If you’re a horse owner, that means that at some point in your life you’ve been a horse buyer. You’ve combed over classified ads, watched countless YouTube videos, and traveled across states, regions, or even to Europe to see your top candidates in person. You know firsthand that, for prospects under saddle, the first ride usually tells you everything you need to know about the horse – does he or she respond well to your aids or pretend that your signals are unclear? Does the gelding take you right up to a fence or hang back? Is the mare heavy in your hand or light? Does the horse fit your leg or is it too narrow, too wide, too short, or too tall?
If you’re lucky as a buyer, you get to go back and ride the horse a second or even a third time to see if a good (or even bad!) first impression can give way to a better (or worse) second impression. I was fortunate with the last two horses I purchased that I was able to ride both twice before deciding to buy. BB LeTour, my Holsteiner schoolmaster, tried to intimidate me on our first ride and again on our second, but when I didn’t give in to his antics and he settled, I knew we would be fine. Meanwhile, Ricochet, my current horse, was a perfect gentleman on both trial rides – to the point of coming across as insecure.
Yet despite one bad first impression (BB) and one good one (Rico), both turned out to be great horses and just what I needed. Still, neither horse was perfect; BB’s conformation wasn’t ideal and he had some health issues that had to be addressed. Meanwhile Rico – while stunning to look at – has a violent fear of men in broad-brimmed hats (long story) and couldn’t muster a reliably clean flying change until this past winter.
If you’re a high school junior searching for a college, horse shopping can teach you a lot about the ups and downs of the process.
You see, in my entire riding career, I’ve never purchased a “perfect” horse. (This doesn’t prevent me from looking – though I fear it’s stabled in an imaginary barn between Pegasus and a unicorn.) I have, however, purchased the “right” horse in the past and hope to again in the future.
Likewise, I don’t think that the “perfect” school for you is necessarily the same thing as the right school. The right school will have academic programs that excite and inspire you, people with whom you enjoy spending time, fun activities to fill your free hours, and will help you discover a direction for your life to take after graduation. It might not have the nicest, plushest dorm rooms or be located in the most exciting city in the world. It might not be close to horse country or have a winning football team to cheer on. It might not even be one that anyone in your hometown has ever heard of before. But all of the characteristics that make it right should easily overshadow the aspects that prevent it from being “perfect.”
The college I attended certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was absolutely right for me. Even though to this day I can still list the “quirks” of my freshman dorm room and tell stories of less than stellar dining hall cuisine, when I think back on my experience, I rarely think of the negative things. I’m more likely to tell you a story about watching the Detroit Red Wings play for the Stanley Cup on the tiny courtyard of our senior apartment complex, about a recording session our jazz band played in, or the time one of my classmates appeared on college Jeopardy. I’ll list my favorite professors and can recall with sharp detail the “ah-ha” moments I had in their classes.
My imperfect – but right – horses are the same way. With BB, I don’t think about the challenges we went through, but I always remember the day I popped him over a four foot fence just to see if we could do it. (We did and my jumping career is now complete, thank you.) I don’t think about my early challenges with Rico either and I know we have some great years still ahead of us.
My advice to you when you visit campuses this spring (either for the first or maybe even the third time) is that you should adopt that same strategy you’ve used in your horse shopping experiences. Look for potential, for a good “gut” feeling about your future partnership, for a spark that inspires you to want to learn more.
Just don’t look for perfect. (Remember, it’s in the stable – right next to the unicorn.)
(Need help “shopping?” Contact me.)