How Our Parents Shape Our Lives with Horses

Sharon White, our close friend and former trainer, lost her mother, Carol, this week, and our hearts go out to her. Carol was a strong, special woman, and she was a wonderful “Horsey” mom in every sense of the word.

Sharon has made some lovely posts on social media about just how much she owes her mother for the life she has as a professional rider and trainer. This sad but beautiful moment has made me think a lot about the role our parents play in our horsey upbringing and the debt we owe them.

My wife, Heather, and I had very different types of parents when it came to horses. I came from a family of horse enthusiasts—my sister, my mother and I all rode together—showing, foxhunting, taking lessons, and taking care of our horses together (we had as many as seven or eight). My father never rode, but he played an integral role as trailer driver, photographer, groom and cheering squad.

For us, horses were a family activity, something we enjoyed doing together. Every day, sometimes twice a day, we drove to the boarding stable in New Jersey where we kept them, and in the fall we foxhunted probably three weekends a month and in the spring and summer we probably showed two weekends a month. Those times are many of my fondest memories.

I was raised in a culture that was focused on horsemanship and putting the horses’ care first. So I can well remember that, if my sister or I stayed home sick from school, we’d have to be basically on death’s door before my mother would excuse us from riding or at least feeding, mucking out and caring for our horses. My mother drove us to the boarding stable every day and helped care for them too, but their care was our responsibility, period.

My experience was in stark contrast to Heather’s. Her family is decidedly unhorsey, and she is the alien pod child dropped in their midst. Although her family always supported her in the two most important ways—financially and in endless hours spent driving her to and fro—all the rest of up was up to her from a very young age. Scheduling lessons, arranging rides to shows, entering shows, working off large portions of her bill, and arranging veterinary and farrier appointments were all things she learned to handle on her own.

Heather’s parents wouldn’t know a hoof from a hock, so her horses’ care was entirely up to her, although if she was sick, she wasn’t allowed to go to the barn.

Even though the methods were vastly different, we both managed to grow in to knowledgeable and dedicated horse people, shaped by the guidance of our parents. Hands-off or hands-on, their influence still led us to become the horseman we are today.

We’ve had friends of every stripe in the horse world. And one way or another their parents have helped to create them as horseman. Their parents even shaped those who deemed their parents “unsupportive,” who’d had to wait until adulthood to ride or own a horse—and after a lifetime of yearning their dedication is fiercer and hotter than the brightest sun. Their parents’ objections fueled their dedication as strongly, or perhaps stronger than, other parents’ support.

Now, as a parent of a possible future rider, we find ourselves trying hard to figure out the best path forward for him. Is it better to push? Or better back off? Should we help him down the riding path? Or should we let him find his own way?

Even though Heather found Wesley a wonderful pony, whom he wants to ride every day, I certainly don’t feel like I know the answers. But the difference between our upbringings might suggest that we don’t have to know—at least not quite yet.

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