Last Saturday, after an arduous day of annual springtime maintenance around the farm, my husband and I treated ourselves to a date night. We had a great meal, split a bottle of wine, and returned to the homestead in time to tuck in the horses at the usual night checking hour. I was ready to collapse into bed, but adulting has been particularly exhausting over the last several weeks, so I donned my Carhartt bibs and decided to do what I’ve always done when in need of a mental health break: be a kid in a barn full of horses.
I distributed a handful of apples and curried all four of my boys, then sat on the floor in the middle of the aisle and listened to the cathartic sound of content geldings munching hay in their stalls while the barn cat snoozed in my lap. The deadlines, conference calls, same-day round-trip flights, mounting vet bills, and my ever-aching back slipped my mind. For two hours, I was a ten-year-old in my happy place.
I was raised on a small farm in a remote town. The community has become much more populated since I was a child, but back then it was mostly horses, cows, and the sound of gunshots and ATVs coming from the rowdy neighbor boys over the hill. There weren’t many kids with whom to play, but it didn’t matter because we had a steady stream of mounts (read: babysitters) that came through the barn. There was always something for my sister and me to ride or groom, and we spent endless hours sitting on the fence watching our mother start and ride young horses for the first time. By the time I was six and my mom gave me my very own palomino gelding, I had been dragged to the barn in my pajamas at 3am to watch mares foal more times than I could count, logged about a billion miles traveling to horse shows, and won my fair share of lead line classes (I’m dating myself, but those were the days before every child was given a blue ribbon).
My mom taught me to ride, and to show. She taught me how to spit-polish, and win or lose gracefully, and cowgirl the hell up. But she also taught me to love the horses; the barn; the work; the joy of teaching a youngster; the blood, sweat and tears (so much blood, sweat and tears!); and how to let it love me back on those very rare nights when nothing in the world could compete with the feel of your heart horse breathing hot air down the back of your hoodie.
It may be an overused term here at OR HQ, but my mom taught me about grit, and it’s an integral part of who we are both within the barn, as well as without. And while our love of D.I.Y. has absolutely made it difficult for us to find our places in the trainer-take-over world of upper level horse showing, it is what drives us to get up and get on (sometimes back on) each day. It is also why my mom knew how important it was to fly from California to HITS Saugerties to watch me incur 18 time faults the first time around a .90m course on my “complicated” five-year-old. She stood at the gate, towel and Gatorade (and emergency speed dial) at the ready, knowing — in a way that only she could — that despite my last place finish, I felt like Beezie-freaking-Madden that day.
There are countless lessons to be learned from moms and horses, and I could never list even a fraction of them, but this Mother’s Day I’m honoring gumption and heart and try and guts and determination and belief in oneself and sheer will, because those are the best gifts my horse show mom ever gave me.
Well…and that palomino that was at my side for twenty-five years.*