Growing up in Montana, I spent many weekends on my Great Grandma Sales' ranch. I loved being there. I loved the big red barn, the "dinner" bell which rang right at noon to call the boys in to eat, and anything related to horses. There weren't many, if any, horses on the ranch at that time, but there were saddles and tack. I would sit on the saddles and pretend I was riding. I would run around in circles for hours on my stick-horse that my grandfather made me out of a mop handle, with a piece of twine through the hole at the end for reigns.
My parents divorced when I was three years old. When I was four, my mom had a friend who had horses. There was a pony that I used to get to ride sometimes. He was ornery and liked to buck me off. One time, with my foot caught in the stirrup, he drug me around the corral until my mom caught up with us and got me loose. I don't remember being scared to get on him again. My mom may remember differently. One thing I knew for sure, I was IN LOVE with horses.
I was so horse crazy that my grandma and grandpa finally relented and got me a Shetland Pony to ride. I was so small and the pony was so fat that I couldn't grip with my legs and constantly fell off. Of course, that may have been because they refused to buy a kid's saddle and I was forced to ride around on a piece of carpet that was constantly sliding one way or the other. I spent more time on the ground than I ever did on that pony.
The Shetland didn't stick around long; however, my love of horses kept growing. I devoured every book I could get my hands on. From novels for middle school "horsey girls" to instructional riding books, I couldn't get enough. Eventually, the books ran out and I needed more. I wanted to RIDE! I rode in my dreams at night and daydreamt about riding all day. I drew horses at home and at school. I wrote stories about "my horse" that I didn't actually have. I remember my parents at an open house school event looking at my writing, knowing it was a lie, and not saying anything to the teacher. I just got a side eyed grin from my Dad. Maybe it was a realization on his part that I wasn't giving up on this horse thing.
My mom remarried when I was seven and I lived with my mom and step-dad full time, until fourth grade. I had to stay with my dad that year because my mom and step-dad were moving and I wouldn't be able to join them until I finished my fourth grade year.
That year was very hard for me. I missed my mom terribly. I've never had fond memories of that year living with my dad, but recently I have been thinking about something my dad did for me that year. He did something for me that no one else took the time to do. He found me a way to ride!
My family has been in this part of Montana for seven generations now. At this time, it was six. My dad knew people-lots of people. He asked around to see if anyone had a horse that his daughter could ride. Now, my dad was not the most sentimental person at this point in time, but I didn't realize how special what he did was until I started really thinking about it recently. He did something that no else could, or would, do for me. He made all of my little horsey girl dreams come true!
I do not remember the owners names or what they looked like, but I remember every detail of each of the horses.
The first was a beautiful chestnut quarter horse named Reggie. Reggie lived off the Frontage Road, next to the interstate. I was so excited to ride that I wasn't even nervous. I should have been. He was big, and I was small. I had never ridden a horse that wasn't pony-sized and I hadn't ridden at all since I was four years old. I had only read book after book after book about riding. I was alone in this pasture with this giant horse. Somehow, I KNEW I could ride him, and I did.
I got up on that horse (I can't remember how exactly) and gave him a little kick. He walked. We walked around for a bit and, after making sure he would stop when I wanted him to, I decided I wanted to go faster! So, I tightened up the reigns a little and gave another kick. Sure enough, he trotted..... then cantered.... then galloped. He galloped so fast it surprised me, but I somehow got him slowed down before I bounced off him. It was SO exhilarating! Just like I had always dreamed! We rode until my dad said it was time to go. How could I possibly go on without being able to ride every day?
And so I begged and I begged. I begged for a horse of my own. It was a no-go. It just wasn't doable. Yes, we had the ranch, but it was far from town and I was a kid. I couldn't get back and forth to feed it every day, nor could my mom or dad afford it. I get it now, but at the time, I was crushed.
The second horse lived off of Huffine Lane, not far from our family ranch. He was a white quarter horse named Corky. He was the SWEETEST!!! Again, I got up on him and did all of the things I read in my books, and he did exactly what he was supposed to do. I'm sure my dad knew these horses were extremely gentle and ridable, otherwise, why would he leave me in the pasture alone to ride a horse he didn't know? I guess he trusted his friends' words and trusted my confidence in my own riding abilities. Whatever the reason, I'm so thankful it happened.
As I write this post, I am almost 50 years old with a grown daughter of my own. I've been thinking about what my dad did for me a lot lately. I don't know if it's because I'm painting horses again, or that my dad and I have become closer over the last few years, but what he did is so, so precious to me. No one can ever take that away. Now, I've ridden several different horses several different times since fourth grade, but nothing can compare to those memories. They will always remain some of my most treasured.