Have you ever asked a young, horse-crazy girl, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I am going to be a vet,” is a common reply. At least, that’s what I used to say. Back then, of course, I had not yet learned that the road to becoming a veterinarian is not easy. It can be a long, sometimes difficult journey that leaves its travelers weary.
I spent almost half my life just acquiring the knowledge needed to meet the application requirements for veterinary school. Then, after finally completing the prerequisites, I was ecstatic but slightly shocked when I was actually accepted!
But about halfway through my second year of veterinary school, I hit a wall. Like many of my classmates, I was feeling burned-out and frustrated, and I began questioning my decisions: Was leaving my husband and family behind and moving to the opposite coast to pursue my dream really worth it? Was the strain of school ever going to be rewarded? When I came home for winter break, I had some serious doubts about whether to return.
Then I met Kate, the 12-year-old daughter of a family friend. My name is also Kate, and the first time I saw her, I couldn’t help thinking, “This is what I must have looked like at 12”—skinny, blonde, bright-eyed and full of energy. And, like me at that age, Kate was genuinely horse crazy. She just couldn’t get enough time with horses.
One day, my husband and I took Kate with us to visit a big breeding farm. Her enthusiasm was so refreshing, and as she bombarded me with questions I was proud to be able to offer at least a partial answer to each one. As the day went on, I found her youthful excitement slowly rejuvenating me.
The moment that affected me most was when Kate uttered some of the most insightful words I have ever heard from a 12-year-old: “Horses are just like a drug,” she said. “You are on a high all the time and they also take all your money. But that is the best thing ever!”
Suddenly, I realized why I had been feeling burned-out and frustrated. I had lost focus. Veterinary school had been consuming me. The day-to-day grind of deadlines, classes and exams had overshadowed the reason I was there in the first place. But Kate had reminded me why I had invested my entire being into this endeavor: my own love for horses. I looked at Kate, and then at myself, and thought, “Wow, look how far I have come! I was once that horse-crazy girl in jodhpurs and paddock boots. Now I am on the last leg of my journey to become an equine veterinarian!”
Now although on some days it still feels like it is taking an eternity to get there, I have realized that this is only a small segment of my voyage in life. Soon enough, I will be out in the real world with my own practice treating and caring for the animals I have always loved. And when I find myself getting discouraged by my daily challenges, I think about Kate and why I am here and what I am working toward. I am seeking that ultimate high—to be immersed in the equine world day in and day out.
Kate was right. I am fortunate to possess this deep, unrelenting love for horses. And it’s strong enough to overcome the greatest of self-doubts.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #465, June 2016.