My gap year with horses allowed time for me to mature, which I desperately needed. I was now ready to study and go to college. As a teenager, I had really hated high school. I graduated with 750 kids, which meant there were 3,000 kids on campus.
I was in middle school when we moved to Texas from New Jersey and the culture shock never really wore off. Moving on, into the high school with triple the students, was my idea of hell. It was middle school on steroids. I can’t even say that I learned much while there. I memorized a lot and that’s about it.
I was always tired in high school. I did a lot of physical activity with two sports (swimming and riding), but so did most of the other kids. It was a daily occurrence for me to fall asleep in the first class after lunch. Embarrassing, but true. The afternoons were always a bit of a wash for me. I had a hard time juggling it all. Needless to say, I wasn’t the best student. I did just enough in class to get by, in order to do everything else I wanted to do.
People always tilt their heads when I say I went to a women’s college. I find it fascinating they assume I must have a lesbian past. When I was at school, I always countered this enquiry with, “It’s 600 chicks on five acres. Where do you think the dudes are? It’s like shooting fish in a barrel [you dumb ass].” Guys were not hard to come by. I, myself, was a serial monogamist from the get-go and had two serious relationships while I was in school.
Women’s and men’s colleges are a thing of the past these days, but they didn’t used to be. My mom and my sister both attended the same women’s college in Atlanta. I considered it as well, but ultimately wanted to be within spitting distance of Middleburg. David O’Connor had suggested I move to Middleburg outright and take classes at George Mason, but I knew if I didn’t commit to school full-time, it would never happen.
I wasn’t stuck on going to a women’s college when I applied to schools. I applied to co-ed schools as well. My parents and I attended the Wake Forest guest weekend for perspective students. After the tour, my Dad naïvely asked, “So how do you think my daughter will fit in here?” I rolled my eyes, but I’ll never forget his response to the question. The student guide took his time answering.
He looked me over from the bottom to the top. A smirk crossed his face. He said, “I think your daughter will fit in just fine here.”
(This was the first time a dude made me throw up in my mouth a little).
I had to wipe the slime off for that one. It was an easy decision after that experience. Randolph-Macon Women’s College, in Lynchburg, had six hundred students and its own horse scene. I was also inching much closer to Middleburg. I intended to major in biology in preparation for vet school. I knew I wanted horses in my life (as well as animals, period) and thought this would be a good way to monetize my passion.
Dogs and Philosophy
While I loved my biology classes, I didn’t love the labs in the afternoon. They were three hours long each and they were mostly boring. Only the lab for one class stood out. My senior year I took Animal Behavior. An amazing professor had put together this class. In my favorite “lab,” he took us to visit a farmer who used border collies to work his sheep. We got out of the van, and this older gentleman came over to meet us. Like a pirate in a movie, he had two hooks for hands. He explained that he had been in a bad farming accident. His arms got stuck in a hay baler and he was pulled into the machine. He lost both of his arms right around the elbows.
I remember this experience like it was yesterday.
He said, “If it wasn’t for these dogs, I couldn’t make a living.”
He proceeded to work the three dogs, both with his dog whistle, and pointing with his arms/hooks. The dogs cut sheep, way across farm, based on his commands standing right next to us. They could work independently, but also as a group, too. They looked like puppets. We couldn’t hear a thing with the dog whistle, but watched one dog sit from a dead run, before being sent left, then right, then sitting again, and on and on. While that was happening, another dog was cutting a certain sheep from the pack, while the third one circled the herd, also stopping when commanded. It was like the farmer was the conductor to a three-dog, moving orchestra.
It was absolutely unbelievable.
The whole experience was incredibly moving on so many levels.
Before we left, the farmer introduced us to his wife’s dog—a Jack Russell Terrier. He had taught the terrier to herd as well. In a smaller paddock by their house, he worked the terrier with a few sheep.
It was awesome.
Besides the incessant yapping, that terrier could have passed as a miniature herding dog. Only much later, when I had my own terrier, would I understand what a monumental feat it was to train a terrier to do anything, let alone to herd sheep well.
My freshman year, trying to knock out syllabus requirements, I had signed up for a philosophy course, Metaphysics. My sister graduated five years earlier with a B.A. in Philosophy, but she was way smarter than me. Philosophy sounded like something erudite people did, not something I did.
Who knew the question, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?” would intrigue me so much. (It explains a lot, I know). My junior year, I came across an ad for M &M’s in a program where one M&M is looking upward at the sky with a bubble over his head that says, “I think, therefore I ‘m.” It cracked me up so much, I hung it on my door.
Honestly, it just goes to show the power a good teacher has to change a person’s life. I loved my first philosophy class, so I took a lot more. As it turned out, I loved all of the writing that went with it too. It was the first time I felt like I was actually using my brain to synthesize information and problem-solve, not just memorize facts and dates.
My only regret in college is that I didn’t take economics sooner. I waited until my senior year to take Micro and Macroeconomics and loved both of those courses. If I had taken them earlier in my college career, I’m positive I would have taken more classes and possibly majored or minored in Economics as well.
My freshman roommate in college was from Oklahoma. She and her mother came to visit me in Houston for a “meet and greet” before we met on campus. They were both very nice, and were clearly orthodox in their religion. My future roommate had a boyfriend she had been dating for several years at that point. They weren’t engaged exactly, but close.
When we got to school, it only took a couple months for my nice, orthodox roommate to decide she might like to experiment before settling down. The boyfriend was left in the rearview mirror. It was only awkward when I was trying to sleep in the top bunk of our dorm room. (Still, eww). Needless to say, the conversation “Hey, get another room” did not go over well.
My second year, my roommate was a Korean girl from Alabama. Nicest girl in the world. We were opposites, as in I was a messy kid, and she was a neat freak. Basically we cut the room in half. It wasn’t hard to tell which side belonged to whom when you opened the door. She even put up with the mouse I had in our room, which was a big ask for someone who had never had a pet and was scared of small furry ones that are usually considered pests. I didn’t set out to have a rodent and I’m not sure how I acquired one by default. I just know I didn’t say “no” (once again).
The Secret is Out
After my sophomore year, I didn’t have a roommate. Early in the semester of my junior year, I received a cryptic voicemail. I didn’t recognize her voice and she didn’t leave her name. The message was, “Meet in the soccer field tomorrow at midnight.”
I didn’t get it and was like “WTF ever to that crazy bullshit.” The next day, a friend called and said, “Hey, meet in the field tonight at midnight. Just do it and don’t ask questions. You’ll understand later.”
So I did.
It amounted to four or five girls and a few bottles of booze. I know…this is where everyone thinks the lesbian part comes in. I didn’t realize until I was well past drunk that I was being initiated into one of our college’s notorious “secret societies.” I thought, “Cool. This one likes to party, and so do I.” They were, in fact, the “drinking” society.
The next day, my phone started ringing off the hook. Girls were calling me, ordering me to do their laundry and bring their cars around to them from the parking lot. I looked at my phone like “WTF? Do I look like your butler??” I didn’t get it until I did.
This was the two week hazing period.
I was supposed to be “on call” any time I wasn’t in class. There was only one problem. This cut in to my riding time (and studying time obviously [insert eye roll], and boyfriend time too). I wasn’t about to do anyone’s laundry. I could barely keep up with my own.
You want me to do your laundry?
Go fuck yourself.
Needless to say, I politely declined their invitation, and it wasn’t too hard to tell who was in the secret society after that. They wore a frigid shield as soon as I entered a room. That part sucked, but I have no regrets. My time was precious to me and I wasn’t about to waste it doing bullshit for other people.
This hasn’t changed for me one bit.
I had every intention of participating in the riding program at Randolph-Macon, but I don’t think they were too keen on having an outlaw Eventer in their midst. They made it clear that, George, my four-year old thoroughbred, would have to fit into the program, or he wasn’t welcome.
I didn’t entertain that idea for a minute. I found an alternative for George right down the road. This also turned out to be a very fortuitous decision. It was a private, family farm that had a handful of boarders who did different things with their horses. Some people rode English (hunter-jumper) and some rode western. A couple people foxhunted and just about everyone loved to trail ride. In all, they were a great group of people that I ended up spending a lot of time with.
In the meantime, I was still trying to participate in Randolph-Macon’s riding program so I could be involved within school. Since I was an Eventer, they pulled out “the hot” horse they currently had in possession. They weren’t sure if it was cut-out for the program, but they wanted to see what an “Eventer” thought.
I rode the big brown mare around a bit and thought, “You call this hot??”
More than anything, it was just a difference in perspective and experiences. I decided to skip intercollegiate riding completely. My parents were visibly disappointed. I remember telling them, “I’ve spent the last six years riding with some amazing people. I don’t want to undo everything I’ve learned to do.” In the end, I think this was the right call. Our goals, and our styles, were too different. I was relieved once I made the decision.
So was the Equestrian Director.
**Next: Eventing in Area II and Polo…..