This Woman's Work - Sand, Steeds & Symphonies
A couple of weeks ago our freezer door mysteriously stopped closing. My natural reaction was to ask Big Slice if he had a pickaxe to rectify the problem, only for him to respond that the simple solution was to defrost the freezer which was “women’s work”. Incredulous at his cheek (and choosing to ignore the fact that I frequently delegate ‘man-tasks’) I constructed him a headdress out of rubber gloves, kitchen roll and a basin, then left him to get on with it.
I couldn’t shake the expression and it got me thinking about actual work. The decisions we make and the journeys we take to – hopefully – find a career we enjoy and if we’re really lucky, grow to love. It was my initial intention to do a post with a composite of insights from various inspirational women I have spotted on my real life and online travels, but once I put the feelers out it very quickly became apparent that all their stories were so engaging, they needed to be told in full.
It gives me tremendous pleasure to kick off with the below. I hope you enjoy. N x
Stephanie (from Ayrshire, now living in Dubai)
I have been in the UAE for 4 and a half years now, and have worked for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum for 3 of those as an endurance horse trainer and riding instructor.
I don’t want to make anybody sick by reading this, but my job is wonderful; I get to spend every day with these majestic creatures we call horses. My typical working hours are 3:30pm-7:30pm but I usually go in at 2pm as this gives me the opportunity to go riding without saddle, bridle or helmet which I love. I feel so free and connected with the horse and it gets me in a great mood for the day ahead. We have several grooms that do all the dirty work that I grew up doing; no more mucking out stables or saddling up the horses for me! I then pick out a couple of problem horses and work on their training to become better before any of our riders go on them.
I meet the riders at 4:30pm in a villa beside the stable. I give a brief about what we will do that day and assign each rider to a horse. We then ride out through a dessert track around 30km. When we get back to the stable, I teach and brush up on advanced techniques with the riders inside the arena. Once lessons are complete, I give a debrief to the riders then check the horses and make sure their legs are okay (we call this lame or not lame). If necessary, I advise the grooms of any horses that need special treatment such as putting their legs in ice, then I go home satisfied.
I was brought up around horses; my sisters and I would wake up at 6am and look after the horses every morning before school. This taught us so much about responsibility and team work. I always knew I would work with horses, but I also have a passion for music so I studied musical theatre for 2 years. I stand by the quote ‘follow your passion, it will lead you to your purpose’. In my spare time, I’m currently learning piano and mastering the art of singing at the same time. I also took a vocal coaching course so that I can teach people to sing when I’m too old to race horses. One thing’s for certain, I don’t want to do anything that I don’t love to do.
I always knew this would be the career for me – it’s in my heart. My mother once said to me, ‘follow your heart, it won’t lead you astray.’ The best part of my job is teaching riders, seeing them progress and compete in professional horse races and feeling proud of them. That’s job satisfaction and life purpose for me. The freedom I experience is akin to a kid in a sweetshop – I have my pick of hundreds of wonderful horses to ride, going into work early allows me to take full advantage of this luxury. The above picture shows a race I competed in where I won by no more than my horse’s nostril crossing the finish line first. It was one of the best feelings of my life, and I was high as a kite for months afterwards.
The hardest part of my job is trying to keep everybody happy. Everyone wants to be given the best horse so keeping each day drama-free can be a challenge! We have accidents every day, but most aren’t serious. Fortunately desert sand is a softer landing than grass or concrete, it just depends on what speed you are going and if you can move out of the way in time before the horses coming from behind run over you.
I’m in my early 30’s and at the height of my career. I love my job and as long as I can keep progressing and hold onto it, I will be there every day with the horses and riders. People ask me if I’m thinking about having children; I’m in a long term committed relationship, I’m happy, I’m fulfilling my dreams. I’m training for my very first triathlon – I’ve never been so fit in my entire life and it feels great. I’ve always dreamed about having a life exactly like this so why would I change it?
I live on the Palm Jumeirah in one of the most sought after locations in Dubai. We are on the 7th floor with a glass panelled balcony offering a panoramic view of the sea; our complex has a private beach, pool, jacuzzi, gym and a 2.6km running track. Life has never been better. My partner is from Florida, I met him the first week I moved here; 4 and a half years ago at a mutual friend’s BBQ. One of our friends has a boat so we all go wake surfing and take turns to host dinner parties at each other’s apartments. All of our friends (couples mostly) have moved to the Palm and we joke that it’s like the TV series ‘Friends’.
My only concern is that later in life I might regret not having children. When you see someone elderly, it lights up their world when they have a visit from their children and grandchildren. I adore kids and I know I could be a great mother. If I make the decision to have a child, I don’t foresee it being on the agenda until I’m 37 or 38.
I have all of this wonderful freedom and abundance. Maybe instead of creating more people, I could teach other people’s children how to horseride, be a mentor, a great Auntie and in a world full of cruelty, I would like to devote my time and love to helping those who have been abandoned. I’d like to earn enough money so that later in life I can have a sanctuary for forgotten animals. Ex-race horses can grow old, dogs and cats can be re-homed. Children would be able to visit and help; learning how to love and care for animals allowing them to see that they can be the greatest companions. Wouldn’t that be more courageous? I don’t know. Who knows what the future will bring but right now, I choose happiness.
For anyone looking to get into this profession, my advice would be never stop learning and never give up. If you love horses but can’t afford one, you can approach a stable and ask if you could help out around the yard in return for free riding lessons. For me, riding is all about falling down 7 times and standing up 8; although you may be hurt, disorientated and terrified, it’s imperative that you get right back on the horse, otherwise the fear will stay in your heart forever. I believe that you should try to see the positive in every situation; mistakes have the power to make you grow into something better than you were before. If you’re still searching for your dream career, it’s worth remembering that you don’t have to be born with a special talent – you just have to be passionately curious; that’s how talent manifests.
Photo credit: Ana Goodrum @ White Cat Photography
Follow Stephanie on Instagram: @Steffygoudie