Being around horses can have a big effect on kids in multiple ways. While they’re young but also in helping to shape who they become as adults.
When I was in grade school my mom used to drop me off at a riding stable where I took lessons and spent the day. I know I had to have begged her non-stop until she agreed to take me there every week. Though I didn’t know it at the time, being around horses would have a big impact on my life.
Through this first “up close and personal” encounter with horses I learned how to have a relationship with a horse and how special they are. Also learned the discipline of riding as well as how to be cooperative with other kids and with the people in charge of the facility. Being there for a day at a time helped me learn how to be myself, to find things to do on my own and to enjoy my experiences with others, mostly with the many horses.
Then came the most wonderful day of my life up to that point – a horse joined our family. My mom had grown up riding and as an adult she enjoyed going to the racetrack. On Sundays the track in our area allowed children to attend and it was a thrill for me to go with her. As part of the events they had what were called “claiming races” where actual race horses could be purchased during the race. That’s where she found our first horse.
She then found a huge ranch that boarded horses and that’s where we went. As with the former riding stable, I couldn’t get enough of it. Being dropped off there for the day was even better as there were so many horses, tons of riding space, lots of nice kids (mostly) and activities galore. Even campouts with bonfires, ghost stories and moonlight rides. Plus swimming across a small lake and diving off of the backs of the horses (who must’ve been very patient while also enjoying the cool of the water).
I got involved with barrel racing early on and that brought out my sense of courage and adventure. Spending so much time at these and other horse places also contributed to my independent spirit.
In college I was blessed to be with a very spirited Appaloosa with quite a personality. I say “be with” instead of “have” or “owned” because I’ve never thought in terms of owning an animal. I thought of him as being in my care and how fortunate we were to be together. We became best friends. Sadly, he had been beaten in his earlier years and it took a long time for him to get past his fears. Kind of like what happens with people. The fact that I was always kind with him no doubt helped him. We were together for 20 years. When he passed away I held a funeral in his honor.
Those days were uniquely special to me and they formed in me somewhat of a calling to be with horses for the rest of my life, or at least most of it. They also cultivated (or maybe unleashed) a sense of free spiritedness along with a connection with the earth and a feeling of kinship with all animals.
In those years I also learned how to care for horses, including cleaning stalls, grooming, taking care of tack, walking the horses after riding and other important functions. This helped instill a sense of responsibility in caring for a living being.
Being true friends with an animal also meant so much, to me and to them. When my parents were having troubles I didn’t want to talk with my friends or teachers about it. But I could always talk with my horse. I felt like he understood and, even if he didn’t, I knew that he cared about me and that made me feel safe and supported.
Over the years I was blessed to know a number of other horses and to have many valuable riding experiences, alone and with others. I learned how to handle myself well in many different situations. And I had a great time in the process.
Later when I got to have my own farm I got to be around the horses every day. What a treat! We had other farm animals as well as part of a big happy family.
In addition to the animals, farm living included learning the art of “growing your own food”, an invaluable skill and experience. Most people these days don’t relate to or even know where their food comes from much less having picked fruit and vegetables from bushes and trees or having experienced the taste and nutritional value of fresh grown produce.
Among the other experiences and lessons from growing up with and living with horses:
More recently, a long-time horse “friend” had to be euthanized. He had actually “hated” me for years – no matter how good I was to him he was basically just a mean-spirited individual. I wasn’t prepared to sell him after we discovered this because I thought there was a good chance of him being beaten due to his nasty attitude. Instead, I committed to caring for him, and doing so in a kind way, which I did until the day he died.
So in looking back over the years, I thank my parents for allowing me to have this wonderful life experience – and I wish for others the many benefits of communing with horses (and other animals) as well as living on an actual farm. There’s nothing else like it!!
(c) Marcia Elder, July 5, 2018