How to Create the Next Generation of Equestrians

Or, how to make your family hate you.

I’m the oddball of the family. Neither my mom or my dad had ever ridden a horse and aside from some distant family who owned horses, I was the only horse lover in the bunch. No one in my immediate family understands me when I talk about struggling with flying lead changes or dealing with a hormonal mare. When family dinners roll around and the normal kids talk about their grades and their jobs and their girlfriends, I’m always just proud that my horse didn’t poop in the crossties.

And then came Lillie.

When my Aunt Julie married my Uncle Mike, I knew he was a keeper- mostly because he owned horses. Unfortunately, as it often does, life got in the way and he sold his three Tennessee Walking Horses that he showed. Mike and I could talk shop. While all the family bragged about the turkey we spoke in hushed whispers about the things I was doing at the barn the next day. When Lillie was born, I was convinced that this was MY opportunity to have another horse lover in the family. So I began the brain washing early on.

Whenever she wanted to play pretend, we pretended we were ponies. If she wanted a Barbie for Christmas, she got the Cowgirl Barbie complete with Barbie’s beautiful palomino mare (but ohhhhh, how I prayed her equitation would be better than Barbie’s). Imagine my delight when my Aunt texted me that horse was one of Lillie’s vocabulary words at school and my little protégé wrote the sentence, “My cousin Meagan loves her horses, but my daddy and me love horses too!”

I knew this Christmas was my time to pounce. Lillie was old enough and brave enough to take her first lesson while she was down visiting us for Christmas. My aunt and uncle agreed, not realizing what they were truly signing up for, and I scheduled Lillie’s first riding lesson during Christmas break.

Wanting to keep with the theme, I surprised her with the biggest stuffed horse I could find and the promise of a riding lesson the ever adorable Puff the Magic Dragon. The rest of the night was spent showing her countless photos of the precious white pony and talking about all of the horses at the barn. I knew I had her — hook, line, and sinker.

Snapchat provided by Meagan DeLisle

When we arrived at the barn the day of her lesson she had a smile a mile wide across her face. She fearlessly tackled tacking up like an old pro, even the always troublesome picking out of hooves (“Puff feels like he’s gonna fall on me!”) As the pair approached the mounting block, I could see a little bit of worry in her little eyes but she didn’t let that stop her. She saddled up and walked on as if she had done it thousands of times before.

By the end of the hour long lesson, that kid was posting the trot. I couldn’t have been more proud! My Uncle Mike followed her around and filmed the entire lesson and even my coach was impressed by how quickly she was picking things up that normally take kids her age a while to understand. All of my hard work had paid off — I had a rootin’ tootin’ pony rider in the family! Next thing I knew, despite my aunt’s worries, my uncle was looking for riding barns near their home town for her to continue riding.

Sure, this isn’t an easy sport to watch as a parent. It is expensive and unpredictable and definitely a little terrifying at times, but to see the light in Lillie’s eyes made it apparent that the saddle is where she needed to be. I think that’s definitely worth a lifetime of big bows, pint sized ponies, and wallets that are a little less full. Hopefully my aunt and uncle agree!

Photos by Marilyn Brehmer

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