As any parent knows, raising children is a complex and expensive process. Raising a child who loves horses brings greater complexity and expense to the arena (no pun intended). Going forward in this millennium, we are faced with rapid-fire changes in technology that are constantly affecting our lives and our lifestyles. And for all the so-called ease of life that advanced technology is supposed to bring, we find ourselves more hurried, more harried, more overworked and tired. As parents, when our child loves horses, we are first taken aback and then pleased on some deep subliminal level that our child has dragged us into this world where time has stopped and the language becomes one of smells and whinnies and warmth. It’s wholesome. It’s different from our everyday lives. And, yes, as we already know, it expensive.
Equestrian sport is not a hobby where you need to scrape together forty dollars for soccer shoes; its expenses are prohibitive to most of the population. A horse’s shoes cost way more than soccer shoes, and horses get new ones every other month (they also lose them as easily as any eight-year-old child). Winter blankets for horses that are in training cost more than most people’s dress coats. Feed and bedding, supplements, tack and those ever-present vet bills make keeping a horse an astronomical affair. I know that there isn’t a parent out there who does not struggle with the issue of horses and money, even though there is a huge sliding scale of economy.
There are families who give up vacations and dinners out to keep one horse or pony for their child. There are others who struggle to attend a few horse shows a year, and still others who have the means to have several horses showing all over their region, and sometimes, the nation. But even these families must have issues about the expense and the message the expense is sending to their child.
I’ve met physicians who muck stalls for their kids, working students who groom at shows just for the chance to be there, and parents from all walks of life and professions who just simply love their kids to death and somehow make it all work.
It’s not easy. I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, “Am I nuts?” When our daughter started showing regularly I was a full-time nursing student. When we would go to a horse show, it was usually Thursday night after I’d been in clinicals all day–from a 4:40 A.M wake-up call, followed by a ten-hour day. I would come home at 3:00 P.M., hitch up the trailer, get the pony, and head off on a four-hour ride to Kansas City or St. Louis. My mantra was “I must be nuts!” My mother thought so. Most of my friends thought so too, and some were eager to tell me that what I did was disproportionate to what any mother should do for a child. But I know that our daughter, who was eleven-years-old at the time, would grow up in a way that would seem no longer than the turning of one season. All those hours in the truck would be precious memories for her, and also for me. And in this, as a parent, I also know that I’m not alone.
I believed then (and I still do) that the time we structure around a sport with our kids gives us a venue for communication that would otherwise not happen in our cell phone, Web-driven world. There are so many of life’s lessons that can be learned, and so many ways that a parent can observe the success of those lessons, when dealing with animals. And this is especially true with horses, those wonderful creatures that require both our command and our delicacy of handling. In addition, the interactions of child and trainer, child and peers, and child and competitors also teach lessons of manners, respect, kindness, helpfulness, love, tenderness, and self-reflection. There are the lessons learned in competition: pride (but not too much), success with humility, failure with dignity, self-understanding, and gratitude for life’s opportunities.
As a parent, I feel very fortunate that we’ve been able to give our child this opportunity of a life involved with horses. And while I always worry over the expense and struggle to put it into the big perspective of our family budget–a seemingly impossible task compared with other sports¬–I think of the world our daughter is growing up in, and how the opportunity to spend those years with her pony, and now with her horse (and the other horses in the barn), will give her a foundation that is, in my view, priceless.
I think of all the days she spends at the barn instead of aimlessly wandering around with her friends or watching television. I think of her beaming pride when she finally learned to groom her pony with some skill, and then body–clip her horse, wrap his legs for shipping, tend to his cuts, and keep a sharp eye for any changes that would mean he wasn’t feeling just right. I think of her mental development when I watched her figure our her distances to the jump–watching, waiting, holding, pressing forward–and the confidence it gave her after such a long sought-after accomplishment, one which she worked on for years.
I saw her give remarkable concentrated attention to holding her still-green pony straight so that she wouldn’t swap her lead. I saw the way that the older kids in the barn treated her with such sweetness, and how they cheered her successes, and how she looked up to them with respect for their accomplishments. And in all of this I saw a child developing qualities which would guide her through this new century with grace and dignity and self-purpose, unafraid to reach out for life’s successes and undeterred by its failures.
Now, perhaps we could have gotten this with soccer, but I don’t think so.