Many of us have fond memories of childhoods spent in the saddle. More of us are either still building those memories, or maybe just getting started. As I’ve grown up in the horse world, and watched the younger generations behind me, it occurs to me, there’s a pretty great “farm system” in place here.
I didn’t grow up with my own horse. I didn’t actually have my own until middle school, and then, it was the result of a raffle at a horse show. Despite not having my own horse, I was lucky enough to have neighbors with horses, who were kind enough to share. Through those early connections, I became involved in 4-H. Through 4-H, I quickly gained more connections, and eventually began to show in what was then known as “horseless project” classes. As long as the horse was registered with the 4-H council, or “in the box,” it could be shown by anyone, myself in particular. So thanks to borrowed… well, pretty much everything, I managed a showing career without the benefits of ownership, this was around 1991 I believe. My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, so mom spend every other weekend with her, leaving dad to be my show partner. We went to the point shows, where I was one of usually no more than three or so horseless projects showmen. In our club practice sessions though, I’d learned, you show like there’s 100 in the pen, even if you’re the only one. The blue ribbons were exciting, but I appreciated the praise and judges remarks more, when they’d take the time to compliment me, or offer constructive criticism. During one show, I caught wind of a family looking to raffle off a mare that they no longer had room for. They felt that 4-H had given a lot to their family, and wanted to give something back. Seated with several friends, all feverishly filling out entry forms, we all chattered on about how cool it would be to win a horse. You never think these things through! Later on, a man came to our group with a sweet-faced sorrel mare. He singled me out of the crowd, and asked, what I thought of her. In my mind, she had four legs and whinnied, so she was perfect! I told him, “she’s beautiful!” He offered a leg up, so I could sit on her, while he talked with dad for a minute, then turned back to me and asked, “well, what do you think?” I said, “I love her!” He said, “she’s yours.” It’s hard to type, through teary eyes, even all these years later. Panic struck first, thinking, “oh no, dad’s going to be so mad! We don’t have anywhere to keep her!” But, dad seemed unruffled, as all our friends gathered around, offering trailer rides, stalls, and congratulations. The rest, as it’s said, is history.
Though Reya wasn’t a show horse, we went as far as the All American Youth Horse Show, and won ribbons there. We relied a lot on the help and kindness of others, especially early on, and were surrounded by good people. A common theme that I still find in dealing with the horse community today. Reya eventually was sold, and replaced by Buddy, who went on to take me to county horse queen titles, OQHA point titles, and a partnership that many people still remember and talk about today, even tough he’s been in “the big barn in the sky” now, since 2009. What I’ll never forget, is how Reya, Buddy, and all the others raised me.
My family has never been wealthy, but we have been rich in all the things that truly matter in life. I was raised to understand values like hard work and focus. I learned to appreciate everything I had, because I’d earned it, not because it had been handed to me. I started working full time during summer months at the age of 15, on a Standardbred farm. Mom and dad let me play with the first couple of checks, then eventually started adding financial responsibility to my plate, with one bill at a time. First with my car insurance, then the blacksmith or showing for the day. Little by little, until I was fairly independent. Having a horse is similar to having a child, especially when you’re still a child yourself. 4-H was tremendously helpful, especially in those early years, when I really didn’t know much of anything, and eventually experience as my horses taught me. We figured out how to haul for point titles on one of the most competitive breed circuits in the country, and still afford to eat dinner. I learned a “custom” show blouse could be found at discount department stores, and decorated with fabric or gemstone glue and creativity. Having horses made me more empathetic, when you’re forced to read a soul from means other than conversation, to determine if there’s a problem, it’s something you carry on into your human interactions.
The beauty of all this is, I’m not alone. I now see the little girls I used to put makeup on and pin their hair up, entering the working world with good morals and values. They come back to me and thank me for being a second mom, or big sister to them, and my cup runneth over. I’m proud of me, for being the kind of person that others would want to look up to and emulate, and even prouder of them, for following a good path and finding their way. Horses, and the rest of our human families, turned us out well.