by Kristen Smith

During that magically hypothetical period of time between my husband and I deciding we were ready to start a family and now, there have been plenty of little daydreams about sharing my passion for horses with a child. Then, I’m reminded of how tough it is to get to the barn to ride as it is and how a pony and more lessons would cut into my show budget.

For the past five years, my son and my riding have managed to co-exist peacefully and with only basic interaction. He began going to the barn at three months in a carrier or the stroller as I retrained an OTTB. At 13 months, he sat ringside at Brownland Farms as I ventured back into showing. On my 30th birthday, he and my husband came to the barn and met the dream horse I had just bought.

Bonding - photo by Kristen Smith

Bonding – photo by Kristen Smith

For a year, he’s shown only a passing interest in horses. Then, my Army Officer husband deployed to Afghanistan this summer. More than ever, I need the peace I find at the barn. Since I don’t want to completely revamp our budget to pay for a babysitter 4 times a week, my son comes with me. In preparation for his first trip to the barn in over a year, I packed a bag of activities and picked up fast food to keep him busy. To my surprise, he happily helped brush my very tolerant gelding and watched while I rode for half an hour. Then, he grabbed the youth helmet I had brought (bribing him with a pony ride), climbed up on the mounting block and claimed his turn.

I happily complied, thoroughly impressed as my 3’6” jumper – known to be sweet but silly – slowly walked the arena while my son clucked, chattered and gave a passable try at posting. That night, I set up lessons with an instructor at the barn with school ponies appropriate for a five year old and convinced myself it wasn’t quite time yet to order jods, boots and a tiny little GPA. He might forget all about it.

Anything could happen, but in the days since he has begged to go to the barn, nagged me into letting him walk my horse over poles and cavaletti (with overly dramatic “jumping” arms), and bathed and brushed to his heart’s content. I don’t know if there are pony mom days in my future. But, for now, I can hope that these summer hours at the barn give him a moment’s peace from the constant underlying tension of living through a parent’s deployment to a combat zone.