BY JULIA DIFIORI
There was only one place my mom could find in the state of Idaho that would let a toddler ride a horse. It was more than three hours away from where my family was staying in Sun Valley. No one else in my family had the slightest interest in horses, but my mom knew how much I loved them and was determined to get me on one.
So she piled all of us—me, my sister, my dad, and my dad’s parents—into our rental van and off we went. She drove us through miles of winding remote country roads, if you could call them that, to the ranch. The journey was quite the trip. We got stuck on the road for some time on the way when a large herd of cows decided to cross at a leisurely pace, stopping to moo at us through the car windows before ambling away.
When I try to remember what the place was like when we finally arrived, my brain offers a dusty image of a tan barn with brown-fenced paddocks. I remember a tall cowboy, with the hat and everything, lifting me up onto a horse. I wish I could remember what the horse looked like. I just remember being so high up I felt like I was on a giant Clydesdale. And yes, even at three I knew what a Clydesdale was.
Whether the details of my memory about the tan barn and the tall cowboy are historically accurate is more or less irrelevant. The facts may be up for debate, but the symbolism of the memory is indisputable: from the beginning my mom was my champion. My fierce advocate.
She was willing to hunt down a stable that would give her toddler a pony ride and embark on the long car ride to get me there. And many years down the line, having proven my passion through working scooping poop at the barn and saving every penny I made babysitting and selling lemonade, she was willing to take on the great task of convincing my dad to let us get a horse.
I say “us” instead of “me” not only because I had my mom’s financial support, which I was very fortunate to have, but also because she got involved way beyond writing checks.
My mom shuttled me to and from infinite weeks of pony camp, and later lessons when my horse “phase” never ended. She woke up early on weekends to take me to the show grounds. We struggled with my hair net together. She sat with me in the car while I cried when it didn’t go well. She took pictures of me with the horses and our ribbons when it did.
When we’d finally won my dad over and we bought my horse, Uncle Sam, my mom signed me out of eighth-grade Spanish class early under the guise of a doctor’s appointment. She took me to the airport where he was being quarantined after his initial arrival in the states. We weren’t allowed to touch him yet, so my mom and I just ogled over him through the fence.
My mom was also the one to help me with the many unexpected tasks that come with horse ownership, like lugging heavy bags of grain from the feed store and exterminating small spider populations in the tack room. One day I showed up at the barn and Sammy’s left eye was twice the size of the other one. Per the vet’s orders, my mother assisted me in (unsuccessfully) trying to gently place the compress near the swelling without him tossing his big head up where we couldn’t reach.
She remembers those grain bags, those spiders, that swollen eye. She remembers that pony ride in Idaho, too. She’s eager to exaggerate the length and toil of the drive, but she’s not complaining. She’s bragging about the extent of her loyalty to her daughter. I’ve seen it in my friends’ mothers, too, the selfless desire to see her daughter light up with excitement, whatever the source. And as unfamiliar, expensive, and dangerous as they are, my mom saw the way that horses make me light up—so she made it happen.
I am by no means the only horse-crazed girl whose mother did the same thing for her. So here’s to the horse show moms who dutifully serve as our chauffeurs and emotional support humans. To the cheerleaders and handers-of-water-bottles. To the women who do everything in their power to support their children in what they love. To the cowgirls that raised us, horsewomen one way or another, whether they ride or not.
Julia is a riding instructor at Alderin Sporthorses in Rolling Hills Estates, California and a freelance journalist, videographer and singer-songwriter. She grew up competing in the jumpers on the A circuit before earning her BA in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies at Oberlin College, where she also rode for the IHSA Hunt Seat Team. Julia plans to try her hand at hunters and equitation as well as compete in the jumpers when she gets back in the show ring in the near to distant future.