The first memory I have of a horse is a day we were visiting my grandparents in Mapleville, RI. I think I was 3 or 4 years old but its hard to say. We lived in Smithfield, RI at the time and I know we moved to New Hampshire right around that age. My grandparents had a next door neighbor who owned a grey gelding named Buddy. Its weird that I remember that. There is a picture of me a box somewhere sitting on Buddy’s back, and although he was old and a little shaggy, he was magnificent to me. You see, I am horse crazy, always have been. Horses have been one of the most significant and consistent things in my life. I would give anything, do anything, sacrifice anything just be around one. It wasn’t that day with Buddy that turned me onto horses, it was in my blood from the day I was born.
Horses are not cheap. They are big, need room to move and eat A LOT. The average horse consumes 15-20 pounds of hay a day and drinks 10-15 gallons of water. Ask me any fact about a horse and I know it. I studied them, read books about them and collected models of horses that I still have in boxes in my closet. I had posters of horses on my walls, and every time I saw something with a horse on it in the store I wanted it. My family was by no means in the financial position to support me owning a horse but there was never a birthday or a Christmas that went by that I didn’t ask for one. If there was an opportunity to be near one I jumped at it. It wasn’t until I turned 12 that I was able to start taking riding lessons and I started to spend every waking moment at the barn. That’s what I have called stables ever since then, “the barn”. A lot of other horse people do too. That’s what we are, “horse people”. A culture of fanatical nuts that worship a 1000 pound animal, spending any extra dime they can muster on halters, fancy saddles, leg wraps, grooming brushes and ridiculous blankets. I worked at the barn for 6 years in order to pay for my equine addiction, grooming and exercising other boarders’ horses and, of course, the most glamorous task of them all, shoveling manure. Horses produce an enormous amount of manure, approximately 37 pounds a day per horse to be precise. That manure has to go somewhere, so for a horse obsessed “barn rat”, it was the task that paid for your horse addiction. My first horse was a grey gelding named RoBo. He was given to me for free and I kept him at the barn where I had been taking lessons and working. He wasn’t anything very fancy in the world of competitive horse showing, but he was perfect to me. I learned so much with that horse. As a teenager going through so many of life’s challenging and finding my way, RoBo was my best friend. He listened to my rants about the popular girls at school and what nasty witches they were, he listened to stories about boys, especially the ones I had crushes on. There is a popular quote online that says, “A horse is the best kind of friend to have, you can tell them anything and no one else will ever know”.
Being a teenage barn rat was awesome, especially since there were other girls my age at the barn that took lessons and owned horses. We would have sleepovers before a horse show and giggle and fantasize about winning the biggest prize. We would braid our horses’ manes and help each other at the competitions, loudly cheering each other on. Owning my own horse by itself was amazing but I realized a talent that I have even passed down to my daughter. I can ride. Riding is not easy, especially competitive riding. I spent those early days as a hunt seat rider riding English and jumping. None of this activity is natural to a horse. Horses in the wild do not choose to run around and prance to look fancy then leap over a 3 foot obstacle. You have to be good, a good rider I mean, to make this look good, and not get killed. This is an animal, with a mind of its own. If it wants to take off running and scrape you off on a tree they will do just that. Good riders earn their horse’s trust, good riders are dedicated to the craft and they appreciate what this animal can do. I was good, very good, with boxes and boxes of ribbons and trophies to show for it. I’m not sure if I still have all of them, but I do have quite a few. I keep them in boxes stored at my mother’s house in a shed. Over time they have faded and frayed, but I am still proud of earning them. I don’t want to brag, well maybe I do because I worked really, really hard to be really, really good at riding. Not everyone is born a horse person. You can’t just learn how to be one, or train to be one, you are just created to be one. This is something my daughter Morgan is, a horse person. I got her riding when she was 5 years old and she became a very good western pleasure rider winning multiple trophies and ribbons.
When I went to college I had to give RoBo away. I just couldn’t afford college tuition and a horse but one of the women at the barn took him to trail ride at her own home. She had a beautiful place with lots of trails to ride on. I tried to keep in touch but eventually lost touch with her and my career started to take off. A career that I picked because I knew I could still be with horses. I did not own another horse for 10 years but throughout that time I was fortunate enough to always have horses in my life. I don’t think I could survive if I didn’t. I have owned 6 horses in my life and each one has made its own impression on my heart. Each one has taken through a different phase in my life and had their own personality. None of them have compared to my beautiful American Paint Horse, Molly, whom I have owned for the past 14 years. She really is my best friend and I raised her since she was 2 years old. She has been with me through the most difficult seasons in my life but has always been a true friend. Even now if I am having a tough day I tell my husband I am going to the barn. It is my therapy, my comfort, and with her I just feel right in the world. It also doesn’t hurt that we live in the most beautiful place, the foothills of Colorado. I board Molly in Golden, CO at a cool dude ranch. It is true western cowboy living and no matter what discipline you ride I think every barn rat dreams of being a cowgirl. Now I am. I love to see the next generation of horse crazy little girls and their excitement when they come to ride. I look forward to taking my daughter up into these mountains this summer on the horses. I love that my husband, who wasn’t into horses until he met me, now loves to ride with me. In the words of Sharon Ralls Lemon “The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the elements such as grace, beauty, spirit and peace that helps to heal our soul”.