Truthfully, I was the typical horse crazy kid, but with solidly blue collar parents, living in a neighborhood of small starter homes in the city of Milwaukee. It was a great childhood, that idyllic childhood of yore that we all talk about, but decidedly urban. Outside playing all day with the neighborhood kids, riding our bikes, skateboarding in the street, tennis against the school wall. A few times a summer it DID involve begging a mom to make the hour drive west or north to a riding stable, where for $7, we got to ride for a little over an hour on Captain, Little Bucky(he really was a buckskin) Brandy, Brownie, or Jack….And for that hour, my best friend and I got to pretend that they were OUR horses, and this was OUR ranch.
We never actually grew out of that phase, though we went our separate ways for college. My 5th grade best friend DID go on to become a Veterinarian, and a bit beyond college I went to horseshoeing school and became a farrier. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Thinking about a summer job after my freshman year of college, my roommate told me about the Girl Scout camp she was going to work at, which had a riding program. I applied for and got the job of assistant riding Director. While I may have slightly exaggerated my skill set, it hardly mattered as all the job truly involved was little more than I had been doing as a kid; Trail riding. Though now I WAS the cool kid leading the group (though actually, I preferred bringing up the rear, where I could see everything that was going on).
At the end of the summer, I wasn’t quite ready to give up having a horse, but there was NO WAY it was in my ramen-noodle college budget. I have no memory of how I found my way to what was arguably the ONLY Dressage barn in far northern Wisconsin, but I did. I DO remember that I wanted to learn how to jump, but the trainer there, Tom, got on his huge chestnut gelding named Bear, and did this amazing dance. I didn’t even know enough to recognize Dressage when I saw it, but I thought, “Yeah, cool, I’ll learn to do that.” In retrospect, I had signed up to be a crash-test dummy, but really, that’s kind of how it works. I cleaned stalls, did any other thing asked, and rode the horses that came in for training. That’s most of what it was- ride the horse. I’d get lessons on the horse, certainly, to make sure I was doing it right, but mostly I just rode the horse (ok, and came off the horses, that’s the crash-test dummy part)
It was far from glamorous. I think all I had was a pair of harness boots, and of course I always rode in jeans, as I didn’t own a pair of breeches. This was also long before helmets were the norm, though I don’t remember even wearing a cowboy hat.
I still think back on the little mare in this picture. She belonged to the guy that the Girl Scout camp contracted with. Maybe that was where it started, when I first realized that there were people out there that maybe shouldn’t own horses. That had once loved them, as I did, but had somehow lost that love amid the day to day struggle. Maybe…..