Today, as some of my friends reflect on the end of high school sports for their kids, I am reminded again how blessed I am to share the love of horses with my daughter. Our journey does not end Senior Year and I am not just a spectator, waiting on the sidelines. I’m her mom, her instructor, her groom, and her competition. It is hers, but it is mine too. Something we share, a passion that is a mystery to most people.
I threw myself into her days as a cheerleader, dedicated to supporting her no matter her chosen sport. I tried to connect braiding her hair with braiding a mane and keeping her competition shoes sparking white with a spit shine on my field boots. My mom never embraced the equestrian life, so I was determined to be a part of any activity my daughter chose because she loved it and made it hers.
And then one day, a child who had had access to horses and ponies from the day she was born, took an interest in riding.
There were late afternoons when she was 7 or even 10 and I had to remind her that the horses had to be put to bed before we could sleep, or even sit down after a long day. Because she was little, I’d let her sit on a trunk, with a bag of chips while I wrapped legs and fed a mash.
Sometimes she fell asleep on that trunk. But she stayed in the barn with me, until I turned off the lights, the sweet smell of shavings and the sound of horses munching hay becoming her night music, learning that our responsibilities don’t wait, just because we are tired. She is almost 15 now, and we live by the rule “no one is done until everyone is done”, the water buckets topped off, the brooms and shovels hung on their pegs and the blankets folded.
She’s had some big wins and some tricolors, some days the mistake was hers and she learned to accept responsibility for it. One day, when the mistake was mine, she showed such maturity, by graciously forgiving me, that I knew she had learned to love the sport, not just the awards. On those big grass fields and sand arenas she is learning to ride the highs and lows of life. I’ve heard the heart ache in her voice as she shared the story of the rider whose trainer body shamed her and made her feel not good enough in the warmup ring, and unfortunately, I knew it wouldn’t be the last time her heart would ache for a friend or someone she barely knew, because people and fate can be unkind and horses are fragile. I’ve watched her do everything right and still fail. And learn the lesson that forward is the only way through.
As a rider myself, I never understood the joy of watching someone else ride and compete a horse I own. Watching my daughter ride, I feel more joy and more pain than I ever did when I was the student or the competitor. Maybe, one day, she will step away from this sport, her saddle rack empty in my barn. And once again I will be alone in the aisle with no athlete to congratulate or console and no sweaty horse to cool and lead back to his stall. I could spend all day on the rail, watching her ride and never wish to be anywhere else. On the rail and in the barn, watching my child grow into a horsewoman will be one of my most cherished roles in this life.