After grade 12, many kids face the hard decision of ‘what next?’ For most equestrians this decision is even harder, similar to many athletes who come to a point where they have to choose between their sport and school. For many the decision must be made before the first year of university. There is always the possibility of being able to do both, but for many reasons it can prove to be a challenge.
For me, as the daughter of two coaches, Mac and Christi McQuaker ‒ one of whom decided not to attend university and the other who changed their career path before they finished ‒ it has been a difficult decision for many reasons and one that I went back and forth on many, many times.
I felt added pressure from both ends; my parents and family want to see me attend university and graduate with a degree and although they support a gap year, it is expected that I go back after that gap year is done. As coaches who have been in the industry for many years, they know the struggle of being a professional in this sport. And unfortunately that is getting harder and harder. Therefore they see an education as a fall-back option, which it is. But as a coaches’ daughter who has grown up in love with the sport and the horses and the lifestyle, I want nothing more than to ride. Therefore I had to make a hard decision.
I fell in love with the city of Amsterdam and the European horse industry about two years ago when I bought my last horse, Clash. Because of this, when looking at schools to attend my first thought was the University of Amsterdam. However, because of COVID it didn’t seem practical. My next step was looking at universities in Canada, both those far away from home and close to home. This past spring I got accepted to all four schools I applied to and accepted an offer to Carleton University for Criminology. And for a time it seemed that was going to be my next year.
But then came the question: what about a working student job in Europe? My dad instantly jumped on the phone, messaging all of his contacts in Europe and finding several who would be interested. By the end of that day I had completely changed my mind about the upcoming year and had accepted a working student job at Milestone Farm in the Netherlands, only two hours from the city I had originally wanted to end up in.
I jokingly tell people, “I wasn’t ready to go to university.” However, that’s not entirely true; I could have easily been ready to go to school in the fall, but something intrigued me about taking a year to see if this sport really would be my future. (And to my parents who are reading this, yes I will still be attending Carleton a year from now!) But for now I am ready to embark on this entirely different journey.
It has been an intense month counting down the days until I left for Milestone, in part because I was in Kentucky for two weeks and then had only three days back home before I left. My first day home from Kentucky was spent unpacking and doing a TON of laundry. The next day was spent at the mall shopping and buying things to bring with me. The last day was probably the most stressful, but that is what happens when my mom and I try to pack way too many things.
It took many tries to squish everything into two suitcases. One of the suitcases somehow managed to hold my saddle, boots and helmet. It took one ripped suitcase and three or four attempts to fit everything, but we finally managed to make it work.
When it was time to travel I said goodbye to my cats, dogs and horses and then headed off to the airport. My parents and I parted ways just before security and I began an exciting new journey and I would like to thank my sponsors for continuing to support me in this adventure.