Mothering a Horse-Crazy Child: When It All Comes Together

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Photo © Vince LeMaster

In her first installment, a hesitant mom shared her daughter’s slow but steady path to equestrian obsession. Then of course, a pony came into the picture. Today, read how this lifelong love of horses has shaped a young lady for the better.

BY JENNIFER GOLIGHTLY

Small ponies have a limited time with each of their riders, and after her first medal finals, the trainer told us it was time to think about something bigger. She’d outgrown Magic in ability if not quite in size, though that was coming soon. And she worked too hard, the trainer said, to ride a horse she couldn’t fully trust and whose performance she could never predict. We were heartbroken. She and I both spent a week or so crying. I felt like I did when she was two and lost her stuffed lovie at the Denver Zoo, like part of her childhood was over and there was no getting it back. 

We started horse shopping, an experience that was eye-opening in many ways, and we found a small quarter horse gelding whom she named Ollie. At first, I had no idea why she’d chosen him. His canter was clunky enough that even my husband and I, who knew nothing about what a flowy canter should look like, thought he looked really rough. 

He was green. The idea was that he would be her first sort-of-project horse, because we couldn’t afford to pay for something made. He was grumpy, too. Not nasty, but kind of cantankerous. She’d just come off a pony with that kind of attitude, I reminded her. Why did she want to pick another one? But she thought he was fun to ride, even more fun to jump (she had, despite my wishful thinking, moved up to jumping over two feet by this time), and she loved him from the first time she rode him. 

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Golightly

It took me a little longer. He was nippy. He was cranky. He was, despite his size, very dominant—the boss in the geldings’ pasture. But I noticed the bond my child was developing with him. If she called him from the pasture gate, he would come over to her. If other horses in the pasture tried to come near her, he would look at them with his ears pinned, and they would turn away. If he was lying down in his paddock when she came in, he wouldn’t get up—amazing since Magic would never let us approach him when he was lying down. Ollie would stay down and let her hug him or even sit on him. She could trust him. 

He never refused a jump. He never spooked, and he always, no matter what she asked of him, took care of her. (His quarter horse mind, my father would tell me, and while we laughed at the time, I believe it now.) Ollie would and still will jump anything she asks him to. She calls him her little diamond in the rough. She put so much work into him that he, too, is competitive against warmbloods and thoroughbreds who cost much more than he did. His canter is flowier, his frame is better, and after a year or two of doing sideways karate kicks when she asked for a lead change, he’s got reliably smooth changes. Even his temperament has improved. He’s still grumpy sometimes, but he trusts us, lets us kiss his nose, cuddles us, grooms her while she grooms him. 

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Golightly

My horse-crazy child whom I hoped wouldn’t ride has been riding for almost ten years now. In that time, she’s ridden more than fifty different horses. We’ve owned Magic for seven years, and Ollie for five. We’re leasing a third horse, Edward, a black Oldenberg gelding, with whom she can do the 3-foot classes.

Despite my initial reluctance to having a child who rides horses, I realize I have been given an incredible gift as a parent. I know so much more about her personality than I think I would have than if she had been enthralled with ballet. I have seen her take such care of these horses and assume responsibility for the things that must be done constantly when you own horses, and I’ve seen her do these things from a really young age. 

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Golightly

I’ve watched her ride for an hour in an unheated barn in the dead of winter and then spend another hour cooling her pony out and drying him off with no complaints. I’ve seen her bending over in 95-degree heat for half an hour to poultice and wrap her horse’s hooves. I’ve watched her volunteer, at the age of 11, to work three 8-hour days a week over her summer vacation, lifting full hay bales, carrying water buckets, mucking nine stalls by herself, turning horses out, and bringing them in, just so she can help us with the cost of boarding two horses, and I’ve listened to her tell me it was the best summer of her life. 

I’ve seen how much courage and determination she has. I’ve watched her get back up time and again to climb back on a really opinionated pony after falling off. I’ve listened as she’s asked the doctor in the emergency room how long until she can ride again after breaking both bones in her forearm while jumping her pony. I’ve seen her, age 9, arm encased in a full-length cast, defying the doctor’s orders and riding that pony only a week or two after her fall. 

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Golightly

She is truly fearless when it comes to riding, and while this fearlessness is sometimes in my mind a liability rather than an asset as I still imagine, watching her jump, all of the things that could go wrong, I can’t pretend I don’t admire it. 

I’ve seen the confidence riding has given her. She knows exactly who she is and what she is willing to tolerate. Her horses, my horses—I love them almost as much as I love her. I can’t separate them from my feelings for her. They and my feelings for them are tangled up in my experience being her mother. Despite all my best efforts, my child is a horse rider, a barn rat, and I am a horse mom. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Golightly