I was one of those horse-crazy little girls: the kind of little girl that draws horses, and reads horse books, and rides a stick-pony. My favorite books included the classic, “Black Beauty,” by Anna Sewell, “Justin Morgan Had a Horse,” and “Misty of Chincoteague,” by Marguerite Henry, and “The Horse and His Boy,” by C.S. Lewis. I collected plastic Breyer model horses, often buying them with the money I earned babysitting. If there was any chance to ride a horse while my family was on vacation, I would beg and whine and beg some more and sometimes be taken on a trail ride. I would be so over-stimulated by the experience that I would beg to go again, and soon. On more than one occasion my father would then promise riding lessons when we got back to St. Louis, and I vividly remember that my mother would clench her teeth and seethe at him. As a kid, I understood this to mean that my mother was an essentially hateful person who intended to be an obstacle to my true happiness. As an adult, once I took the time to revisit the question, I realized that my mother was not an essentially hateful person who intended to be an obstacle to my true happiness. She was in fact frustrated with my father making a promise that she knew he could not or would not keep.
At the end of his life, when my dad was sick in the hospital and dying, I realized that being stuck on the stuff I did not get as a kid was unnecessary, since I had my adulthood to fix it for myself. I was 35 when I decided to learn to ride. My goal was to learn how to do it and get it out of my system.
I made a few phone calls in the area, probably using the old Yellow Pages. Then, as now, most barns do not have a staff member sitting around waiting to answer the phone. Horse people are busy, all day, every day, tending to the enormous responsibility of horses (stalls needing picking, horses needing feeding and grooming and turning out and bringing in, barn aisles needing sweeping, and lessons needing teaching and tack needing finding or cleaning or mending and putting away, and farriers needing calling, not to mention the decision about whether to call the vet or ordering more shavings or hay and then did someone water and drag the ring?). Horse people tend to have a limited presence in their office and a limited presence online. Then, as now, word of mouth is the best way to find a place to take riding lessons. Somehow, I did manage to speak to someone about lessons at a barn not far from my home in Seattle. They taught adult beginners, and had a group lesson starting soon on Friday nights. I called my husband, the Relentless Troubleshooter, at work, to make sure that it would be ok if I made a Friday night commitment.
One thing you may not know about the Relentless Troubleshooter is that he is Hungarian, and was, in fact, born in Hungary. Did you know that Hungarians invented everything? Hungarians have a thousand year tradition of horsemanship (which I did not then know), and his response was, “Riding horses is in my blood. Can I do it too?” He had sat on a horse twice in his life up to that point.
When I called the barn back, the owner thought I was crazy (she claims I said we’d make our riding lessons our date-night), but she did book us. While I was on the phone, I was overheard by my oldest child, who was just 8 years old. “That’s not fair,” he said.
And so it came to be that three of us started riding lessons in 1998.