I am unsure if my dad knew what he was getting into when his daughter was bit by the ‘Horse Bug’. He’d coached my older brother’s pee-wee soccer team way back when, is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has done some teaching with that, taught me how to golf, throw a baseball and ride a bike, but I think horses were fairly new territory to him.
Growing up, it was most often my dad that chauffeured me to and from my riding lessons. He would patiently oblige when I’d pester him to leave extra early so I’d have extra time to get my horse ready, and he was never in a rush to leave the barn if I had a hot or sweaty horse that needed extra attention after a lesson (or if I was busy running around and giving all the horses treats). He would listen to the endless stream of chatter after each and every ride; about the horse I rode, the other horses in my lesson, the other kids in my lesson, how I rode, my trainers, what I learned, what mistakes I’d made, and so on (even if he’d been watching the whole lesson, pretty sure he received an in-depth re-cap of every detail).
I think my dad picked up on quite a few equestrian subjects just through the sheer volume of enthusiastic one-sided conversations I’d have on the car ride home after a lesson.
When I started getting into showing, my dad was the lucky soul who made sure I was at the barn at whatever ungodly early hour to prep horses and load the trailer to haul to the show. He always had a hand to hold my horse when I’d forget my number or have to run to the bathroom before my class.
He never would really say much when he would be out at the barn with me, but I think in a way the barn was just as relaxing for him as it is for me. He has always been so amused by the distinct and cheeky personalities of the horses I’ve grown up riding.
While my mom very openly brags on The Mare and I, recognizes that my horse is an enormous part of my life and is vocal on how important horses are to keep me sane, keeps pictures on her phone of us, and bakes muffins for her on a regular basis, my dad interjects his opinions more infrequently.
Both my parents are firm believers in working hard for the things you want in life, whatever that might be. But they are also huge advocates of chasing after what makes you happy. I was not sure that The Mare would ever make it to school with me (undergrad or to vet school), and my dad put things in perspective for me – something he’s always been good at doing. He told me that sometimes, what is logical is not necessarily the right answer. And if there is something out there that makes you truly, truly happy, then it is worth having that thing in your life and fighting tooth-and-nail to keep it in your life.
A while ago there was an article circulating titled ‘A Father’s Explanation of Why He Had Horses for His Children’…it basically talked about the athleticism, responsibility, compassion, work ethic, sportsmanship and other skills that being an equestrian instills, and how every penny spent on horses has been well worth it. My dad shared that article and tagged me in it on his facebook.
I asked my dad, why is having a kid as an equestrian and horse owner a good idea?
In addition to everything above, he pointed out that it led me to my career. He said, “People talk about doing something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s overly simplistic; but the course you’ve set will let you do that, after a lot of hard work. That’s about as much as any parent can hope for”.
I also asked him that as a Horse Show Dad, what he has learned.
He said that he grew up in a very out-door-sy family…camping trips, summers outside, family vacations to national parks and the like; but in his adult life, much of what he does centers around intangible things – like the internet. He said that having horses in his world through The Mare and I, that he really appreciates the reminder that that world he grew up in, that appreciation of nature, is still there.
So on this Father’s Day, I can only thank him. For the countless hours spent shuttling me to and from the barn and walking around the barn waiting for me to take just one more picture of a horse or watch one more lesson when I’m sure he had other things he had to be working on. For the million times I handed him a set of reins and yelled, ‘I’ll be right back!’, or asked him to grab my gloves/number/crop/video my round. For learning the nuances of this complex sport, for driving out to shows at 5 AM, for supporting my endeavors in whatever fashion he could and can.
And most importantly, for seeing that horses are and will forever be my passion; for fostering that love and never letting me forget that horses (and specifically The Mare) will always be worth it; for teaching me that prioritizing and pursuing what I love is not selfish; and that at the end of the day, if it makes you happy then you should be a) chasing after it or b) fighting to hold onto it.
To all the dads teaching their kids these same life lessons from the stall of a barn, Happy Father’s Day.