The following story is the beginning to a long but important chapter of my life. It's all about how I got into riding horses. It's also about the things that I learned about horses and myself. And, it's about the people and horses that I met, and lost, along the way.
Usually when I tell stories on my blog I use first initials instead of people's names. However, I think this will get very confusing, so I'm going to use first names only. If you are mentioned by name and wish to have your name removed, let me know and I'll do it immediately.
It was the spring of 1982 and I was 13 years old. I was in 8th grade and had had the same friends since I was in 3rd grade when we moved from Maryland to California. My so-called best friend Nancy lived next door. She was a popular girl and had lots of other friends. I, on the other hand, did not. Sometimes I would spend weeks hanging out with other girls in our circle, but I felt mostly unaccepted by the others. Nancy wasn't exactly nice to me, and if there was something better going on she would blow me off. She would join in when people were teasing me, and in private she would criticize me and put me down. One day while walking to the bus stop I told Nancy she was a bitch and I didn't want to be her friend anymore. I walked ahead of her to the bus stop and never looked back.
That week I started talking to Karen in my History class, and I stopped hanging around with the old group and got myself a new clan of friends. Karen and I started to "play" (sounds so queer now, but that's what we called it) after school at each other's houses. Karen's parents worked, so when we'd go to her house there was nobody but her older brother there. I don't remember how old he was, but I do remember that he had a copy of The Joy of Sex and we would sneak into his room to look at it if he wasn't around. Once he caught us and threatened to beat Karen up, but I think it was a lot of talk. Karen was into ballet and once gave me one of her old pairs of toe shoes to play around with. They hurt my feet but I tried to stand on my toes anyway. (I recently saw Karen at my high school reunion. She looked fantastic!)
One of the girls in the new group was Jean-Marie. We also started going to each others houses after school, and one day when I asked if she could come over she told me she couldn't because she had a riding lesson. She said I could come along and watch, so I did.
This was not my first time at a barn. When we were younger my parents had signed both my older sister and I up for week-long riding camps for two summers. It was great. We were there pretty much all day and learned about the parts of the horse, the tack, how to care for horses, and of course, how to ride. On the last day I think we had some kind of show or something, but I can't really remember. I do remember the last year my horse was named Big Op, short for Big Opportunity. He was the largest horse, a big bay thoroughbred. My mom was a little freaked out that I was on such a big horse, but he was lazy and kind and I had a great time.
I went with Jean to her lesson and decided that I wanted lessons too. I went home and asked my parents. They said no. Absolutely not. We can't afford it, they said. I continued to go with Jean to her lessons and pester my parents for lessons. Finally, my father said okay. He would pay for 4 lessons, and that's it. We went out and my mom bought me a pair of tall rubber riding boots, a pair of breeches, and a hard hat. That Tuesday she drove me to the barn and signed me up for 4 lessons. These were group lessons, and they were $8 a lesson.
My instructor was Dana. She was young, energetic, and super nice. Jean and I were in the same lesson, so we got to talk and goof around while we were getting ready to ride. The riding program at the barn had a string of school horses that the stable owned. They were all geldings, well broke and good natured. Some of them were for beginners, and some for more advanced riders, but for the most part they were all safe and sane. My first lesson was on 56. He was a big palamino who had a "56" branded into his neck, thus his name. Jean usually rode 56 in her lessons and at first was jealous that I got to ride him, but Dana let her ride Tommy. Tommy was a dark bay gelding who used to be an event horse, so he was a great ride. She fell madly in love with this horse and almost always got to ride him in her lessons after that.
I took three lessons, one every Tuesday. Before the fourth and last lesson, I told Dana that today would be my last lesson because my parents would not pay for any more.
To be continued...