Where it all begins
When I was seven or eight, a neighbor asked my parents if I’d like to go riding with their daughter because “it’ll be cheaper if our daughters ride together.” My parents agreed that I might like that, although in hindsight my father, at least, probably wished he’d just bought me a new My Little Pony instead.
And so it was that my friend and I arrived at the barn for our lesson together, where we discovered that “together” didn’t mean “group lesson” as you’d expect. I spent the hour riding double behind my friend, while the instructor coached her through the lesson. It didn’t matter: I’d been on a horse.
My dad took one look at my face when I got off, saw the future reflected in the
dollar signs stars in my eyes and announced, “We’re moving.”
To England, as it turned out, where I wheedled my way into lessons in the age-old technique perfected by scheming daughters everywhere. You know: you start by saying, “Can I have a horse?” and negotiate down to “Well what about lessons, then? I called these six barns and you don’t have to buy equipment or anything to ride at these three and this one’s only fifteen minutes away, look, I got the atlas out.” (This was before everyone had a GPS on their phone, back in the dark ages when people could still read maps.)
Once my father was resigned to lessons, I raised the question of owning a horse again. Naturally. Unfortunately, “Can I have a Ford Mustang?” didn’t negotiate down to “Well, what about a Shetland pony?” as I’d been hoping it would. He did promise, in a rash moment, that I could have a horse the day I could buy it. After all, I was nine. Where was I going to get the money to buy a horse?
It took me two years, but I finally found a contest in a magazine that was giving away a horse: “The horse is free and everything, so can I enter? You promised I could have one if you didn’t have to buy it.” Dad pointed out that’s not what he’d meant at all and then, just in case I’d had any funny ideas about sending in an entry blank anyway, announced we were moving again—all the way to Alaska.
With contests out, I settled into regular lessons at a new barn. But it wasn’t long before my trainer introduced a new concept to my mother and I: leasing. I pointed out I could work at the barn to help pay for it. I was old enough to get a part-time job elsewhere as well. And my grades were good. And it wouldn’t cost much more than we were paying anyway, once you took off what I’d contribute. Poor Dad. He never had a chance. And a year or so later, it was “There’s this horse at the barn for sale, and he’s really affordable; I even have enough in savings to pay for him. It won’t cost much more than leasing, plus I can work more hours at my other job now.” What else could he do? We bought the horse.
And then he pulled out the Christmas card list and crossed out the names of the neighbors who once, so innocently, asked if I’d like to go riding.
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