I think I may have briefly contemplated the wisdom of embarking on a sport where the principle equipment can up and disagree, quite vehemently, with you—and at more than half a ton of muscle and horsey opinion, can mount convincing arguments. But if I did, it was “brief” even on a subatomic scale. Because, after all, it’s the bond between horse and rider that makes the glory and joy an absolute steal on the cost of tears and bruises. No baseball player ever wastes a second trying to convince his bat that hitting the ball is really what it wants to do—and no baseball player will ever find the solace on a rough day, the sense of teamwork on a demanding course, or the triumph of success when I’m standing with my arms thrown around the neck of the horse that just carried me to first, as I can.
I don’t even remember my very first ride, though I’m sure it should be memorable material. But much of my childhood recollections are nonetheless marked by personable ponies, and many of these escapades I remember better than my contemporary classes. Perhaps that’s appropriate, considering I’d swear I learned more important lessons from my furred, maned and hooved teachers than my human ones. But is anyone who survived elementary school really surprised?
My first real school horse was an ornery, opinionated and above all lazy appaloosa called, for no reason I could figure out, “Shush.” My most vivid memory of her was winning the requisite battle to achieve the kind of slow plod usually reserved for funeral processions, only to suddenly find that forward was no longer her direction of choice—and she proceeded to back me into a partially constructed arena wall with more vigor than she had ever before displayed in any action.
A fabulous cast of school horses made their hoofprints on the stage of my riding education. Captain, the lanky-limbed chestnut jumper that won me my first ribbon and patiently waited for me to learn not to hold my breath during our courses; the greyish-yellow pony Mustard, who’s name mystified me until I found out his full name was actually Grey Poupon; AJ, a sleek, black bullet of a pony who at age 27 outraced full-sized horses; Lexington, a tall bay Thoroughbred who never met a jump he didn’t like, but was reduced to a quivering, frothing wreck at the first whiff of a llama; and of course Scooter, a handy little mare who kindly tried to teach me how to herd cattle any time we encountered them on our trail rides.
These wonderful equine professors led me to Noah. After seven years of riding fantastic schooling ponies, I figured it was time to have one I could call my own. And most importantly, my mom agreed. We looked for almost two years before I found a four-year-old chestnut Morgan little more than saddle-broke (translation—you could put a saddle on him. That was about it.). He was a shimmering red-gold, and almost as fiery as his color implied. He could do everything, except go slow. He was the reason I fell in love with jumping: on Noah, it wasn’t jumping—it was flying. There’s an Arabic legend told in an old story called King of the Wind that runs, “And Allah said unto the wind, “I will a creature to proceed from thee…condense thyself, and thy name will be horse!” Noah was my velvet-wrapped zephyr of freedom.
I’ve done stupider things than convince my mom to buy a green horse for a young and (even after eight years) still inexperienced rider, but to be honest probably not many. We had a roller-coaster of a time in training, a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ path of successes and setbacks. But for lesson problems, school problems, boy problems, friend problems, life problems, I always had his wings. One good gallop, his muscles surging like a cresting wave beneath me, and my worries just couldn’t keep up.
I’ve taught riding lessons, trained horses, groomed and competed. I don’t do any of it for a living (though I’ve seriously contemplated it). I ride because I love it, and I teach because it’s one of the few things I find nearly as satisfying as riding. For those that might be wondering, I’m 22 and currently studying for my masters in veterinary science at Cambridge University in Cambridge, England. Far away from my horse, but an exciting adventure none the less. And would you believe it? My lab office overlooks the vet school’s horse fields.
Why “Help! My daughter loves horses”?
Why on earth would I have called my website “Help! My daughter loves horses?” It could just as well serve as a good resource for any beginning rider, but as I started teaching lessons I realized that there was a brave group that nobody seemed to be helping. Mothers. I’ve watched a mother chase down a renegade pony in flip-flops simply because she doesn’t own a single pair of her own paddock boots. I’ve seen mothers unfailingly show up at every show without any knowledge of what their daughter’s dressage judge is even looking for. I’ve heard a mother quizzing a truck driver on backing up so she could drive a trailer for her daughter’s horse.
And I have also witnessed the power of incredible parent-child teams. What amazed me most is that some of the most talented teams arose from parents who had no experience with horses. I realized that, somehow, these dedicated parents were learning everything they could to help their children succeed in a fantastic—and fantastically challenging—sport.
You can buy lessons for your daughter (I’ve both taken and taught my fair share of these!) But how many people offer lessons for mothers? Whether you are a complete newbie to the field or an old hat just in need of a brush-up, I hope to offer a resource to both mothers and daughters alike. First, to mothers to help them understand what their daughters are doing, and allow them in turn to help their daughters grow and advance as riders. Second, to daughters to help them navigate the complicated equine world.
It’s my goal to make everyone’s entrance into this marvelous sport as fun and simple as possible.
As the officials say at the starting gate of a cross country course, when it’s your turn to gallop away to the first fence:
3…2…1…Have a nice ride!