From Bullied to the Barn: #makingmclain and the Trainer Who Makes It All Possible

Photo courtesy of Megan Hoffman


Do you ever meet someone and know that they will change the course of your life? That’s how it was when Ziggy and I met Liza. We knew we were in for the ride of our life.

Ziggy is my son. He is a sweet, sensitive little boy. He knits. He carves twigs. So of course, he gets bullied. In first grade a classmate pinned him up against the wall in the boys bathroom. Another kid tried to choke him. You get it. Ziggy is also dyslexic. He didn’t read until he was ten. Needless to say the kid struggles with confidence.

Enter Liza.

Our family moved to Georgia to be closer to my parents, and simplify life. We bought an old school house on five acres and homeschool the kids. I had hoped to include riding lessons in my ragtag homeschool plan, but had no clue where to start. Then we attended a birthday party at my friend’s barn. Liza gave short riding lessons at the party.

“Do you want to ride?” I asked my daughter, Charlie.

Charlie looked at the pony in front of her. She was scared, terrified. I knew having mama around made things harder, so I stepped into the barn and peered out of a stall to see if this woman could get her on the pony.

“Liza works magic with children just watch!” The other moms whispered.

In what seemed like less than sixty seconds, Charlie trotted around the ring with her hands on her head, giggling. It was magic. So Charlie started lessons, I asked if Zig wanted to join in. He said no, he wasn’t interested. He sat on the sidelines as Charlie attempted to guide her lesson pony around the ring.

Photo courtesy of Megan Hoffman

Though Charlie had fun at her lessons, she was happier running around the barn with the other kids than she was riding. One day after a losing battle to get her on the pony for a lesson, I turned to Zig. “I dare you.”

He was up for it. He hopped on, and trotted around the ring. Liza watched quietly. ”This kid has talent,” she said. I rolled my eyes. We are a thoroughly unathletic family. I figured that Liza said that to all the parents.

The next day, Ziggy asked to go back. And the next day. He started spending all day at the barn. First he rode all the ponies, then he jumped them around. Then came the shows, starting at the very beginning with Walk Trot. He got 6th, and I thought, Okay. He will be so mad he will quit. But Liza pulled him over and spoke to him quietly. He went back in the ring, and I was wrong. He didn’t quit. In fact, he started to win.

Photo courtesy of Megan Hoffman

Then it was time to buy a pony. Ziggy was so excited. We all were with the idea of a beautiful pony. I dreamed he would bond with this pony, and it would be unlike any relationship he had ever experienced. Liza searched tirelessly. It had to be just right. The first pony we tried threw Zig up in the air. He landed so hard I thought he wouldn’t be able to get back up. It was terrifying. That’s it. It’s been a good run. He’ll quit now. But Liza was calm. She held the pony, waiting while he stood up slowly and dusted himself off. He got right back on the pony. I couldn’t believe it.

Photo courtesy of Megan Hoffman

That’s when it dawned on me — this it. This is real. My child had found his thing. His passion. Thirteen others later, we found the one. He was just grumpy enough to teach Zig a thing or two, but trained enough to help him build that fragile confidence.

Photo courtesy of Megan Hoffman

Liza kept pushing Zig forward. He started competing in bigger classes. Ziggy glowed from the process. I have a picture from a show at Brownland that I see it – the change in him. He is beaming. Liza is beaming. They are a team, and they are totally in sync. Liza has a language with him. She know what to say when. When to be tough, and when to just cry with him. She gave my child the confidence, after only riding for eleven months, to march into the Walnut ring at Pony Finals and give it his best. His dad and I and Liza’s sister cried on the sidelines. A woman behind me whispered, “Did you know this boy has only been riding one year?” Her friend huffed. “No way.”

Photo courtesy of Megan Hoffman

Like many equestrians, Ziggy loves Mclain Ward. Huddled in Liza’s office, he watches videos of Mclain and dreams of riding with him some day. Because Liza would do anything for our boy, she reached out to our CWD representative, Abby. Abby and the amazing people at CWD pulled a few strings, and got Mclain to sign a hat for Zizzy. Keep Jumping, Ziggy! Love Mclain. Ziggy sleeps with it next to his bed.

Photo courtesy of Megan Hoffman

I do not know where this road will take us. Perhaps Ziggy will ride in the Olympics and work with Mclain as he dreams, as he insists. Perhaps he will enjoy a lifetime of friendship in the quiet companionship of horses. I do know one thing — Liza will always be a part of our life, part of Ziggy’s life. I know that with her support and encouragement he can do anything. No matter what.

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