by Laura Crum
My son has been raised with horses. Ever since he was a baby he rode with me on my horse—first on Flanigan, and then after Flanigan died, on Plumber. I know—no helmet—but we never had one problem.
When my kid was five years old I bought him a pony and for two years he rode Toby—first on the leadline and then independently. He learned to ride on that pony.
Toby died when my son was seven and I bought Henry for him. And on this good red horse he rode miles and miles—on the beach, through the hills, gathering cattle, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Those of you who have followed this blog for a few years know about all our many horseback adventures. We never had one wreck or even a bad moment. And my son loved to ride.
When my boy became a teenager his interest in riding began to lessen. This didn’t surprise me. Horses were my passion, and I was happy to share them with him, but I always thought there would come a day when he might want to find his own interests. And lo and behold he began to devote what free time he had to making music, playing golf, and designing video games. He still rode with me once in awhile, but less and less.
There was a certain serendipity to this because the year my son began to lose interest (at thirteen), Henry turned 26, and began to have trouble with hill climbs. He was still sound on level ground and free moving, but his hocks/stifles bothered him on steeper hills. The last couple of trail rides we attempted in the hills (last summer) we turned back because Henry was clearly uncomfortable. My son rode him on short gentle trail rides and in the arena, and was getting bored with this.
I offered to give him my horse or buy him a new horse, but my teenager’s interest in riding just wasn’t there. The last couple of trail rides I went on, my boy opted not to go. I think this photo is of my last ride—in August or September.
After my husband got sick and died, my own interest in riding disappeared. I just didn’t and don’t have any emotional energy for this pursuit. When I think about it, the words “been there, done that” come to mind. My son wasn’t/isn’t interested. So for now, riding is on the back burner. Perhaps we will go for a ride some day. Or not. Doesn’t really matter. Many lovely rides are part of us forever. And the most important element of owning horses is part of our every day lives.
What’s that, you say. You don’t ride—what’s the most important part then? That would be living with horses. I have known for a long time that if I had to choose between never riding again but getting to have my horses live with me, and riding all I wanted but having to board, I would choose not riding/horses living with me every time.
Our horses are part of our life. We feed them three times a day and check their water and sit in the barn and watch them and rub on them and turn them out to graze along the driveway. My son’s favorite spot on our property is a swing in a big oak tree in the barnyard. He spends time there pretty much every day. Sometimes swinging high, sometimes just idly gazing at the horses and chickens and wild birds and all the wild critters that ramble about our place. He’s seen bobcats, coyotes, and every sort of deer from huge bucks to baby fawns up close and personal, as he sat in his swing and they wandered by. And always there are the horses. He spends plenty of time just hanging out with them—and has been doing this all his life.
My strongest childhood memory of horses isn’t of riding them, though I loved to ride. It is of a swing that hung in my uncle’s barnyard out at the old ranch—in a big cottonwood tree. I spent many long hours there, lazing around on the swing, watching the cottonwood leaves flicker green and silver against the blue sky, and watching the horses idle around their corrals—particularly my favorite—the bright bay gelding named Mr Softime.
If you had asked me, I would have told you that I was bored and that I wished my uncle would come out to the barn and let me ride. I was very horse obsessed as a young girl and I loved to ride. But though I have many riding memories, none of them are quite as strong as those memories of the swing in the barnyard and those long spacious idle hours just being with horses.
When my boy was young I asked my husband to hang a swing in the big oak tree in our barnyard—and I was very consciously thinking of that barnyard swing of my childhood. I wanted my son to have that same experience—those quiet empty hours swinging in the green world and watching the horses. Andy, my husband, always said that boredom is the cauldron of creativity and I think that is true. If we schedule our children so that they have no time to be “bored,” we deprive them of the ability to become creative. But more than that, there is a spaciousness, a vastness, a freedom, in those long idle hours spent in nature—and to my mind a swing hung from a big tree in a barnyard where one can watch horses is the best way to spend such hours, bar none (I know, I’m prejudiced). Andy hung that swing over ten years ago and our boy has made good use of it ever after.
So yes, we don’t ride right now. But horses are part of our life. And I would always choose to have horses here, even if I never do ride again. I truly believe that our horses have been/are/and will always be a great gift to my son. My husband was not a horse person, but he totally agreed with and supported this. Horse therapy is said to be the number one best thing for emotionally/physically impaired kids—so how good must it be for the emotional health of all kids?
Anyway, I am really glad that my boy grew up with horses and I am grateful for our quiet, horse-filled barnyard and the swing in the oak tree—every single day of my life. Even if neither one of us ever rides a horse again.