Finding My Way to Horses as a Child and Then Back 20 Years Later

Photo courtesy of Megan Swiertz

BY MEGAN SWIERTZ

My path to horses started when I was in middle school where I met my soon-to-be best friend. She had a chestnut quarter horse and after a few trips to her barn, I was done. I started taking lessons, and eventually switched to a barn that hosted local circuit shows I could compete in. I soaked up all the horse time I could. I even spent time with a friend as a polo groom on the weekends, and lived to hack the polo ponies. That was my life until we moved from West Michigan to Wisconsin when I was 16. 

Since then, a lot of life happened and I didn’t find a new place to ride in Wisconsin. We first moved before you could just look online and find anything. As much as I missed them, horses just didn’t happen. School, marriage, mortgages, newborns, preschool, stay at home motherhood, jobs… life all happened in the intervening years. 

But as many horse lovers can attest, you never outgrow them. I never stopped wanting to smell their necks or pet their noses. I always said I’d take lessons again someday, but 20 years and it hadn’t happened. 

Until one of my best friends enrolled her daughter in a mini summer session in July 2020 at a local stable. Her daughter is the same age as my daughter, Holland, and we decided to sign her up too. She was so excited but I was much, much more. To be in a barn! Around the intoxicating smells and sounds—I was in danger. 

She finished the session. While it was fine, it was a little unstructured for my liking so we searched for another place for her to continue lessons. We ended up at Rein Dance Farm in Cedarburg, Wisconsin and she began to take lessons with Mary Skarsten. I was so thrilled to help my daughter brush and tack the pony and simply be in a barn again. After several months of lessons, she decided gymnastics was worth a try and switched sports. But I couldn’t tear myself out of the barn again. 

Before I knew it, I had a lesson scheduled back in my childhood saddle that I’d kept all those years (like I knew I’d need it again someday even if it didn’t quite fit the same now). It would just be one or two lessons, surely. Just to scratch the itch. 

I was absolutely lying to myself. It was over. I sunk back down the rabbit hole. 

Photo courtesy of Megan Swiertz

My first lesson was painful. I was not 13 anymore. I didn’t have those muscles and my legs were screaming. I was sore for a week but not too sore for another lesson and another and another (with a fall in the middle but at least it was out of the way). 

In one of those lessons, I rode a black mare with little patches on her sides. At Holland’s first lesson, she was being ridden by her owner and I remember whispering to Holland “Gosh, Holland, isn’t she so pretty?” I was so excited to ride her and loved her immediately. Daisy was smooth, easy to ride, gentle on my sore muscles and fun to jump. A mere three weeks after my first lesson back, I started half-leasing her. Down the rabbit hole a little further…

I felt an immediate connection with this horse. Every time I’d walk in with her from the paddock, people would say “Wow, did she run from you!?” And it surprised me because she would always let me get her. I heard, “She must like you, she runs all the time,” so I felt naturally flattered she didn’t do that to me.

We spent the fall of 2020 with me learning how to ride again, and Daisy was the most patient teacher. I was glad I didn’t have to deal with things like refusals or pushing her to go. Instead, I worked on getting her to slow down and not having a lead change. I felt safe with her, trusted her, and fell in love quickly. She made my Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays my favorite days of the week. 

In the beginning of December, her owner approached me and said “I’m thinking of selling Daisy. Would you be interested in buying her if I do?” And my knee jerk reaction was both, “Well obviously!” and “NO WAY!” It was an intimidating thought. Could we afford it? Is she right for me? She doesn’t have a lead change, that’s kind of a big deal. We can’t go to a lot of shows without that. Will she get one if we try hard enough? People keep telling me she’s great, but is her potential tapped? I love her more than I ever have any other horse but holy cow this is a lot to consider. 

I’d never had my own horse before and never thought I would. I was happy leasing her but the thought of losing her broke me at the same time. I told her owner no and cried and cried. 

Meanwhile, We participated in a clinic in mid-December and the instructor asked us all what our goals or challenges were. I said she doesn’t have a lead change and I wanted to know if we could get there. He was amazing and worked with her and I on lead changes, I got to see a glimmer of her potential. She showed me she had the potential to get there, just maybe. I could see it, it was there.

After another long shower cry about it, my husband Steve said to me “just buy her. We’ll figure it out.” 

Five days before Christmas, her owner and I met at the barn on a Sunday evening, me riding Daisy and her riding her new horse and we sealed the deal. I’d gotten the very best Christmas present I could’ve ever imagined. 

Photo courtesy of Megan Swiertz

She was mine. Holy cow, I bought a horse. 

We’ve all seen those signs at stores that say “Follow your dreams” and I always thought “Who buys that crap? It’s cheesy,” but I felt it on my way home. I’d done just that. I’d followed my dreams and made one I never thought possible happen. 

We settled into our new life together. Daisy seemed to really thrive in a one rider program and I was low-key very protective of keeping her to myself. I was focused on one goal and that was getting a lead change. Any clinic we did, I’d say “she needs a lead change.” I took a few lessons with the other trainer who used to ride her frequently and got a lead change on her in the past. I tried anything I thought could help make progress. We made slow but very steady progress and now five months later we’ve gotten there. She has a lead change. 

Photo courtesy of Megan Swiertz

I feel immense pride in her for what we’ve been able to accomplish. I saw her potential, and she continues to meet and exceed all of my expectations. She’s rewarded handsomely with  probably too many treats and in her opinion too many nose kisses and neck hugs. I always have a peppermint in my pocket for a mid-ride reward. 

Photo courtesy of Megan Swiertz

The phrase “heart horse” feels saccharine, but when I look back and see the path we’ve both traveled to find each other, I can’t think of another way to describe it. We were meant to find our way together. For someone who never thought I’d have the privilege of my own horse, I will never take her for granted. I don’t need to go to the very best shows or have her be the fanciest horse in the barn. I’m so thankful I have her period that anything else is a bonus. I also am so very fortunate to have my husband and kids behind us 100%. They love her almost as much as I do and cheer us on the loudest. 

I hope I can make her even a fraction of how happy she makes me. That would be the true privilege. 


Megan lives in Mequon, Wisconsin with her husband Steve and two kids, George and Holland and their black lab, Annie. Daisy (or her show name “Whoopsie Daisy”) is a 13 year-old black and white Registered Paint Mare who loves grazing, applesauce and rolling after a bath. You can follow her on instagram at @itswhoopsiedaisy

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