to look towards ‘settling down’ (if ever!), but I truly believe the benefits outweigh any possible downsides. I am confident walking down the street by myself. I have discovered the difference between being ‘alone’ and being ‘lonely’. Additionally, I now know myself better than I could ever have imagined. I know what interests me and what I need to research when I go to a new place (my tendency to trip and fall into museums means I like to know their approximate location relative to my accommodation). I know how to read reviews of hostels in order to choose the one that will suit me best, for a price that doesn’t destroy my budget. I know how to make the most of being lost, and how to see the beauty in the differences and similiarities of different streets, cities, countries.

Perhaps I was an independent spirit from the start, and that has simply allowed me to travel as I have. But part of me knows that just doing it, going out there and not having a choice, has taught me so much.

And it’s that part of me that lights up when a friend casually mentions that they may like to travel some day; that part of me that longs to reach out and seize them by the shoulders and say “DO IT. Work three jobs and give up lunch dates and ignore that heartbreaker and just GO.”

Travelling alone, for me, came about more through necessity than choice. My situation meant my only friends were workmates, and it was therefore impossible for us all to head off at once. But – just as untoward circumstances encouraged me to leave in the first place – I am so, so glad that this is how things eventuated. I have had experiences, opportunities, and learning curves that would never have been possible otherwise.

As so, as I sip my cocktail in this lovely restaurant I stumbled across whilst lost in Belfast (!), my advice to you is this:

“DO IT. Work three jobs and give up lunch dates and ignore that heartbreaker.

Just GO.”


A Year in Review

To try and recap this year in a single blog post is a daunting task, made only harder by the experiences I’ve had, the friends I’ve made, and the families I’ve been welcomed into with a generosity and kindness that you’d be forgiven for not believing exists in today’s society.

The beginning of 2014 found me in Ocala, Florida, on a winter migration that seems years ago now. While we escaped the frigid -27F that was pervading Virginia, Ocala was not as warm as one might expect (and certainly not as warm as the showjumpers in Wellington!) – the nights were regularly below zero (C). However it was still a step up from two feet of snow and, having no internet, I read voraciously, rode often, made a couple of alcohol-related gaffs and started to try and plan my future.

As it was, that trip to Florida allowed me to secure my future, for the year at least. The owners of the Irish yard I now work for were over visiting some of their American clients and horses, and my American boss was incredibly generous in introducing me to them – even making an unplanned trip to a distant competition venue to make sure I was able to suggest to them my idea! I can only hope that she was being even semi-honest when she spoke to them about my competency and work ethic, because I’m not ashamed to say it made me glow inside a little.

The upshot of that was that the Irish employers were happy to take me on for a trial, and if that didn’t work to assist me in finding a suitable yard, including my rather large proviso involving pay – as most horse yards, especially one as well-known as the international sales yard I was going to, have people almost literally lining up to work for nothing.

We came back to Virginia in mid-February and despite the fact that there was still snow on the ground (and there would be for at least another solid month), I was feeling positive and motivated, and begun research on my Irish working visa, as well as throwing myself into work at the barn. It is only having left America that I realise how extremely privileged I was to work not only where I was (the facilities themselves were amazing), but with such generous and genuine people. The opportunities I had in America – not only to ride horses schooled well above my current level of riding, but to have lessons and even compete on them – were not required of my boss, but she was more than happy to offer them and I will be forever grateful to her for that.

As April approached, I started to get a little uneasy about my Irish visa. The requirements for the visa were not at all difficult – although I am also indebted to my brother for fronting me the cash I only realised last-minute was required – but the act of collecting all the necessary documentation was tricky, at best. As I could not send my passport in to Canberra with the application, I had to do an impromptu trip into DC and the Irish embassy in order for them to sight the original. I had to get a print-out of my Australian bank statement, only made possible because my mother was wily enough to suggest I get her as a signatory on my account before I left Australia (thanks, Mum!). I had to complete and sign the documentation, and then send it to my home address in Australia, for my mother to add the Australian documentation and then send it to Canberra; we then had to wait for them to process the application and send the (hopefully!) approved visa back to my Australian address, when finally my mother could forward it to me in America.

The only saving grace throughout all of this was that I had decided to do America first; trying to get an American working visa whilst out of the country would have been absolutely impossible. I am extremely glad that I had the foresight to do that country first!

As my working visa expired, I knew I had a month to travel after the end date before I would have to leave America altogether. An unexpected offer from a boarder at the barn meant that I booked tickets to the Rolex Three-Day Event. As luck would have it, my work period ended mere days before the 4* event begun. I managed to book flights and the friend I was going with was kind enough to allow me to share her and her mother’s hotel room, and as such, I went to my first ever 4* as a spectator.

It was incredible. We walked the majority of the cross country course and of course the obstacles were massive, but after my year of intensive learning I also found myself calculating how I would ride some of the easier ones. I spent a lot of time watching dressage and even took notes for the last twenty or so horses, writing what I thought and seeing if my comments were reflected in their eventual score. I drank a few too many Bloody Marys (they seem to be the drink of choice for Rolex!) and spent way too much at the enormous trade village (I hate to think what I would spend at a place like that if I actually owned a horse – it’s overwhelming!).



DSCN2952 DSCN2973

The day of cross country dawned bright and hot, and the cross country course itself was perfect. It was influential without causing unnecessary danger to horse or rider and there were no major injuries on the day. I watched at least one horse over pretty much every obstacle, and unsurprisingly found myself fantasizing about one day flying around a similar course on my own mount. It may never happen at quite that level, but I am determined to run an FEI 3-day before my time is up!





Showjumping day was a breathless, heart-in-your-mouth extravaganza. With an American rider in the top two, throughout the rounds later in the day you could have heard a pin drop in the enormous stadium. William Fox-Pitt of course took the title with undeniable class, but I’d still found myself rooting for Lauren Kieffer, the relatively-local girl.




Throughout the four days I got an autograph from Phillip Dutton, spoke to Dom and Jimmie Schramm, watched Boyd Martin conduct a course walk, and even wished Jan Byyny good luck when I passed her as she was on her way to walk the showjumping course. To see that many top athletes in one place at one time was mind-blowing, and a time I’ll never forget.

After that, I threw around a lot of city names; Las Vegas? Dallas? Los Angeles?

And, of course, Chicago.

I don’t know where my fascination with Chicago stemmed from, and that fact alone means that I probably should have been disappointed with it, particularly because in the end finances limited me to that one city after Rolex for the entirety of the fifteen days I’d planned to travel. But, lo and behold, I fell in love with that city.

I am not sure what it was about Chicago that made me love it so much. Perhaps it was being by a body of water, after growing up next to the sea and then spending a year inland. Certainly my first day there I walked to the waterfront and spent a good three quarters of an hour marvelling over the fact that that body of water is a goddamned lake. But throughout my entire time there, although I did not exactly cram in the action as I wanted to make sure I was well-rested before my move to Ireland, I just found myself thinking if I were to live in a city, I would want it to be this city.

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Even simply walking around the area that my hostel was in, looking for a phone shop (I stupidly put my phone down at a zoo I was visiting and did not pick it up; by the time I realised it was gone, somebody else had and I never got it back) I found myself marvelling at the architecture and the pace of the place. It was different from New York, of course, nowhere near as frenetic, but it was also different from DC; it was a bustling city without ever feeling like it was overwhelming.

I returned to the barn for a few days before my departure for Ireland. One of the memories that will always stay with me is going to visit the horses in their fields when I returned; my two favourite boys, the two grey thoroughbreds, both came cantering over to me when I called them – something they’d never done while I was working. But I had been gone for over two weeks, and I like to think that they missed me. 🙂

Saying goodbye to my American family was hard, but I guess we’d all known there was a deadline on my living there, and we wished each other luck for the future and I promised to visit (I still plan to keep that promise!). As far as that was concerned, the harder time was still to come.

The plane ride over to Ireland was dreadful. I’d picked a night flight, partly for cost and partly because my flight to America had involved me sleeping a lot, so I figured I’d just crash and sleep through and everything would be hunky-dory.

It was not to be so. Perhaps it was because I had an aisle seat in the centre of the plane; regardless, what I thought would be a good five or six hours’ sleep turned into maybe two. I landed in Ireland, after a couple-hour stopover at Heathrow, at around midday, basically having missed an entire night’s sleep.

My first impression of the Irish was how friendly they all were; welcoming me into the yard with open arms, and of course putting me straight to work. 😀 Not wanting to jet-lag myself any worse than I already was, I decided to just stay awake until early in the evening and then go to sleep and hope that my body clock worked itself out. It did over the course of maybe a couple of days, and then I was set and ready to learn the ropes in this new yard!

To chronicle what has happened in the months I’ve been in Ireland would take altogether too long, and I think it can be surmised thus: the yard I work at has a policy of ‘work hard, party hard’. 😉 I’ve pulled long days but generally there is a very relaxed atmosphere around the work place, and we always get to break for lunch. My co-workers attempted to kill me at a weeklong ‘away’ showjumping show (I may have to accept some blame for that). I travelled over most of the east of Ireland going to groom at events (I plan to travel to the west next year!). I learned a few ‘tricks of the trade’ of selling horses – and they’re not what you think. 😉 I figured out that I think my long-term goal is to become an equine vet nurse. I learned that I have been exceptionally lucky with both overseas yards I have been involved in; because both welcomed me into their families with no reservations, and I feel confident saying that I now have three families; one in Australia, one in the US, and one in Ireland.

In addition to my yard family, I was also welcomed into the home of a single mother of two boys, aged five and seven, who treated me as a family member for the time I was a guest in her house. The amount I learned personally about dealing with children from that probably rivals the amount I’ve learned professionally about horses throughout my work. I ‘babysat’ a few times (while they were already asleep) and even put one of them to bed all by myself on one occasion – I felt as triumphant as if I’d taken a green horse double clear! 😀 I had conversations with both of them where I realised I was actually talking to children for the first time in my life. And it all paid off when I bought them presents when I left for the apartment I now live in, and they were absolutely stoked with them – I’d figured out their personalities and their desires, and I realised that if someone now asks me to babysit as a last resort, they won’t come home to find their child missing and me curled up in the foetal position in the corner. 😛

I became extremely homesick for the USA. It was a homesickness I had not experienced in relation to Australia, and it was a weird feeling. But it also highlighted to me how much America and the barn had become my home, even just in those twelve months.

I went to London in December, because Christmastime is probably my favourite time to travel, and I learned the side-effects of sleep deprivation while meeting some amazing people and visiting some amazing places. It was a jam-packed, whirlwind trip that I will never forget, and can only hope to reproduce in other cities in the future.





The world lost an incredible, unforgettable piece of itself when my American boss’s father died unexpectedly. It is the first time I have ever lost someone close to me, and indeed someone I considered a family member. It hit me a lot harder than I ever could have expected, and I found myself wishing I was back in America so that I could do something to offer support to the rest of his family and friends. And it was amazing seeing the amount of people writing about him, and knowing him or having met him. He was genuinely a man that no one could say a bad word about, and it hurts me still to think that I will be going back to an America without him. His laugh still trails through my mind sometimes, and I never fail to smile when I see an RV on the road. I hope you’re up there still tinkering away, Ticke. And I hope that when you glance my way to see what I’m up to, that I can make you smile.

And so I say goodbye to 2014, and realise that it has been twenty months since I have seen my Australian family. I find that I’ve ticked off my small four goals of the year – find a job in Europe, experience America, ride as many horses as I can, and work on my mental and physical health (although the physical health still needs work… I’m still working off all that American sugar and fried foods!) – and, more than that, I find that I am happy, content, and above all, I feel at home.

2015 will be another year of change. There are no firm plans as of yet, and as such I don’t have any real goals; except to remember that I am stronger than I seem, smarter than I think, and braver than I believe. And that when I feel threatened or overwhelmed by a challenge or task in front of me, I just have to look back at everything I’ve done and everything I have achieved over two short years.

Because if I can do that, I can do anything.

Ireland is Treating Me Well

I’ve been in Ireland now for going on four months, and I can’t say anything except the hackneyed ‘I love it here’.

I’m not 100% sure what it is – though I’ll try to explain it.

Going from Australia to America was a culture shock. Regardless of the language, regardless of the fact that they’re both first world countries, even regardless of the fact that I was changing my entire lifestyle and career so absolutely, America was different.

I may be going too far to say that it was entirely regardless of the fact I was changing careers – because horses in America, at least in my experience (a prestigious competition/boarding barn in the hub of East Coast eventing, Virginia), became a lot more cutthroat and professional. Even in Ireland, the professionalism still strikes me; it makes me realise that I was more a ‘backyard rider’ than anything else in Australia. And I’m not saying that is a bad thing, or that I’m better than that now. It just added to everything else that was changing around me.

I loved my experience in the USA. I made friends that I value and that I never want to lose contact with; I had my first experience with a competition ‘trainer’, and realised the value of having someone who always had your back and wanted nothing more than for you to improve; I learnt a hell of a lot about how a barn runs, how a boarding barn functions, how my years of customer service that I thought were only a means to an end actually provide me with life skills that I can build on and use even in the career I’ve chosen. But at the same time, it was so far removed from home that it felt like a different planet. And even that was awesome. The reason I left home was because I needed something different; America provided that in spades. My lifestyle was different. My interaction with horses was different. My interaction with people was different.

Ireland, though, feels so much like coming home. My family is still a world away – and I’m getting, finally, to the point where I miss the fact that I can’t just drop in and have a coffee with my mum – but the culture, the people, the lifestyle, is so much closer to what I think of as ‘mine’.

The Irish are a lot more laidback than Americans, a lot more like Australians. I can’t discount the fact, I suppose, that I am now working in a sales barn as opposed to a boarding barn – anywhere where there is only a set time for clients to be on the property, and we own all the horses, as opposed to people coming and going to do stuff with their own horses, has to have a different feel. And yet the work politics, that I found difficult to deal with in America at times, are all but nonexistent here. Everybody feels like they’re on the same level; we deal with different parts of the way the yard operates, but nobody is above a good slagging, and nobody really takes offense if they are the victim. It’s just the way things are. And that, that happy-go-lucky, take-it-but-also-dish-it-out mentality, that is just so Australian to me.


I’ve been invited to many a pub meal since I’ve been over here, and again, hello Australia. Have a drink with dinner. Have a sip of cider with lunch. Have a few pints over a pub meal we’ve ordered just because. Obviously there’s problems with such an alcohol-for-socialisation culture (see Ireland’s suicide/alcoholism rate, or Australia’s TAC drink driving ads), but at the same time, it feels like coming home.

I feel like I’m part of a family here in the yard. In the US, I felt I was a part of my trainer’s family; but the barn was strictly business. Here, my boss asks me about how I’m sleeping (I’ve had issues with getting to sleep in the past). Here, my co-workers ask me how my workouts are going. Here, if I laugh at the fact that a horse reminds me of my brother, I feel I can straight away tell the first person who walks along, not wait until it’s my friend or trainer or someone who is not strictly a client.

Besides all that, Ireland is beautiful. Virginia had its own beauty; I’ll never forget my forays into DC, New York and (especially) Chicago. But Ireland is so green at the moment (I’m assured, constantly, that that will change in the winter months), and it has paddocks full of sheep (go to Virginia and try and find a sheep, I dare you) and cows and barley and wheat. I live right off a main road and every now and again there’ll be a traffic jam because a tractor has to get from point a to point b and the only way to do so is to use the motorway. I can’t say that doesn’t frustrate me at times, but at the same time, the rural feel to it is so much like my hometown, without being my hometown.


I live within a ten-minute drive of two semi-major towns. I can go into either of them and not be recognised, and if I am, I can simply go to a different supermarket or another town that’s maybe twenty minutes away instead. I didn’t have that luxury back in Australia. I felt so trapped, so known, that this level of anonymity – even if it’s simply because I’m from overseas – makes me feel like I’m home but in a town that has a mindset appropriate for its size, rather than the one that my hometown possesses, in which it seems to think its a town of 500 instead of over 30,000.

There are two things that I think have made me love Ireland a lot, that aren’t actually specific to the country. Number one is having my own car. Technically the car is owned by the business, but it is mine to use; and that freedom, that extra level of independence, makes everything so much easier. I’m sick of seeing my co-workers? That’s fine, this Friday I’ll drive down to a pub I’ve never visited before! Want to see more of the countryside? Okay, last Monday I went for a random hike in a random woods near the town in which I was opening a bank account! Having a car to do whatever I like just makes things so much easier, even if I never did anything different to what I did in the USA; at least here, I have the choice to do so, without having to ask someone else’s permission.


The number two thing is living next to the sea. The place I lived in Virginia was probably an hour from the closest ocean, and I loved being invited to a good beach place with my boss for a brief vacation, but the four-hour drive to get there was tiring. Ireland has had a good summer this year – and a couple of times, after work, I’ve made the snap decision to throw on my bathers and drive the whole three minutes to the white sand beach at the end of my road. On days when my mind won’t shut up I’ve gone for a swim in the ocean and suddenly realised that everything was alright. On a hot summer day when I feel like I’ve sweated out half my weight in liquid (a feeling which, unfortunately, the scales do not reflect) I can just go and have a ten-minute swim or a three-hour swim. It doesn’t matter, because the drive home is nothing. The drive there is nothing. On any one afternoon I choose, I can just go, and swim, or walk, or watch, and that’s made me realise one thing; the ocean is more important to me than I could have ever imagined possible.


And, of course, there’s something else that makes Ireland wonderful to me. Something that made America awesome for me, and something that made Australia bearable for me in those last few months. The reason I moved over here. My passion, my love, and I’m proud to be able to say my career.



I am one of the lucky people who are able to say that their job description includes hacking an Irish Sport Horse through the woods. I am able to say that I now know what to look for if I’m buying a three year old, a four year old, a five year. I am able to say that if I had a horse for three months, I’d know what to do in order to give it the best chance and being sold after that time.

I’ve still got a long way to go as far as my riding’s concerned, and that’s my next milestone; but I am loving being around these animals. Still, after eighteen months, I’m convinced I’ve made the correct career choice.

And as far as Ireland’s concerned? I am so, so glad that I made it the next step on my journey.


Occasionally, (because I am vain and prone to bouts of nostalgia), I go to my own Facebook page and just look at my ‘About’ section.

Particularly, lives in Glenealy, Ireland.
From Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia.

I have come so far. I have done so much more than I could have ever imagined.

And, as people keep telling me, I am still so young.

This is only the beginning.

I am so excited for the future.

If You’re Not The One

I love my job. I love that I’m making it my career, I love that I’m getting so much out of it, I love that I can look at it and realise that I may be able to do this for the rest of my life, because it doesn’t really feel like work.


It’s not the usual ‘but’. It’s not ‘but you don’t make a lot of money’ or ‘but it can wreck you physically’ or ‘but it’s really hard to actually make a career’ or ‘but you can only have it as a hobby if you do real work’. It’s something I guess that is unexpected, something completely different.

But I never grew out of dinosaurs.

There’s one scene in Jurassic Park that always gets me; one scene that never fails to give me goosebumps. Sometimes it even makes me tear up. It’s the Welcome to Jurassic Park scene. That moment when Alan Grant is driving through the park not knowing what it is, and he sees something and freezes; he removes his hat, and then his sunglasses, stands up in the jeep, and sees it. Sees a brachiosaurus walking along next to them. Sees more dinosaurs by the edge of the lake; “they’re moving in herds. They do move in herds.”

I’m not whimsical enough to believe that something like that would be possible ever, let alone in my lifetime. But I never grew out of dinosaurs. And there’s a part of me that will always crave the life of a palaeontologist. Part of me that longs to dig up fossils and classify them. Part of me that longs for unpronounceable latin names paired with mere fragments of bone (dongyangosaurus sinensis). Part of me that rereads Jurassic Park for the fifth time, but also buys The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs and The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs and Raptor Red and anything by Jack Horner. Part of me that wants not only to discover, but to classify and write papers and theorise.

I love my job. I love the career that I have chosen. But if I ever had to do it again, and was forced to make different choices; that’s the choice I would make.

One Week In Ireland

  • It’s only rained two days that I’ve been here – I feel privileged! Although everyone keeps warning me that this week will probably be the entire summer, so I haven’t got my hopes up too far. 😉
  • I’m getting used to the vernacular. Restrooms are toilets again; a biscuit of hay is still a flake; a hat is a helmet, although it’s also a beanie or a cap; ‘grand’ is the equivalent to the American ‘super’; driving a stick is driving a manual again; the workplace is neither a barn nor a stable, but a yard; most horses are transported in lorries rather than trailers or floats; a mobile phone is no longer a cell phone (and the structure of the number is back to being very similar to Australia!); tall boots are long boots again; gaiters are still chaps; a halter is a headcollar (although I can’t tell if that’s again or not, because the terminology changes in Australia and is actually variable everywhere); a hot horse is sharp (although he can be hot as well); and there are many others that I will try to memorise! I find this part of changing countries fascinating, and it never fails to amuse me!
  • I have to drive on the left side of the road again, which is actually more terrifying than learning to drive on the right. I think it’s a combination of the fact that I was really focusing on being correct in America, and the fact that the roads around where I’m staying are narrow and twisty and I’m really not used to cars going the other way passing me on the right. 0.o
  • I chased an 8hh teaser stallion down a semi-main road, and then spent about twenty minutes trying to catch the damn thing, ending in something that reminded me of calf roping (when the rider throws themself from the horse onto the calf while it’s running 0.o)
  • I had my first real conversation with a 5yo today. Nailed it. (Although of course I’m living with two young boys that aren’t into dinosaurs – something that I’m sure I could really talk to them about!)
  • Went to my first Irish event, which was apparently not a really fancy or impressive one, but was still fancier than some of the American (and Australian, actually) events I’ve been to. They definitely put in a real effort with dressing the cross-country jumps and making sure everything looked lovely! Although some of the scheduling issues they had were reminiscent of the old Australian PC events. -.-
  • Rode again! Just a horse that’s not as green as most of the babies, bringing him back into work, but it’s a nice one to start on because I don’t feel entirely like I’m really awful at riding.
  • Made a chicken and leek pie, topped of course with extra pastry spelling out YUM on top as a nod to my mother. 😀
  • Went to two Irish pubs. Or I guess they’re just pubs because I’m in Ireland? They’re  everything they’re cracked up to be and more. 😀
  • Drank my first Irish Guinness – I swear to god they’re not lying when they say it doesn’t travel well! It was definitely better than the one I tried in America.
  • I still really love the Irish; their way of life is much more similar to Australians than Americans. It’s a lot more laidback, although everything still gets done.
  • People questioned my sanity about moving from Australia and/or America to come to Ireland. But then, you don’t appreciate a place until you’ve left it I think; I definitely appreciate Australia a lot more since I’ve left. And Ireland really does have a lot to offer!
  • Patted two foals today.
  • Got a horse ready to be shown for sale from field to presentable in about fifteen minutes. (Go me! 😛 )
  • Went to a rugby match! Leinster vs Ulster at the RDS Arena. Went in knowing nothing about rubgy and came out cheering for a particular side, so I count that as a win! (Like the last sports match I went to knowing nothing about – baseball – it was blue vs red and I was supposed to be cheering for the blue team.) It was actually a good match to watch for initiation, not too many boring bits. 😉 And the crowd was gold. One man was itching for a fight and the way the Irishmen behind us dealt with it brought me nearly to tears of laughter. They literally just took the piss out of him until the whole section was laughing at him and he sat down fuming. I sincerely wish I’d had the presence of mind to tape it; would’ve made YouTube favourites for sure. 😉
  • Drove in a little Irish town and nearly died multiple times. It was a hilly town and I’m still getting used to driving a manual again, and the car is new to me so I’m not sure how wide it is and the streets were very very narrow. Still, I survived to try it another day!

All in all a very successful week. Looking forward to lots more to come!

Dreamin ‘Bout Gettin Gone

“he said ‘Bill I believe this is killing me’
as the smile ran away from his face
‘well I’m sure that I could be [
if I could get out of this place…’”

I got out.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

And now, I’m not only sure that I could be anything

but everything.


The end of this week marks twelve months of my being in this amazing country.

To say it’s gone fast would be an understatement. It’s challenging for me to even begin to articulate all that this year has done for me; in a rare turn of events, I’m at a loss for words. Even if I were to try and frame it in only snapshots, I have so many that they’re practically a blur.

In a brief attempt, here are some moments from this twelve months that made an impression:

  • Jan Byyny winning the 3* at Fair Hill, and me being able to say that I know her – maybe not well, but better than a lot
  • Our Really Awesome Stall Guy Juan catching a loose horse that we’d herded into a paddock and chased around for (not an exaggeration) one and a half hours, by jerry-rigging the leadrope around her head and riding her back to the gate
  • Winning a Novice (the highest level I’ve actually competed) on my leased Prix St George gelding
  • Driving to Florida – that moment when the GPS tells you, “drive south for 797 miles”
  • Our first attempt to get the OTTB Gyles over a pole (he was very… earthbound for a while)
  • Gold Cup last year, after I’d only been here a few weeks
  • Loudoun PC Horse Trails last year, after I’d only been here a week; sitting in the RV in the pouring rain watching Rolex Showjumping (the fact that I will be at Rolex this year is still pretty much incomprehensible)
  • Helping to leg up Cody, and almost literally taking my life in my hands throughout that journey
  • My trip to DC and NY in December (what a wonderful time of year to travel)
  • Hacking out on a gorgeous summer day on a little Monster Pony, surrounded by rolling green Virginian hills
  • Christmas Eve drinks at my trainer’s place
  • The moment when you go to take a horse out of the paddock and it literally can’t walk – and that happened to me twice
  • Learning that a ‘three-legged lameness’ is better than a niggle that you can see somewhat consistently but is not 100% there…
  • Being introduced to what will hopefully be my new employers on my next leg in this journey


…and I could go on. That list does not even come close to doing this year justice; let’s face it, nothing I write will ever be able to do that. All I know is that I have learned so much over this last year. I have never worked harder. I have had moments when I thought I would not be able to go on, and moments when I thought I could conquer the world. I’ve met horses and people that I will always remember. I’ve learnt an incredible amount about myself, my abilities, my work ethic, my hopes and dreams and aspirations, what I want to do and be both in a professional and personal sense.

It’s a gross understatement to say that this year has gone quickly. But at the same time I feel although this is all I’ve ever known, that this is my place and my past and my home.

They say home is where the heart is, and in a sense, I guess that means that part of me will always call this place home. Hard as it may be, I will make every effort to return one day, because you never truly leave your home. And even as memories fade and a new life unfolds in front of me, this place will always call to a corner of my heart.


The next leg of my journey begins in ten days, with a trip to the Rolex Three Day Event, followed by a stay in Chicago, before I return here for a brief soiree before I board a plane to Ireland. There I plan to learn the other half of my chosen profession; here I learnt how a competition barn functions, and with luck I will now learn how a successful sales barn runs its operations.

There’s more stress with visa applications, baggage limits, exorbitant expenses and goodbyes, but the thing is I can’t view this as an end. Even if my desire was to cut off all contact with everyone I ever met here (it isn’t, how could it be), a goodbye doesn’t equal a termination. Instead I choose the word transition; both because that’s what it is in a literal sense, and because of the charming parallel with the horse world – just because you change gaits, doesn’t mean you can let go of anything you had in the one previous. Doing so will damage your performance. Instead, you use the previous gait to influence your next one; to build, to add, and to increase the overall quality of the work you’re doing.

And that is how I view this next step. A transition.

A Selection

of quotes from the diary I have kept
whilst without internet in Florida


I saw an armadillo in the garden this morning.


Spent $175 on groceries today.

I’d really love to get back into pole dancing. Seriously one of my favourite types of exercise – excellent for strength and some cardio, and just fun. I looked up places near the barn a few months ago, but unfortunately it’s crazy expensive. Add into that cost of gas and it’s just not feasible. Which is really sad because I’d so  want to do it again.

I hate it when people whose blogs I follow stop blogging because they’ve ‘found a real life’ or ‘need to get back into real life’. Partly it’s a selfish, ‘I’ve lost a form of entertainment’ annoyance; partly it’s some form of ridiculous jealousy. Like… ‘I wish I could have enough of a life to not need the internet’. Ugh.

I’m becoming obsessed with The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills and Vanderpump Rules. It’s a little sad.
Online dating profile: “Currently in a semi-serious relationship with Vanderpump Rules. Willing to sacrifice time spent with Sur staff for the right person.”

Sometimes I think my life is so depressing.


Will I always be crying alone?


These people are really fuckin weird about Pine-Sol.


Quote of the Day: “Remember that time I was at the Fork competitor’s party, sitting next to Boyd, and my mum got really drunk and started hitting on him and asking him if he rode horses?”


Also, Alison Springer’s new horse she just bought off of WFP for over a million dollars colicked really badly last week and had to be put to sleep today. Like, fuck. What… just what the hell would you do?
It’s the ultimate ‘well, that’s horses!’.


I don’t think I can actually express in words how happy it makes me to watch an episode of Buffy.


Hell is bending over a horse’s foot, attempting to pack it with Rebound, but the Rebound is frozen into a near-solid and it’s nearly impossible to dig your fingers into and in doing so you actually pull the flesh off of the underside of your nails.
It made my fucking fingernails bleed.


Well, mission accomplished. Very hungover. Got kicked out? Don’t remember. Remember dancing. Apartment smells like vomit. My head hurts.
I feel like death.


I got chills.
They’re multiplying.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a cold this bad. Certainly I’ve never noticed a fever so horrible.


“Don’t wish
don’t start.
Wishing only wounds the heart…”

2013: A Reflection

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.