Monday, June 5, 2017

Why Horses?


I am one of those people who came out of the womb loving horses.  There was not a speck of horse-y anything in my childhood but that did not deter me.   I devoured anything I got my hands on about horses.  I daydreamed horses.  I collected Breyer model horses.  I made miniature tack and grooming supplies for my model horses.  I drew and painted horses.  Each and every birthday and Christmas I asked for a pony.  I entered to win horses in Horse of Course magazine contests.

I lived in the suburb where the closest equine was an ancient Shetland pony that lived in an old century barn with a teeny tiny run for it's 'turnout'.  It was several blocks away in what was likely the old farmstead before the land sold to a developer.  I would get apples and carrots and take the hike to see the pony.  I never saw the person who lived there.  I didn't understand at that time that feeding treats to the pony might not be what the owner wanted.  Thankfully, I only remember feeding small quantities of carrots and maybe an apple or two.  I knew enough to cut them into slices.  The carrot and apple slices had the added benefit of allowing the pony's attention to be on me to last longer.  I savored every moment as he savored every bite.

As I got a bit older, I begged and pleaded with my parents for riding lessons in the next town over.  I saved up babysitting and birthday money to keep the lessons going.  During these lessons, I learned hunt seat from the stereotypical, critical, feisty, weathered woman who would bark commands at me endlessly during the lesson.  I was kind of a sensitive soul but tolerated the barrage of belittling just so I could be around the horse.  I rode Bay Rum most often and loved him with all my heart!

At this same barn, many of the girls who rode in the lessons had horses of their own.  They had the correct outfits, correct tack, a beautiful horse, and a similar condescending attitude toward me.  I came for lessons faithfully, week after week, as my money held out.  Sometimes I would have to stop until I had enough to buy more lessons.  I remember paying for the lessons with money obviously scraped together with small bills and coins since the lessons were paid for month by month.

The other girls in the barn would giggle and talk in groups as they discussed the upcoming shows and events that never included me.  I was an outsider but did not care.  I was there for other reasons.  I took those lessons very seriously.  I did exercises to strengthen my riding muscles from one lesson to the next.  My progress felt agonizingly slow, with no riding in between, but  I lovingly persisted.  I made drawings of the horses and jump courses as I mentally practiced and prepared for my next lesson.  I read voraciously anything to do with horses, horse care or riding.


 That continued until life got in the way.  I lost a parent at the age of 16.  Life got difficult and teen years where a mix of rebellion, family chaos and grief.  I wasn't able to get back to horses again until I was married and the mother of a beautiful daughter.  My husband bought me my first horse.



Annie was a tall, lanky, grey NSH (National Show Horse).  She had the build of a Saddlebred and mind of an Arab.  She did something my trainer said was called 'star gazing'.  He described it as something that sounded a lot like inattentive ADD!  She would kind of blank out when stressed, get a faraway look in her eyes and kind of mentally check out!  But I thought she was perfect!  She was tall, fancy, a bit flaky and had the smoothest gaits I had ever ridden!   She also was afraid of anything outside of nature!  She apparently had been ridden most often in an indoor arena and so when encountering things like leaves, wind or puddles would shy and bolt.  I had boarded her for years but then, along with my husband and growing family, bought our own 80 acre farm- without an indoor arena.  I did not have the confidence or experience to help her over her fears, although saw she rode quite well with other riders.  She sensed in me the inexperienced rider I still was and reacted to it.

I went on to donate Annie to a Children's Home that was just starting a horse program.  I was upfront and honest about my experiences with Annie and got the reassurance from the program director that they had kids of all riding levels and Annie would do just fine.  I later found out that Annie not only did 'just fine', she was a valued part of that program for many, many years and lived out the rest of her life as a much loved and treasured horse that was known to take to the troubled kids and bring them out of their shell.  I was thrilled to know that Annie blossomed there and brought joy to so many!


I lived on that farm for a dozen more years, riding on our farm, going to shows, bringing my daughter up as a fellow horse lover.  We enjoyed riding and caring for a variety of other horses over the years. I have had the pleasure of raising 5 foals.  I rescued horses from the 'kill pens'.  I rehabbed and rehomed some horses and others became family.  I made some great horse decisions, and some not so great.  We eventually built and ran a 25 stall boarding stable with a trainer and riding instructor before we sold the farm and bought a smaller 'hobby farm' close to school for my kids where I still had horses but scaled down what we did with them.  I no longer take in boarders, show, offer riding lessons or training.  I trail ride now.  And give pony rides for the grandbabies.  I never stopped painting and drawing horses.  Hope I never do!



I gain so much from being around horses.  I find them to be interesting mentally.  Horses are complex and multi-faceted but also straightforward.  They are contradictions.  Powerful and gentle.  Large and fragile.  Willing and opinionated.  Fierce and soft.  I love watching herd dynamics.  I find them visually interesting and beautiful.   I can't imagine my life without horses.

Happy trails,

Sue Steiner
equine and animal artist