“Are you actually mentally retarded?” A painful pause, punctuated by my boss, immaculate in his Pikeurs and Italian leather boots, inhaling deeply through his nostrils, eyes closed like he was willing me to evaporate. I fidgeted in my muddy wellies, and genuinely-ripped-not-by-Guess-but-by-pony-in-field jeans with grass stains. My hair was escaping my cap like it, too, was desperate to avoid the shit-out session at hand. I was trying surreptitiously to wipe the specks of blood (or manure?) (probably both) from an earlier colic off my cheek. My ego was as high as could be when one is looking like a particularly filthy (and apparently retarded) hobo, standing in front of one of the country’s top riders, who you have just managed to piss off on your second day of work.
Was he… Was he actually waiting for an answer? I wasn’t sure. It seemed that absolutely anything I could say would be the absolutely wrong thing in that moment.
There is nothing that can quite prepare you for your first job in a big yard. Here I was, nineteen, bright eyed and annoyingly bushy tailed, full of optimism and love for horses and three years worth of theory that I was itching to apply. You imagine the glossy docile horses that adorn the pages of your BHS books, the perfect step-by-step application of bandages, the immaculate running of your feed room, the neat client records and paperwork, rows of oiled saddles, impassioned dedicated grooms…
“No, I’m not being sarcastic OR rhetorical. Seriously: Are. You. Retarded.” It seemed there was no way out of answering this. I demurely averted my eyes and mumbled in the negative.
“THEN WHY ARE YOU ACTING RETARDED??? Is this candid camera? Has someone paid you to give me a stroke? Then WHY, for the love of baby Jesus and all his angels, would you put sugar in my coffee? GO AND MAKE IT AGAIN.”
No. This was most definitely not what I had imagined.
Welcome to the life of a working pupil.
- The end of your social life
- Caffeine dependency
- Wine dependency
- Desire to have a drug dependency…
- …but no money to afford such a thing
What you need to succeed:
- A thick skin…
- …and a paradoxically huge heart
- Mental illness (and very likely retardation)
- High pain threshold
- MASSIVE and really dark sense of humour
- People skills, almost more than…
- …horse skills, because they are owned by people (sadly)
- Ability to perform on minimal sleep a bonus
- Humility – but if you don’t have this, some will be provided for you
- A dog (or five)
But the best part…
- Horses! All. Day. Every. Day. Horses <3
- Horses noses
- The smell of horses
- Baby horses
- Hairy horses
- Pretty horses
- Big horses
- Little horses
- Even ugly horses
Because at the end of the day, this one reason – this one, big, beautiful, makes-your-heart-burst, reason – is what pulls us towards this career. Certainly not fame or fortune. If you love horses, there is no cure. You will be broke and broken, and if you choose this path you will still be the happiest person in the room. IF you really love horses, and you try choose a sensible career, you will die a slow death.
But if you choose this, you will be living the dream, waking every morning with a smile, because the reality is that every job has ups and downs, but very few jobs have ups like these. And it only takes being the first person in the world to touch a newborn foal, or watching your favourite horse jump his first grand prix, or to be sitting in a room full of your favourite people, laughing exhausted at the end of a rare but rocks-your-world-in-a-way-that-you-are-high-for-months competition to remember why we can so easily tolerate the abusive hours, abusive bosses, and abusive mental demons.
Follow our weekly working pupil’s blog for an insight to the equine industry, the seventh circle of hell, and ascending with the angels, right here on www.equilife.co.za/blog *****
Read next week for – who knows? We can’t imagine. Because, horses.