I wouldn’t have warned them what they were getting into even if I could have, but I write this to thank them (especially my mom, who did everything below and more), and to advise other non-horsey parents what’s in store.
In the Beginning
First, you’ll foolishly allow your child to pet the soft nose of a magical beast. And magic it must be, because suddenly you’re shelling out for every pony and hay ride you encounter. You’ll innocently plan a dude ranch vacation, and your child will not stop talking about horses on the trip. Your child will not stop talking about horses on the way home. Your child will never stop talking about horses ever again.
Clothes adorned with ponies will lead to horse books, model horses, horse-themed birthdays, and your first truly enormous error—riding lessons. You’ll sit in on the side of the ring, or perhaps next to the trainer, until you’re banished to the car or barn office. Your child will plop along on a fluffy pony, a less-than-graceful sack of potatoes. Your heart will swell with pride. You’d have loved this as a kid.
Suddenly, with no memory of how it happened, you’ll own child-sized boots and chaps. Your brain will expel important data to make room for brands of breeches with price tags that must be wrong. Just this once, you’ll put them in the dryer—who knew you shouldn’t? Ahem. Just this twice.
It Starts Getting Real
Once a month at the barn will become once a week. Once a week will seem adorable when you’re trekking there almost daily. When you’re not at the barn, you’ll be listening to your child describe her dream horse and interrogate you about why you don’t live on acreage.
Your child will always be dirty and/or injured. You’ll worry you’ve made a mistake. But you’ll never worry whether your child is getting into trouble at the mall on Saturdays, and you’ll never field a bad phone call from the school, because your child will live in fear of losing her riding lessons.
No, your child will be outside (fresh air!), doing manual labor (work ethic!), learning life lessons (about sportsmanship and practice!), and communing spiritually with nature. This is good for her, you’ll swear. By now, you’ll have your own boots.
You’ll marvel at the new language your child apparently learned overnight. She’ll prance around these giant, dangerous animals with unsettling confidence, tacking up, convincing the horse to do things, conversing with actual adults. She is somehow familiar with strangers you begin to recognize from the covers of the magazines now arriving at your house.
You might pack water and snacks, zip coats into garment bags, and wake up in the dark to cart your kid to the hottest, least exciting place on earth. You’ll arrive at the horse show at roughly 2 a.m. and remain there with your sunburned offspring (you told her to wear sunscreen) until approximately midnight. At some point, you may get yelled at for napping in your air-conditioned car. Your child will win a 50-cent ribbon, and you will be proud again.
But as you sign your check in the show office, you’ll think of the mothers of children who got into trouble at the mall this weekend, and you’ll wonder whether that might also teach your progeny some life lessons.
You will field different phone calls than those mothers will. Your kid will end up in the emergency room. You’ll wish she did ballet. She will be kicked by a pony, crack a rib falling off, and suffer untold other insults and injuries. Inexplicably, you will press on.
Owning a Horse
You may buy a horse. You will never know how to handle this creature you house, feed, and shoe. You will offer it treats and whisper: Please be a good boy. Please make her happy. Please don’t rip off your shoe again.
You will put on his halter upside-down. “I’ll do it,” your ungrateful spawn will groan. You’ll recall when she couldn’t dress herself. You will take zillions of photos of the horse and your child. You may even spring for professional equine glamour shots. The horse will love your child. He will lumber over when she approaches the paddock. You’ll grow fond of the horse, too; you’ll start to love the smell, the constant cleaning, the sound of eating hay.
You’ll trot out the brass horsehead hooks you bought long before the horse (you always knew you’d cave) and hang them in the tack room. You’ll feed the horse the carrots once reserved for Santa’s reindeer on Christmas Eve.
Decades later, when old fly masks still command valuable space in your garage, your adult child will call you (on her way home from the barn) and ask why you did it. “Why did you encourage this silly, expensive activity?”
And you will tell her, truthfully, that you did it because she loved it, and—to everyone’s surprise—because you loved it, too.
Thanks to all the moms and dads out there for the endless driving, water bottle holding, photo-taking, and too-loud cheering they do to support us … whether they love it or not.
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!