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Dana, my riding instructor, told me that instead of paying for lessons I could work at the barn and get free lessons. For every three hours I worked I was able to take one lesson. I would be required to arrive an hour before the first lessons started and bring the school horses that would be used for that day up from the pasture to the barn. Then I needed to groom them all and tack up the horses that were in the first lesson. During the first lesson I could tack up the other horses. I would also have to clean the tack and hose the horses off between lessons if they were really sweaty. At the end of the day I would have to groom all the horses again an then walk them back down to the pasture. Jean was offered the same deal.
To a horse crazy girl, this sounded fantastic. When I told my parents about it, they were not pleased, but couldn't really argue because this would not cost them any money. It would just mean that my mom would have to drive me to and from the barn on Saturday and Sunday. They agreed to the arrangement, but emphasized that they were NOT buying me a horse and if I misbehaved or got bad grades I would be banned from the barn.
That is when Jean and I started spending every weekend at the barn. Once school let out for the summer, we were able to work during the week too so we sometimes got two lessons a day. After a month or so Dana started not caring how long we worked and would put us in any open slot she had if we were all done with the work. I spent hours and hours riding, grooming, and cleaning.
I also got to know the horses really well. There was Dallas, the roan quarter horse and alpha gelding. He was a beginners horse but was still a fun ride for the advanced riders. Chester was a chestnut thoroughbred who jumped a little and was very sweet and kind. Snowball, the all-white pony, was for the beginners but would get really feisty over fences. Monty, Ranger, and Tommy were all intermediate to advanced horses. There were a few others that I can't quite remember, but my favorite was Moose.
Moose was exactly as his name implied. He was a big bay with white socks and a blaze, and a huge head with gigantic ears. He was a bit on the lazy side so I had to carry a crop, but I loved riding him. Jean and I would fantasize about how we were going to somehow raise enough money to buy Tommy and Moose so we could ride together forever.
In the mornings Jean and I would get to the barn before anyone else and walk down to the pasture and get halters on all the horses. Then we'd tie a lead rope from one horse onto another horse's halter. We'd do that again until all the horses were paired up and then we'd get on Dallas or Snowball bareback (with just a halter on) and lead the pairs of horses up to the barn while riding one. To get to the barn we had to ride a short way on the street. When I think of this now, it's a wonder that neither we nor the horses ever got hurt. Almost every day one of the horses would get pissed at having to walk so close to his buddies and would bite or kick. We'd holler their names really loud or try and swat them with the lead ropes to get them to quit acting up. We'd groom and talk and laugh and ride. We had whip fights and water fights. Sometimes Dana would go into town and get us lunch at the deli. We figured out how to finesse the Coke machine so we'd actually get what we wanted and not have it eat our quarters. It was really a blast.
At the end of the summer Dana said she wouldn't be able to be our teacher anymore. She had cancer in her lymph nodes - Hodgkins Disease.
To be continued...