I Was a Middle Aged Barn Rat, Part 1, “Not Too Late.” This is a ten part blog series about the year I decided to pursue my lifelong interest in horses, based on an article that appeared in Equus, March 2015.
I used to be one of those people you see who love horses, but I was never able to have one and so was never around them. I’ve wanted a real, breathing horse since I was three years old and my grandmother gave me a plastic Breyer Appaloosa Stallion. I remember that moment so clearly. It was as if a lightning bolt had struck me with horse-craziness, and I haven’t been the same since. Fifty-five years later, I’ve still got that toy. It’s missing one hoof and part of another leg, and the spotted coat is riddled with scratches, but it’s in my attic with my other surviving model horses, and will be mine until I pass on.
I became the kid who bugged her parents for a horse at every opportunity. Every birthday I blew out candles and wished for a horse. Every Christmas I asked Santa for a horse. Every star I wished on, every day I thought of having a horse one day. In the third grade I had an imaginary horse I rode home from school every day. I read everything I could get hold of written by Walter Farley.
When I was eleven my father bought an acre up in the hills and promised I could have a horse, but that never happened. Four years later with still no horse, I realized I’d been scammed and so gave up the dream, convinced I didn’t have a horse because I didn’t deserve one.
For the next forty years or so I sometimes rode rental horses, but never was able to really involve myself in the horse world. I took riding lessons as an adult, but was frustrated by judgmental instructors who had learned the basics when they were children, and further frustrated by having no horse of my own. It’s difficult to learn horsemanship if you can’t have a relationship with a horse, and it’s dodgy trying to develop a relationship with someone else’s horse. As my parents had always told me, horses are expensive. Horses are a lot of work. Horses can be dangerous. And, after all, they were so special I was convinced I didn’t deserve them.
Then last year a friend of mine sent me a link to the Facebook page of a nearby stable. They were looking for interns who would help with the stable work in exchange for riding lessons and lease privileges. I looked at that article, and wondered what the catch was. You mean, you will let me feed, water, groom, muck stalls, and sweep the floor, AND let me pretend I own one of the horses? And you won’t even charge me? I thought I’d stepped sideways into an alternate universe where dreams really do come true.
I went to meet Kristen, who runs the stable. It turns out there was no catch. Three evenings a week I get to do stable work, I get to ride Pepper, a roan mare, whenever I want, and Kristen is teaching me horsemanship. I’m in heaven.