My earliest memory around horses was riding my friends wonderfully compliant pony, Valentine. They’re foggy memories at best, but I remember the car rides to Del Mar seemed to stretch endlessly as sat filled with anticipation. We did very basic balance work that involved a vast amount of lunging in a circle at the walk as I reached my arms high up to the sky, out to my sides, and back again. They weren’t formal lessons in any sort of program, but the handful of times I went out there was certainly enough to get me hooked.
Years later and thanks to my aunt’s recommendation, I found a place I would begin my actual “riding” career around age six. Tucked away on the outskirts of Rancho Santa Fe, housed in a woman’s backyard I began to learn some basics. I started out on yet another pony, this one was named Jellybean. Although my steering was rudimentary, I yearned to ride her more advanced horses (young me thought I was way too good for this pony business). I knew nothing of the equestrian world outside of my own little backyard bubble, but clad in a green Troxel helmet and used pair of paddock boots I had everything I needed. We did a mix of arena work and trail rides, sometimes riding through the neighborhood around us (riding paths were the norm and allowed easy shaded access behind people's backyards). I loved my time spent riding through the tree lined streets, but when she eventually she stopped teaching I was horseless once again.
Enter a fateful Girl Scout trip to a local therapeutic riding program; I discovered a magical place where I could volunteer to help others while also taking lessons. I started out in the beginner lesson program, riding with just a bareback pad at the walk. I took one lesson a week for probably a month before they eventually bumped me up to actual tack and this time it was an English saddle. To this day I’m not sure why I was started with a bareback pad, but that was just how the program was taught.
I hit the ground more times in those few years than the rest of my riding career put together (knocks on wood ferociously). Abu, Pegasus, Teddy, and Mr. T were a few of the gentle (and not so gentle) giants I got the chance to ride. I eventually heralded myself as one of their “advanced” riders and as such I craved more than just the once I week lessons. I eventually began half leasing a holy terror of an ex police horse they called JD. He’d kick and bite in the crossties, pin his ears if you approached, and absolutely loathed his job as a therapy horse. His attitude was causing him to fail out of the program, but since I fancied myself as the great tamer of horses, I figured our bond would get us through his lack of general ground manners.
Despite his major pitfalls, I had a massive soft spot for the devilish creature I was able to call at least very partially my own. He became my introduction to the basics of lunging, stickability, and how to dodge a mean left hook from the hind end. Outside the lease of the great bay devil, I attended a couple local schooling shows with the therapy center’s more “dependable” horses.
Here we have the same zipperless tall boots and velvet helmet cover, but a different and even more horrendously fit coat. Also pictured is the barrel horse who decided we should try and run a barrel-less pattern in our flat class. And who the heck braided him? I have no memory of this, the white knuckling it around endless circles kind of took up all that shows memory space.
Each and every time I placed dead last and more often than not I ended the flat class by grabbing mane and holding on for dear life. The horses we took rarely left the property so the sudden introduction to even the sleepiest of show rings meant they lost the plot. Eventually my favorite instructor approached my parents about how I should perhaps look into moving on if I was serious about my riding.
Starting in a new program twisted my stomach into knots. I had gotten very comfortable in the routine I was in and although excited, I was nervous to begin a different adventure. It was in this new program I learned how to jump from a gentle and lazy paint gelding named Magnum (little did I know I’d be using Magnum for my senior portraits in the near future).
It was during this time that I was coaxed back into the show ring by my trainer and barn friends. It took major convincing and some wardrobe upgrades (still borrowed) since my previous experiences left me a bit traumatized.
I eventually began half leasing a lovely yet opinionated bay gelding named Colby. He was definitely more horse than Magnum, but he taught me a lot and I ended up showing on the local GSDHJA (Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Association) circuit with him up until I left for college.
My move up north to UC Davis meant I was once again trainer-less, so I promptly became part of the UC Davis IHSA Hunter Jumper team (which is also where I met my good friend @equineendeavor). I spent a bit of time riding with the coach of the team, but over time I realized was not going to be beneficial. Over the next four years I bounced between different trainers; from the sixth month stint where I fancied myself an eventer, to the summer I rode sales horses at a serious hunter barn, I tried a bit of everything.
At the start of my junior year I studied abroad in Italy and the time away from riding gave me a chance to gain a little perspective on what I really wanted. I came back and decided that I wanted to find the one place where I was truly happy to be riding, with little stress to perform. After some research and light stalking I found my new happy place ten minutes from my house, working with the off the track thoroughbreds of CANTER California. I ended up as the main volunteer for Just Peachy, an OTTB that defined the word mare. She required some rehab following her let down from the track and “Princess” Peach ended up becoming my project pony for the next two years. Our journey (which honestly requires its own post) would lead me to find my current housemates, close friends, barn family, and laughably terrible dart team all rolled into one.
August 1, 2018 was when the handsome grey child I would come to know as TJ unloaded in the barn parking lot as the newest addition to the NorCal CANTER herd. The failed racehorse known as Twenties Jazz (or “grey baby” for the first week of his existence with us) was the horse that would soon change my status as perpetual lesson pony person to horse mom extraordinaire. In the following two months, I would find myself as a trainerless first time horse owner in possession of a green off the track thoroughbred and no idea what I was doing.
Luckily I have the support of great friends who are there to help me through the process of training my baby brained child into my very own hunter prince. Most recently I took the great baby elephant to a local SAHJA (Sacramento Area Hunter Jumper Association) show, trailering in on both Saturday and Sunday. We managed to ribbon in most classes I had signed us up for, sans trainer (an experience that I found truly terrifying). Although to some fourth, fifth, and sixth place doesn’t look like much, to me it meant the world; especially since some of those classes had ten to eighteen other riders in them. The weekend left me feeling that maybe I wasn’t so bad at this whole single horse mom thing after all. I had successfully prepared my child to take on two days of trailering, a busy new location, and a packed warm up. It also meant that I was able to handle my own prep before the show, the hectic warm up, and battle for my spot in the order of go (against trainers with an endless number of rounds reserved for their students).
It's been a shocking transition from lesson kid to horse owner, especially since I had the best timing and decided to add to the family as a recent college grad trying to figure out my own life. I never thought that I’d be a horse mom, especially outside of a training program and more often than not it feels like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, but it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Besides the fact that TJ and I teach each other new things every day, I’ve learned more about myself throughout this process then I could have predicted. I don’t think I could ever label my journey as an equestrian as linear or typical, but I am very grateful to call in my own.
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