Sunday, October 12, 2014

Thank You Mom and Dad!

First ride on Triple, 1997!
This time of year being the season of Indoors and Finals, I know it can be easy for kids (and some adults) to be a bit jealous of those riding in the big leagues.  I know as a teenager, the only thing that existed for me was Big Equitation.  And it's a little embarrassing now looking back, realizing how much I had and didn't appreciate as much as I could have.  Being an adult and paying for the horse habit myself (and taking two years away from horses completely) has made me even more appreciative of the sacrifices that my parents made over the years to support my riding. 

We weren't rich - not poor either, but a five or six-figure horse was always unrealistic.  I had two older brothers and my parents made sure that we each had the opportunity to pursue our interests.  I was very fortunate to get riding lessons (after years and years of begging) at the age of seven.  I grew up on school ponies and horses, leased some, and got my own horse when I turned 12 because my parents relented when they were told it was time.

I learned so much more at the barn than just how to ride and win ribbons.  I'm sure the board, showing, and vet bills were excessive at times and I know you guys stretched to make it all work.  You did so much to support me and my riding goals.  You encouraged me to be at the barn a lot.  To spend time with my horse, other horses, to learn about horsemanship.  To do more than just be a rider.  You had me get a job, because the horse habit is expensive and doesn't pay for itself.  I did everything from scrubbing and hauling buckets as an 11 year old barn rat to managing barns on the weekends in high school.  The more I showed, the more I had to work it all off to make it affordable.

There were some key lessons I learned growing up in the barn.  Lessons that I think some kids these days (does every generation say this?) don't always get the chance to learn.

Involving kids in sports and activities can teach them a lot.  Probably the most important lesson I learned from horses is responsibility.  Horses don't care if you've had a long day, or you are tired, or have other plans.  They depend on us for everything: food, exercise, water, shelter, safety.  You have to show up and take care of them no matter what.  I learned that I couldn't go running around after school and goofing off, getting into trouble because it would cost me my horse and my riding.  I learned that good grades and education were important, because that's what kept me riding in those pre-employment days.  It was A's and B's, or no horses, and that was a great way to approach it because it instilled a work ethic in me that lasts to this day regarding academics and their importance.  I learned that showing up on time (and by that I mean early) and putting in an honest effort was what really mattered.  I learned that hard work will get you where you want to go, eventually.  I learned that responsibility itself, and caring for another, is a huge committment, and perhaps if more people truly understood that concept, perhaps we'd have fewer issues as a society.  My current (awesome!) barn owner has a wonderful quote on Facebook that I feel summarizes her and any good horseman's creed:  you become responsible, forever, for that which you have tamed

King!  This pony made me extremely humble :)

Horses will make you humble.  They don't care if you're the reigning champion - you can still fall off and eat dirt as easily as anyone else.  Horses don't care that you just put in a 14 or 16 hour day at the horse show and that you're tired, or you won a big class.  They still need you to get up early the next morning and feed them, turn them out, clean their stalls.  I learned that you can have a perfect ride, do everything right, and still lose.  That hard work and correct preparation goes a long way, but if it's not your day, accept it and move on to try again later.  You can't and won't win all the time.  

My trainers were the end-all, be-all of my existence growing up.  No attitude, no talking back, yes we can laugh and have fun, but the moment you don't want to show up and work hard, then get out of the ring.  I remember dreading No Stirrups Month leading up to the state finals, but doing it because it was what was expected and we all knew our trainer would make us better for it.  Don't come in to the ring with shavings or dirt in your horse's tail and disrespect the trainer and your horse.  I learned to respect the horse above all and to listen to them when they spoke.  And they all speak.
Lulu, Vermont Summer Festival 2002

The horse is your partner.  Nothing builds an appreciation of team faster than learning to dance with an animal ten times your size that speaks another language.  But it wasn't just the partnership and team of horse and rider, it was the teams we formed within the barn.  I remember a lot of fun with my barnmates at horse shows and Finals, acting as grooms for one another, cheering each other on or consoling each other when things didn't pan out the way we had hoped.  The long days at the show and short nights at the hotels.  Catchriding at 11:30pm because the show was running that late.  Sleeping in the feed room on a pile of haybales because I couldn't be bothered to drive back to the hotel, and laughing about it the next day as the girls picked the remaining hay particles out of my hair.  My college teammates and I collectively freezing our asses off together as we sat there and rooted everyone from the team on. 

One memory in particular comes to mind when I think of devotion and how I learned what that meant.  In 1999, my mare, Triple, colicked and required surgery for nephrosplenic entrapment.  My parents could have easily said no to the impending massive vet bill (despite insurance), but they immediately agreed to the surgery.  After the relatively uneventful surgery, she caught an infection (we were told it was Salmonella) that several other horses had contracted.  For the next three weeks she fought for her life, dropping over 300 pounds.  She had no appetite, was depressed, and alone in quarantine.   The three other horses that had contracted it had all died, she was the only one left.  My parents and I made the 1.5 hour round trip EVERY day after school and on the weekends to visit with her.  When she refused to eat and the vets were going through the motions, my instructor at the time said to pick her some grass.  So there we were, my mom and I, outside of the quarantine barn picking handfuls of grass to bring inside to her to see if it would spark an interest.  It did.  So every day for the next three weeks we drove out there, picked grass and brought it into the barn for her to nibble.  We spent time grooming her and talking to her, checking her wraps and trying to make things interesting.  She started to come around.  And after those three weeks when she had finally regained her appetite and was cleared to leave, I remember bringing a dear barn friend out to the hospital to visit her.  Triple had lost so much weight that she was probably a 2.5 on the equine body condition score chart.  My friend cried when she saw her that way, but I tried to tell her it was okay because she was out of the danger zone.  We hand walked Triple that day outside, and once home, spent the next several months gradually increasing her caloric intake, hand walking, turnout, and after five months of putting weight back on, finally got to riding her lightly again.  She would be the state Junior Hunter year end champion the following year, as well as having championships and reserve championships in the equitation.

Equitation champs, 2000
Still continuing on the devotion bit, I remember two years later Triple required colic surgery again for the same issue.  At the time, as a 16 year old kid I didn't realize that horses could have multiple colic surgeries.  After a whole night on colic watch (which my Dad graciously spent the night at the farm to watch her for me since I had school, thank you Dad!), we took her to the hospital the following day when the traveling vet finally said she was surgical.  The hospital staff tried a couple of additional non-surgical techniques which unfortunately failed.  I remember sitting with her in her stall afterward, she was laying down and exhausted.  I cradled her head in my arms and was coming to grips with reaching the end of the road.  I cried, thinking that it was the last day with my wonder mare.  Then I heard outside the surgeon say "Of course we can do the surgery, she'll be fine," and my Mom saying yes.  Again, parents could have said no, knowing then how much surgery itself costs, that we'd be on our own this time without the insurance, and risking another costly infection on the other side.  No hesitation, they knew what that mare meant to me and that she was my whole world, and they didn't waste a second to try to save her.  Again.  Thankfully, Triple's second surgery was text book, as was her recovery. 

My last visit with Triple, Christmas 2006
It was pretty evident though that with her getting into her teens that her showing days were over, she didn't have the scope or the step to do the 3'6" despite her enormous heart and work ethic.  We found her a great eventing trainer, Kathy, that used her as her daughter's horse for a bit, then as a lesson horse.  And despite Kathy's inquiries, we never sold Triple.  We talked in 2006 about her retiring as a lesson horse and that I would be happy to take her back and retire her in Virginia with me.  That was the plan for the following year, until I got a phone call on August 6, 2007.  I never got calls, it was "no news is good news," so I knew something was wrong.  Triple had another round of nephrosplenic entrapment, her third, and after talking to the vet it was surgical.  I authorized him over the phone to put her down, something Kathy knew was the right thing and was pushing for.  I was in VA, was supposed to visit Triple the following week... I called my parents immediately afterward, and had to talk Mom down from rushing out to hook up the trailer to go get her and take her to the surgical center.  It wasn't realistic to put a 20 year old horse through a third surgery.  She had given us so much and was so good, truly a horse of a lifetime, so we ended her suffering as soon as possible.  Still, I will never forget my Mom and Dad leaping into action and being willing to drop everything they were doing and going to get her if that is what I asked.  That mare was, and still is family.  Devotion is being willing to drop everything and do surgery if that's what is needed.  Devotion is also recognizing what the right thing to do is, being brave enough to make that call in the best interest of the horse, even if it means you never get to tell them goodbye.

Appreciate the Little Things
After years of showing on the state and regional level, dabbling in some A-circuit shows, I've learned to appreciate the little things.  It's not the ribbons or the trophies, it's the memories.  Some of my favorite memories from my time with horses involve my parents.  I remember Mom taking me to the tack shop after my first riding lesson and buying me an entire riding outfit so I could be ready for my second lesson (hot pink helmet cover and fluorescent riding tights and all!).  I remember Dad suffering through weekly winter riding lessons in an unheated, dusty indoor.  He could have sat in the car or dropped me off, but he always helped tack up when I was little and always watched those first few years!  I remember both Mom and Dad becoming semi-expert horse loaders because Triple was a horrible loader that first year (she would learn to self-load, trust me!).  I remember them coming to so many horse shows and taking pictures for me.  I remember Dad getting really good at taking out braids, and running the grill and the concession stand with some of the other barn dads at home shows.  I remember Dad helping me clean stalls on Sundays for awhile, and Mom always coming to Finals.  I remember coming back into the barn at a home show to put Triple away for the day, only to find her missing from her stall.  Ummm...where did my horse go?  A slight panic was quickly relieved when I saw that Mom had actually put Triple's halter on and taken her out herself for a hand graze.  I thought that was incredibly cute and endearing, given that neither of my parents were horsey.

Chi-Chi and I at Finals, 1999.  Love her!
It goes without saying that having a horse crazy kid and encouraging them to pursue horses is probably one of the highest demonstrations of generosity there is.  I also remember my parents willing not only to help me sustain my recovering colic-surgery addict, but also encouraging me to still go to Finals that year with a pony I had qualified that summer.  The owner was also generous in free leasing her to me for the fall; their nice pony gets some Finals experience, I get to still go to Finals, everybody wins! 

I just want you two to know that while I hope I said thank you then, years later those things still mean the world to me.  You were so unbelievably generous in so many ways.

My parents encouraged me not just as a kid in this sport, but also when I decided I wanted to try to make it a career.  If part of them was thinking "Please grow up and get a real job," they didn't express it.  They encouraged me to pursue riding/training professionally and emphasized that education was still important.  Get a business degree.  When I wavered part way through and got burned out on horses, they supported my decision to look into equine journalism as a career path.  And when I graduated and turned pro anyway, moved away to Virginia and played with ponies all day, they were equally supportive and knew I was living the dream.  And when I got burned out again and realized that I needed a change, they still supported me.  Here I am, years later, in a completely different career and happily back into horses again, enjoying the little moments and appreciating what I have.

Dad, Mom, I just want you to know that you did parenting right.  It wasn't always easy and I'm sure there were times where you wanted to kill each of us, but it's because you allowed us to be individuals, and because you encouraged us to follow our dreams and try new things that we're all successful, independent adults today.

I realized that none of these photos have my parents in them; truth be told, I don't think I have any horse pictures with my folks, at least none loaded on my computer, and I don't know if they'd want to be plastered all over an internet blog anyway.  I guess perhaps in a way that's a testament to them always being behind the scenes and letting the horses and me shine to the best of our ability.  Thank you for all your love and support over the years.  It still means everything to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment