Where to Begin?
You know, I need to be honest. I’ve tried to start writing this piece at least ten times. I guess I just never figured out where to begin.
Do I dive into where it all started? The very first time I sat on a horse as a child and fell madly in love with the animal and soon after the sport? Or maybe when I was a junior, completely immersed in the crazy show circuit world, chasing points, missing homecoming, prom and other ‘milestone’ middle and high school experiences to attend different finals and clinics.
No… we would be here a very, very long time if I went back that far. So, let me break it all down for you, cliff notes style, to catch you up to my most recent chapter in the equestrian world.
-I started riding when I was around 8 or 9 at a local pony camp. After begging my parents for over a year, I began mucking stalls, grooming and feeding in exchange for lessons at a small lesson barn tucked away off of a winding back country road in Greenwich, Connecticut.
-When I turned 13 my parents realized this was “more than just a phase.” My mom and her friend, who happened to be an eventer, took me to Aiken, SC to look for a horse. We ended up buying a green OTTB from one of David O’Connor’s working students. He was a great horse, but NOT for a beginner. Honest amateur mistake, ha ha! We ended up finding him a great home where he flourished as (believe it or not) a dressage horse. My mom’s heart was in the right place, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Looking back on it I can’t help but laugh.
-After some not so great experiences at our first ‘show barn’ my parents decided to look into other options. To this day I thank my lucky stars for them and their support. Shortly after I began riding at Ox Ridge Hunt Club under the Dotoli’s and Ken Welihan. They ran an amazing program where I flourished as a junior. Some of my happiest childhood memories are from the time I spent at Ox Ridge. There is a lot to be said about a great trainer; they do so much more than teach children how to ride, they help shape them as individuals. Many of the lessons I learned were applied both in and out of the ring. I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunities I did and do not take any of them for granted.
-I had a great junior career. Those ups, downs and highlights require a separate story of their own because I could go on and on about that time of my life. I graduated high school, my family sold our horses and I stopped riding when I moved to South Carolina to attend the College of Charleston. It was a natural transition, I was starting a new chapter in my life and sadly horses no longer played a roll in my story.
-I graduated, got a job in creative marketing and “sold my soul” to corporate life. I always gave my job my full attention. I was dedicated, motivated and constantly looking for a challenge. I like to think it’s my equestrian foundation that helped instill that in me but looking back I think I was also trying to fill a void that was created when I closed the door on such a big part of my life.
Adulting/Making a Change
So… now you’re a little more up to speed. I was burned out and due for another promotion. Another rung higher on a seemingly endless ladder that lead to nowhere of particular interest to me. I began to grow tired and my spirit began to break a little each time another project with an impossible turnaround time request was thrown at me. I liked the confidence others had in me, supervising and mentoring others and seeing my work come to life in the everyday world. But I wasn’t inspired. I was working nonstop overtime with no set goal in mind, I barely had any free time, and honestly, just found it hard to be happy. So I decided to make a change.
My mom helped me reconfigure my flight path. I put in my two weeks and enrolled in classes to become a licensed realtor. I put in the time, took the exams and started working with my mom’s group at Douglas Elliman. I also began taking riding lessons. Being around horses again woke something up inside of me. I was happier, my anxiety eased it’s grip around my daily life and I began to feel like I was taking control of my future and not just lining up to jump on the corporate treadmill day after day.
Sure, there were lots of rainbows and butterflies. But I’m human. You can’t keep the clouds at bay forever. During those first few months I questioned my actions constantly. I felt like I was demoting myself and throwing my college education out the window. Would people see me as a failure? Giving up my ‘coveted’ marketing job to pursue (*gasp*) real estate? Isn’t that what moms do to fill their free time once their kids are in school?
That voice still nags me from time to time, but it’s quieter now. Real estate isn’t my passion, it’s my job. To those who live out the saying, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” kudos to you because I’d be homeless and eating ramen 24/7 if I lived by that mantra. Instead, I work in order to fill my spare time with what I love. My schedule is flexible. I don’t have any set days off and am on call pretty much 24/7, but it gives me the ability to wake up early and drive to the barn (aka heaven) to start my day in the most wonderful way possible. I didn’t realize how big of a role horses and riding had played in my life until I stepped back into that world and found what I’d been missing all along.
Donny/The Start of ECE
I found Donny on Facebook. Yes, Facebook. I posted an ISO (In Search Of) ad on a private ‘horses for sale’ group. Talk about horse overload… I must have gotten over fifty responses, maybe more. Eventually Katha Gatto of Shadow Creek NY sent me a message with information on a few horses. Out of all the horses I’d watched videos of, one adorable dapple grey stuck out to me. I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I convinced my mom to drive up to Saugerties, NY with me to look at him. The next day I drove up again with my trainer, Kip Rosenthal, to show her my “Facebook horse.” She loved his jump, gave us her stamp of approval and that’s how it all started. We vetted him the next day and a week later Donny was in my life full force.
I decided to start an Instagram account for all things ‘horsey’ to spare my non-equestrian friends from Donny overload. My original handle was ‘DonnyTheDapple.’ I quickly came to the realization that Donny wouldn’t always be a dapple grey, and it also sounded like a pre-teen’s AIM screen name. So I began brainstorming other ideas. I came up with The East Coast Equestrian because (spoiler alert) I’m from Connecticut. The East Coast has always been home, and once I said it out loud, the name just stuck. I switched my IG handle, wrote my very first blog post, and ECE was born.
I strongly believe in transparency. It can be scary, difficult, and at times, downright uncomfortable. But I’ve realized the majority of the time it’s liberating. I was a green re-rider that had just bought a green seven year old horse after eight years off. I think most professionals would laugh out loud at the idea. But I learned by writing it all down… everything I was experiencing, thinking and feeling… I was able to take a step back and actually process it all. When I started to be transparent about my journey on Instagram, an amazing thing happened. People started to reach out to me saying they understood or have been there before. Some even thanked me for sharing because it made them feel less alone and that it was comforting to see someone else going through similar struggles. It kind of blew my mind because I didn’t really think anyone would pay much notice to me and my grey horse, but I kept doing it. The more I did, the more aware I became of how so many equestrian accounts seem to paint a perfect picture. For professionals trying to showcase sale horses, I understand. But I would become immersed in these other accounts, scrolling my way down the rabbit hole of perfect combination after combination, ribbons upon ribbons and not a single fall, chip or rider error.
Was I terrible? Did anyone else have weeks where it feels like you’re just completely backtracking? My horse just acted like he’s never jumped before and last minute decided to audition for the equine rendition of Riverdance. But on our good days, we were great. I stuck with it, and embraced the rollercoaster of horse ownership. Because that’s honestly what it is… a ride. We all have our ups and downs. The vet calls. The blue ribbons. The bad lessons. The amazing trail rides. It’s a journey, and much like life, it will never be perfect. You can however control how you choose to tackle each day, which I believe helps finalize the outcome. So I continue to share, now out of habit and also comfort, because my transparency has shockingly been welcomed to the wonderful IG community. I’ve made some truly wonderful friendships and relationships all thanks to ECE and putting myself out there on social media (which if you asked me pre-Donny I never thought I would be doing!)
ECE has been a therapeutic creative outlet for me. In my old job, I was a storyteller. I developed brand experiences, journeys and ideas to sell to clients. With ECE, I’m able to tell my absolute favorite story. Donny’s.
So yes… in short, I quit my “big girl” job, started riding again, bought a green horse and haven’t (seriously) looked back. Buying Donny was one of the scariest and best decisions I’ve made to date. He has helped me rediscover the power of committing to something. To setting goals. The art of knowing when to throw in the towel and try again the next day or to buckle down and keep going. It’s important to have a passion and make time for the things you love. Your heart and soul require it.
– Taylor, The East Coast Equestrian