It is a universal fact that nearly all girls go through a pony phase. My phase, though, was a little different.

I once tried to be a model.

I was thirteen, awkward, and my limbs still clung to their baby fat, making me look like a female Michelin man, but I had the opportunity to go to modeling camp.

This should have been my first hard halt.

My mom drove me an hour to the hotel convention center where hopefuls lined up to fill out paperwork and have their picture taken. Settling into our chairs for the welcome speech, I noticed two ladies in their late 50s, yet their attire advertised: “Think of me as 30.” They sauntered up to the stage, and adjusted various undergarments and support systems before tapping the microphone.

“Afternoon ladies, and welcome to the Stars of Tomorrow Modeling Tour. My name is Kim Mukowsky, modeling camp coordinator,” she said.

“Modeling is a career that is rewarding, adventurous, and riddled with beauty, as all of you here are,” she continued, flashing a coffee creased smile at the audience of acne-marked faces and brace-lined smiles.

“There are all kinds of modeling: hand, neck, full body…”

She listed off several more, and described how she once made $1,000 by wearing a necklace for a few pictures.

It sounded like a great way to make quick money. Money that I could spend matching my saddle pad to my polos and breeches. She continued on with the dates of open camps.

“May 26-31.” But that was the weekend I was teaching horse camp.

“June 14-20.” Cross that out—that’s the Virginia Starter Trials.

“June 26-30.” Nope. That’s the Glenmore Hunt and Pony Club show.

Afterward, I trotted over to the registration table labeled “L-O.” As I approached the front of the line, I realized Kim Mukowsky herself was registering my table. Up close, her skin resembled unoiled reins, tan and flaky.

“Your name, please?” She said, manicured hands poised over the keyboard. I wondered if I’d have to get a manicure. It wouldn’t last one day at the barn.

“Lydia Marsh,” I replied.

“Age?”

“13.”

“Height?”

“5 foot, 6 inches,” I answered.

She continued, asking my address, date of birth, school, then more personal questions. I was nervous, unsure if I was giving the correct answers to secure a spot in hand or neck modeling.

“What do you want to do as a career?”

That was an easy question! I squared my shoulders, knowing that few other girls in this room would answer the same.

“I want to be a professional horseback rider,” I replied proudly. Kim Mukowsky pursed her lips.

“That’s not a career,” she retorted. “You can’t do that when you are 60 years old.”

You can’t be a neck or hand model at 60 with all those spots either, I thought. What did she know? She spent her whole life trying to stay young and clearly hadn’t won the battle, yet there are plenty of equestrian athletes well into their 80s with the fitness of someone decades younger.

As much as I wanted to set Kim Mukowsky straight on her horse facts, I bit my tongue and said, “I’ll be a riding instructor.”

She stared at me for a second, and I noticed her right eyelid droop from exhaustion. I felt for this woman. Maybe once she admired horses like all other little girls, but fell into the unforgiving world of modeling. She’d never know the joy of cantering through a freshly mown field.

I said I’d think on a date for the camp. I gathered my purse, a blue and white toile horse print, and met my mom at the door.

“What did you think? Do you want to join a camp?” She asked as she smoothed a loose hair behind my ear. I wove my arm into hers.

“No,” I said. “It’d eat up time with my horses.”
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