Friday, August 10, 2012

Why We Give Our Children Horses

She sits with one bare ankle across her knee, and her foot jiggles to the beat of an invisible rhythm. Her arm dangles out the window, letting the hot, dry, air play through her slim, elegant fingers. Her seat belt is jerked loose and useless, it’s hard not to reach out and adjust it.

“You know, I kept skipping this class at first, I was so mad every time I thought about taking it,” she says. “Now, I’m starting to really like it. Shawn, our counselor, has so much to say, and I’m learning a lot.”

I glance at her, judging her mood, and catch her watching me, doing the same. We laugh a little; our eyes pull out of their clinch and slide back to their corners. We aren’t used to this sharing, it’s new and a little frightening, talking to each other like grown-ups, letting go of our sparring.

“Do you want to know the biggest thing I’ve learned?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I don’t belong there. I’m not like everybody else in the group.”

My mind jumps, I put down the sarcasm, the judgment, and try to weigh my words carefully. “How so?”

“They’re all so messed up, they’re crack heads, or alcoholics, or both. Some of them are younger than me and have two or three kids. None of them have jobs, some of them have never worked.”

I nod, buying myself some time. I feel protective of these other kids, their lives so close to ruined; afraid her opinions could be their last straw, after all, her clear eyed beauty and easy self confidence have unsettled me since the day she was born, and, unlike them, I know it’s only a mask she hides behind.

The other side of me wants to crawl over her, hide her in the shelter of my body and take these hits for her, like I’ve done her entire life. My scabs and scars have given me rhino hide, I could protect her shiny view of what life has to offer, help her shoulder the weight of growing up and the prices she’ll pay for the privilege. I don’t though, not anymore. I try to step back and let her find her own steel, hope I’ve done enough, given enough, and not marked her with too many of my own scars in the process.

“Yet there you are, taking the same drug and alcohol class as the rest of them.” It’s the best I can do. I struggle to keep the bite from my tone, but she flinches, feeling the edge.

“Oh, I know, it’s embarrassing. When we’re in group, they talk about selling their food cards to buy meth, or getting beaten by their parents, their boyfriends, the police, it seems like everybody wants to beat them. Like it’s the way to fix them.”

“And this embarrasses you how?” I feel my anger rise. What did I do to create such a selfish little shit?

“When it’s my turn to talk, all I’ve got is how worried I am about juggling everything. How I can’t figure a way to keep my horse. How frustrating it is to work two jobs and still try to find time to ride, for the band, for just about everything. I feel like a spoiled brat whining about my white girl problems. I mean, they’ve got real problems, they’re in group because it could be the only shot they have at getting on their feet.”

My anger recedes and now I’m the one who’s embarrassed. Thank God I didn’t open my mouth and step in it, get the barely cracked door slammed in my face before I got even a peek at the light coming through.

“It makes me see how lucky I’ve been, how easy it is to end up in their shit. At the same time, I think, hey, I’m paying for this class, this is my time too, so they can just deal.” She smiles at the joke of the thing.

“How do they react? Do they resent you?”

“No Mom, you wouldn’t believe it.” She twists around in her seat to face me, pulling at her lap belt until it sags almost to her knees. “They stare, and listen to every word. Then they ask questions and they’re all about Toby. ‘You have a horse? Where do you ride? Do you run him?’ They completely forget whatever we were talking about and want to hear about riding, and horse shows, and trail rides, all of it. It’s like it makes them hungry, you know?”

“I do know. Horses do that to people. It’s why I raised you there, in the horse world, it was the only way I knew to give you power.”

“The thing is, I want to give them horses somehow. They could help them see there’s more out there than the little tiny world they’re trapped in. Just petting them could help.”

“Petting a horse fixes a lot of problems,” I say, and smile.

“I was thinking,” her eyes light up and she runs her fingers through her tangled hair, twisting it into a knot and away from her face. “Maybe I could open a school, or a youth camp, something like that, where people from my group could come and pet a horse. Then if they wanted, they could learn to care for them, ride them. They could find out how it feels to run.”

“You could.” I stomp down the dire warnings that leap to the surface of my thoughts, resist reviewing bad decisions, make sure the phrase ‘You should…’ is nowhere on my face.

“I talked to Shawn about it and she thinks it’s a great idea. I’d have to go back to school. I’m thinking a business degree with a minor in psychology would be enough. I’d hire a shrink for the kids, I don’t want to go there. I just want to plant the seed, you know?”

I watch her while she rattles on, her plans and ideas growing by the second. Long limbed, tattooed, nose rings and a face without makeup. She looks the part of a lost and wandering soul, but the horses, they keep shining through.

She sits back and looks out the window. A smile plays across her face as she loses herself in her daydream. She reaches up and tightens her seatbelt.


  1. I love this! And it is so true. I work in the field and I wish I could bring my horse or my dog and see how the kids can just forget about their problems, just for a minute.

  2. Great post. Horses were my salvation...

    Not sure if this is a "current" story, or a remembrance: Have her check out "equine assisted therapy" or therapeutic riding.
    There are lots of places, some not so visible, but out there, where kids and horses, inmates and horses (or dogs) are together. Sometimes it's rescued horses, sometimes mustangs, so the "saving" goes both ways... One of my favorites is "Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch" outside of Bend, OR.

  3. Oh Mugs, that brought tears to my eyes.
    All I ever wanted to do was give my girls what I was given. Or more.

    I feel like I succeeded. It was hard to tell for a long time. My youngest was the hard one. But now I am getting it all back in spades :o) All the time, money, volunteering, 4-H.... When my daughter tells me she misses riding, now that she is an adult and working. She had to go through AA with her boyfriend, not for her, but she was supporting his recovery. What I wouldnt have done to save her from that. But they are doing good now. His recovery is going really well.
    She talks about how she was raised with horses and how it makes her feel lucky.
    It gives me a warm feeling and a smile inside!
    It was all worth it!

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  5. I can't tell you how many times horses have saved me. Thank you for posting such a wonderful story to remind me how blessed I am.

  6. Love the kidlet....I felt like I was in the car with my daughter. It's so hard to keep quiet and not be a "mom". We did such a good jobs - I'm as proud of mine as you are of yours.

  7. Horses have always been my true north. I often wonder what people do who do not have that in their lives in some form.

  8. Horses save me, fix me, and help me every day of my life. I would NOT be the same person I am without them.

  9. I was doing good until I got to the paragraph about the kids asking her about Toby. I would have been one of those kids, hungry for the sight, touch, smell of a horse, convinced that they were all intrinsically good souls. Nothing's changed, I'm horsaii.

    Now I'm choked up and can't see the screen, I hope this isn't all qwerhnjjjjjjj...random nonsense. Thanks for thinking of this story.

  10. Wow really amazing story. And that's why I'm currently doing my MA with a major in psych so I can do this.
    Good luck!

  11. I'm not sure of all of the reasons that brought tears to my eyes.

    Partly because you're such a gifted writer, because I was so lost as a young woman, because I finally found horses again after many years?

    You're a good mom.

  12. I love this. Thanks for posting. Horses gave me a lot as a kid; they still do. And I know that critters break down all kinds of barriers with kids, especially those who are struggling.

  13. Thank you for writing this. It made me want to cry - not sad tears, just.... tears - and I'm not even really sure why.

  14. I have been lucky to volunteer at a place that does this exact thing. If anyone would like to help them keep doing it, they need all the money that can get to keep the program going, and help more kids - there's always more kids who need them. Volunteering there was the most inspirational thing I've ever had the honor to be a part of. It's Silver Buckle Youth Ranch in Brush Prairie, WA. They have a YouTube Video here

  15. Thank you Mugs. I feel just like that girl sometimes-including her dreams of helping as many people get to be near and pet and work with horses as possible. I don't know if this is old or a new story, but a program I'm looking into is this one-
    It's more about the human animal bond, but it comes with an option for an equine major. It's an exciting, growing field, equine assisted learning/therapy.

  16. Wow. strong stuff - love it! Thank you.

  17. Ouch. I'm stuggling with one that is also having a hard time growing up. Thanks for sharing.

  18. What is the name of that place in Philly again... Oh yes, Fletcher st.

    See also - a reference to Pony Kids in the UK in the same article.

    Lovely post Mugs.

  19. Great story! With the long hot summer, didn't do much riding but the wife and I got out to some trails last Saturday... Wow, I don't know exactly how it works but a beautiful day spent on a good horse sure makes it all worthwhile.

  20. The only reason I'm who I am today despite having a terrible childhood is because I had a horse. I hope she can do something with her dream.

  21. Wonderful, and so true.

  22. Wonderful - and so true, so many of us can relate. My parents were lower middle class and we didn't have money for horses, lessons, or much of anything else not essential. The best thing to happen to me was when we moved from a fairly bad section of Boston (Dorchester, same as Mark Wahlberg, though I'm older and we left long before he came along :D) to a distant suburb of Boston, and I found not only like minded horsaii girls but finally, after a few years, a place where we could be around horses. It was free (as long as we cleaned stalls, brushed the horses and combed the tails) and every day after school I walked a mile plus to just to get my horse fix.

    We truly were and are lucky.

  23. It is so freaking hard to parent our brilliant struggling daughters to adulthood. What makes is so hard it, we have to quit mothering and stand back to let them "find their steel" as was so aptly described. Really very well done, perfectly describing what it feels like.
    And thank Heavens for horses, dogs, cats, etc. They help get both mothers and daughters through.

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  25. This story really touched me. I was going back and forth between your emotions and hers and really got caught up in the mother-daughter dynamic. I wish all the best for you two on your journey through this!

  26. Wow. Thank you.

    We are able to do a little of this here at our farm. Troubled kids, guilty adults, resentful teenagers... horses seem to draw the best out of us all. It is a powerful gift from them to us. It's amazing how our skinny rescues make people step up and respond. Even selfish people find that they want to help a pitiful creature.

    We're in WA.

  27. I love this story, I sent it immediately sent it to my own mother with the text " read this momma, it sounds just like me!" and she agreed. mother - daughter realtionships are like walking on eggshells... they have good times and bad. congrats for this good time with your daughter, and your chance to see the wonderfulness inside her.

  28. Crying
    Just had a brand new little girl and can't wait to get her her first pony. I hope it will help her to be as strong confident and responsible as ponies through the years have helped other little girls.

  29. Just read about EAP, which I hadn't heard of before; Wonder if there is any college accessible to your kidlette that would offer unit/s in this kind of thing?,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=404b7071eb74869c&biw=867&bih=934

  30. Yep, horses develop and strengthen some very valuable qualities in those fortunate enough to be influenced by their presence and partnership. I am convinced that there is nothing more valuable to the development of a young girl than horses. Well horses and protection from those who would do wrong by them...

    I am 44 years old and finishing my last semester of an engineering degree, and my motivation comes from my desire to maintain my horse habit.

    You did right by her. Hugs and strength to both of you.

  31. I'm glad you and your daughter shared a moment on the way to rehab. Now can you get back to writing about horses please?

  32. I know you don't really care, and that you do a great job of ignoring the idiots who occasionally venture here, but, just...

    Sometimes I wish the internet wasn't Anonymous, and that I could shoot spitballs at people - stinging little balls of Kleenex, covered in spit... until they eventually get annoyed enough and leave. I used to be pretty accurate when I used a straw for aim and velocity. I bet I still have the knack.

    It's a nice fantasy, anyways.

  33. Becky is right. My comment came across as very hateful and I apologize. You are a great writer, but your Tally and Sonita stories are/were mesmorizing. I miss them. I'm stil dying to know if Tally found the right home or if DixieAnn made it to the show ring.

  34. Thanks Helen, thanks Becky, thanks everybody except the last Anon.

    I have come to share very personal aspects of my life with horses on this blog.

    Sometimes it's very difficult to write. Then someone like Anon comes along and reminds me I owe nobody, absolutely not one single person, any of these stories.

    Read or don't read, like or don't like, it doesn't matter to me. I love sharing them, love the give and take with you guys, but Anon? Don't think it matters to me for one flipping second if you approve of my choice of stories or not.

    So I guess I can thank you too,you reminded me I write because I enjoy it. I'm not on a time card, I don't get paid, I hope you guys stop by to read, but if you aren't happy with the subject material, there are a lot of nice blogs out there.

  35. Great story.

    I hope you are proud of her, and yourself. Sounds like you did an amazing job, raising her right.

    She sounds like she would make a great friend.

    I hope I do as good a job raising my son.

  36. Oh, yeah. I changed my screen name somehow??? I used to log in as GreatGotlands.

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