BY LYNN HAMILTON
I said goodbye to my twin daughters today. They are off to university in another city, each on opposite sides of the country. However, referring to them as just my daughters doesn’t begin to describe our relationship. They are more than my daughters—they are my best friends, and I owe it all to horses.
Almost 10 years ago to the day, our family went on a weekend holiday at a local mountain lodge as a last break before the beginning of a new school year. As we pulled into the driveway at the lodge, I noticed a sign offering trail rides. I had always owned and ridden horses, so I thought it would be fun if the three of us did the ride together.
Oddly, even though the girls had grown up reading books about horses and playing with horse toys by the hour, they were nine years old and had not ever actually ridden a horse. But from the moment they sat in the saddle and picked up the reins, they both grinned from ear to ear. By the end of the ride, they were hooked. Not only was that the most expensive trail ride ever, it was also the beginning of a truly special bond between the three of us.
The car ride home had two little girls bouncing up and down in the back seat, bursting with the excitement of having ridden a horse. After they settled down, the next question was, “can we take riding lessons?” Having myself competed in the hunter/jumper world as a teenager, I couldn’t think of a better sport for them and promised them I would look for lessons upon our return home.
By the middle of the week, I had them booked in a lesson program. After a quick shopping trip to pick up a couple of helmets and rubber riding boots, they were ready for their first lesson. For them, it was the longest week of their lives as they waited to get back on a horse again.
The rest, as they say, is history. Over the past ten years, the three of us have attended countless hours of riding lessons, competed in hundreds of hunter and jumper classes, traveled thousands of miles to shows and clinics, bought too-much-to-mention worth of tack and riding attire and owned several horses. We even moved from the city and bought a farm with a barn so we could ride daily without the commute.
While sometimes we talked about school or friends, for the most part, our conversations almost exclusively involved horses and riding. Often we chatted at the barn or at home, however our best conversations took place driving down the highway in the truck, usually with a horse trailer in tow. Even at 4:30 am when we had to be at the show to lunge horses or at midnight after driving for six hours to get the horses home after a clinic, we still had the energy to talk about all things related to horses and our sport.
Sometimes the conversation deteriorated into argument, particularly if one daughter got to jump higher in her lesson than the other, or one girl wouldn’t share her show coat with her sister. Long days at a show tended to increase the bickering level. However, for the most part, we had passionate, adult conversations about how much we owed our horses for all they did for us, our what we needed to do to achieve our riding goals.
Sometimes our bond was based on sorrow. When we sold one of my daughter’s pony and loaded him onto a trailer to go to his new home, we held each other as the trailer pulled away and sobbed. Recently when my mare had to be put down after suffering a broken leg, the three of us held her head while she passed, our tears dripping onto her neck. We later buried her in the meadow where she had lived and once again held each other and cried until we just couldn’t anymore.
Because of our horses, we were always there for each other. Sometimes that meant one of us tacked up a horse so the other one could walk the course, or one would muck the stall while the other took out braids. Most importantly, we almost always stood ringside to support each other. Often support was in the form of a last-minute boot polish before going into the ring or one of us manning the video camera so we could review the round later.
When things went badly, we reminded each other that it is just a sport and it is supposed to be fun – next time it will be better. Although we didn’t hesitate to point out the mistakes we each made, (Really, what were you thinking when you added a stride in that line when the distance was there?!) the best was when we had a great round. We would smile at each other and it felt so good—almost like we did it together. Which, we kind of did.
I don’t know what is next for the girls and their riding. So far, I’m keeping their horses exercised so if they want to ride during university breaks, they can. In the long term, who knows if they will want to continue. Of course, I’m really hoping they will. Not because it is such a great sport, but because of what it has given me—two girls who are more than just my daughters—they are my best friends.
Lynn Hamilton is a lawyer and owns an aerial wildfire control company operating in Canada and the US. She is also pursuing a doctoral degree in business while keeping her and her daughters’ seven horses fit for the show season.