I’ve been a horse-love since I could say “horsey.” When I was eight or nine, I desperately wanted to take lessons. As much as my mom wanted to give us every opportunity to learn and grow, she was a stay at home mom with three kids and my dad was bringing in negative salary while he was in law school. So, she told me if I could save up the money for ten lessons ($350 dollars), she would find a way to pay for the rest. I saved up for a whole year, asking for only cold hard cash from my parents and relatives for my birthday and Christmas. I remember my mom wrapping my Christmas cash in a box with Kraft Mac’n Cheese so that I’d have something to open on Christmas day, even though I wasn’t getting many physical presents.
True to her word, my mom made a place in the budget for horse lessons after those first ten lessons, and drove me 45 min each way to learn to ride horses for three years. When we moved from College Park, MD to the more rural Upper Marlboro, I started riding at Willowbend Farm, only ten minutes down the road. Because I was homeschooled, I had a flexible time schedule, so the wonderful woman who ran the barn, Laura, agreed to let me work at the barn for three hours every weekday morning to earn my lessons. Each day, my mom would wake me up at 7am, drop me off at the barn, and pick me back up at 10am. I fed horses, carried hay out into the fields, and cleaned water buckets. It took me about two to three trips to empty a dirty bucket of water, being a tiny little girl, so I can’t imagine I was really that helpful. It took me most of the morning to do what was a 3o min task for a full-sized person. I learned so much about horses and hard work at Willowbend. I’m eternally grateful to Laura for giving me a chance to prove how hard I could work and how much I wanted to those lessons. I worked at least one day a week at Willowbend until I was seventeen, spending a few weeks working as a camp counselor for many of my teenage summer.
When I was thirteen, I overheard Laura talking about how they would have to give away an ornery pony named Stanley because he wouldn’t stop bucking and kicking the wall during lessons. A lightbulb went off in my head, and it took my the ride home that day to convince my mom we should take this free pony. With a few acres of land and a few stalls in place, all we had to do was put up some fencing and buy enough grain for Stanley to get a handful every day. Of course this was more expensive than we had planned, but my parents were both working then (my mom from home), and we had more discretionary funds. My mom was starting to become a horse person herself, despite an initial fear of the big ones. So, we brought Stanley home, and with some one-one-one love he turned into a total sweetheart (without losing his enormous ego, sass, or penchant for escaping to see the mares next door).
Within a year or so, I was already getting a little big for Stanley, who was a pretty small pony. Besides, he was lonely. So, as happens with most free horses, the costs grew when we decided to buy a full-size horse. My mom and I both fell in love with the first horse we went to see, a homely quarter horse named Bo. Those two fellas were my only loves for most of high-school. Within a few years, Bo went to live with some friends where there was more room for him to graze and more room for me to ride. Stanley got a little lonely, and we decided it was time to find him someone who had the time to give him the love and attention he needed. I hated the idea of selling my little buddy, but fortunately, we found him a good home just up the street with some friends. That meant I still saw him now and then, and knew he was in great hands….a family of ten kids, about a half-dozen of which were small enough to ride him.
We still have my one-true horse love Bo. He’s had some health problems lately: asthma and sore feet. But he’s getting better, living with some other good friends. I don’t live in MD anymore, so my mom–who started taking lessons when I was sixteen or seventeen to share an interest with me and is by this point a much bigger horse person than I am–dotes on him with special hand-mixed, low-sugar feed and an expensive alternative farrier who’s making his hooves better. Do I feel bad that my mom is taking care of my horse? No, not really, because taking care of a horse is just so beneficial to the soul. Here’s a huge, gentle animal completely dependent on you. The more you give, the more they give back, a level of un-tempered reciprocity rarely found among humans. Their very presence is calming. Since I can’t see my mom more than a few times of the year now, it makes me happy thinking that Bo is giving her love and hugs (he’s a very good hugger).
[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Click here for more pictures of Maryland.]