Horses Are My Anchor
A few years ago, a friend and I were going down memory lane and sharing stories of what we remember from our high school days. It seems so long ago! She recalled that every weekend spent at her house included me getting up the next morning to go feed horses. It didn’t matter how late we stayed up, I had to get up at 7 am to drive to the barn on weekends. It was a memory I had forgotten. Taking care of horses is just part of who I am.
Unlike a child that matures into a self sufficient adult, horses rely on you for their entire life. It does not matter how cold, how hot, or how sick you are, you’re responsible for their care. Horses can live into their thirties. This is one heck of a commitment. Sure you can board and pay someone else to do the daily care, but be ready to pay just as much as your apartment rent or more every month for this convenience.
Horses teach you to dig deep and trudge on. Fall off? Check for broken bones and climb back up there. Three feet of snow covering your path to the field? Find a sled to pile the hay bales on and pull. Got baler twine? You can fix anything. Horse people are resourceful and resilient. We don’t give up when things get tough because our hearts and souls are invested in those soft whinnies waiting for us at the barn.
Horses have taught me so much and I credit them for being my anchor. They provide stability in a world that is nothing but. The routine of going to the barn is something I would be lost without. A break from the daily grind is always welcomed, but I find myself ready to get back to horses after a few days away. It has been instilled in me that their needs always come first. The care you provide them is a reflection on you and your credibility as a horse person. You don’t think twice about running out in a rainstorm to bring them in or hand walking them for hours while waiting for a vet at 2 in the morning.
To an outsider, horse people are labeled crazy at times. At times we may even agree with you. We sacrifice so much time and money. What is it that we get in return? A gift far greater than can be explained here. For those who have never been the recipient of what horses have to give us, it is not surprising you would doubt our obsession. For those who have, it’s why we can never give it up.
Will It Be Horses or Boys?
How many times have you heard “If they make it through the boy phase and still are into horses, they’ll be in it for life?” My mother appeased my desire for riding lessons at the age of 8 with the idea that this was just a phase. I just turned 39 and I’m still living and breathing horses.
I had a few dates and eventually, boyfriends. For many reasons a psychologist could have a field day with, I continued to fall for the bad guy. It never ended well nor lasted long. Looking back, that was probably a good thing! It took me a long time to realize my pattern and make a change.
I didn’t have much time to devote to a relationship as I was either working at the pool or at the barn and had to keep my grades up. And, I wasn’t exactly getting encouragement from my mother or grandmother to date. The rules when it came to boys were very strict. Surprise!
When I had a bad date or I was going through a break-up, I still had horses to look after or a shift to show up for. My commitments didn’t hit pause because life was really crappy at the moment. The horses still needed to be fed, their stalls cleaned, and they needed their turnout time. But I also needed them. There is nothing like the comfort of being at the barn to help heal a heavy heart or to slow a mind from a busy schedule.
There are times when I see or hear of a young adult in high school that has been given a car, does not have to work, and has a college education fund set aside. Their parents bought them a horse, paid for lessons, board, horse shows, etc. I will feel a twinge of jealously. “Must be nice!” will run through my mind. But then I wonder, who would I be today if I had that childhood? My answer to that is, I have no idea. I am this person because of my path. It has made me strong and proud of the woman I have become.
There is a rumor in my family that my grandparents had a college savings fund for me. I use the word rumor because I never saw it. My father did not believe in the financial burden of college. The risk of me dropping out or not using my degree was one he was not willing to take. One more reason to keep my grades up, I needed scholarships!!
Senior year was coming to an end. I had been accepted into my college of choice; a small, all women liberal arts college in southcentral Pennsylvania. I was going to major in Equestrian Studies. Riding lessons were actually a course! I was so excited.
I received one full year of paid college through a scholarship. The rest of the tuition was going to be paid through student loans, grants, and parent loans. My mother was required to take a small percentage of the loan debt based off the amount I was borrowing, through a parent loan. Though my mother was barely getting by, she would figure out how to make these payments. She wanted her daughter to have an opportunity she never did.
All I saw was my chance to get out of Dodge and away from a stressful home life. Senior year was almost over. I was going to college!
Senior skip day is a long standing tradition. It is assumed that on this day the school’s senior class attendance will be extremely low. I have no idea how the day was selected or how the tradition was started, but I wanted to be a part of it. My friends and I thought it would be fun to drive to one of the multi-story malls less than an hour away and spend our senior skip day shopping. Definite risk takers here! I asked my mother if I could be a part of this tradition and go with them. I would be with my best friend since 5th grade, I would be driving and would be home in time to go work that afternoon. I got a hard “no” answer. I had to go to school.
I thought my mother was being absolutely ridiculous and told my friends that I would be going with them anyway. How would she know that I didn’t go to school? I was a senior and felt entitled to enjoy an excused day from school. Off we went to the mall. I was none the wiser that my mother had literally gone to my school that morning to make sure I was there. Busted.
We left the mall in time for me to drop my friends off and get to work. Responsible child right? I parked my car and walk into the lifeguard office to get ready for my shift. An employee came to let me know that my mother had called. Oh no. I called her back trying to play it cool. She was coming to meet me and escort me home. I no longer could be trusted.
I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I broke down after hanging up the phone. My coworkers huddled around me trying to console me. I was begging them not to let me go home as I was absolutely terrified of what was going to happen. I had never heard her so angry.
I drove home with my mother in her car behind me. Yep. She was furious and I wasn’t arguing with her. Once we got into the house, she came apart. I was no longer going to college and my horse was going to an auction. My life was over and I was stuck there with her. Even my grandmother was shocked at her reaction. I was pretty sure my mother had gone off the deep end. My actions had caused me to lose my chance to leave. I had been so close. What had I done?
When I showed up for class the next day, my teacher was wide eyed. I still do not know what my mother’s reaction was that day when she discovered I was not in class, but based on my teacher’s reaction, it must have been quite the show. He said something like “Oh my god, you’re alive! I thought your mom was going to kill you!”. Well, I felt like she had.
Fortunately, the owner of the barn that I spent all my time at stepped in. She explained to my mother that if she went through with sending my horse to an auction, any chance of her and I ever having a relationship would be over. Our relationship was extremely rocky even before this moment. She wanted so badly to have that strong mother daughter bond with me through my teen years but I could not see past her rules or my grandmother’s controlling nature. I wanted to leave. She realized that if there was any chance of her and I working through what had been broken, she could not get rid of my horse.
Eventually, we reached a comprise. I was not allowed to ride for a while but I could continue to work at the barn, the pool, keep my horse, and go to college.
This was one of the toughest moments in my life regarding my relationship with my mother. She did what she thought she had to do, and under the pressure of parenting a teenager and struggling with her own mother, she had her breaking points. Whether her parenting style was right or wrong, this moment happened and is forever etched in my memory.
Keep checking back for weekly updates on “It’s My Life”, reviews on exploring the Dressage Today OnDemand website, and my dressage diary with Josie!
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