Palo Alto High School's Social Activism Publication

Karrie Huang

I’m on my jump course, cantering around a turn toward the next obstacle.

Finding my third place

Riding’s impact on my high school experience

May 25, 2023

On my average Sunday mornings, I question my physical safety. I question why I’m here. I question why I chose to do what I’m doing. But I don’t dare question my riding instructor. 

I’m sitting atop the mare I lease, Carolina, about to jump an obstacle that I’m sure will terrify her, pitch me out of the saddle, and leave me bleeding out on the dirt. I grit my teeth, I plaster on a smile, and do it anyway — flying over the wooden poles raised three feet in the air. In the aftermath, I am exhilarated. 

Somehow, this weekly near-death experience is nowhere near as terrifying as the daily eight-hour experience that is school. I consider my riding lessons an escape, a space where nothing is expected of me but that next jump.

Within the other main spaces of my life though — there is always something I’m not doing, falling behind on, failing. 

At school: Pay attention every second with the little sleep that I have or miss information that’s going to be on the test. 

At home: Start homework, and if by some miracle I finish, there’s always that email to write, that contest to enter, that program to apply to. 

Every minute spent on Netflix is tinged with guilt. I glance at the pile of worksheets and problem sets that seem to accuse me of slacking off. Everyone else is managing it and more — so can I. The pressure builds. 

But at the barn, I can decompress in a space that doesn’t expect anything grand. 

It’s my third place a la Ray Oldenburg, who invented the concept, but instead of communion with community, I find contentment with myself. I might have dragged myself up to the barn wondering whether riding is a waste of time better spent improving my future, but once I’m there, I can let go. 

Indeed, I’m forced to let go. The shoddy phone service precludes even a text, let alone email and Google Docs. The physical energy that piloting a thousand-pound animal requires rules out errant thoughts concerning quiz questions and testable material. And the constant fear of falling off and dying centers my mind on a single goal: making it around the jump course. 

The ability to release the pressures of home and school, even temporarily, are a big part of how I’ve made it through senior year without burning out. Even knowing there’s a place where I can exist keeps me pushing through it all. It’s what keeps me sane in the aftermath of the campaign for college. 

I can’t imagine these past four years without the barn, my third place. If the pressure is building, there’s a way to feel happier without dropping classes or ending your favorite extracurricular — without feeling like you’re falling behind. 

Find your third place. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it doesn’t have to be far away — it could even just be a different room in your house where you ban everything productivity-related. What matters is the expectation of no expectations.

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