When I was fourteen, I remember my love affair with horses bloomed. I dearly wanted one and had attended summer riding camp since I had turned nine, but my parents could not even begin to afford it. Horseback riding is an expensive sport with the cost of riding gear, boarding bills each month, blacksmith and vet bills, and horse show transportation and entry fees.
I was old enough to understand, but I did not want to give up my passion. The solution: I started working at the stables on weekends. My mom got up extra early to drive me to the barn on Sheaff Lane, up the gravel driveway, long and bumpy, in our faithful Rambler. She handed me a paperbag lunch – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off. I’d see her again at precisely five – Mom was always on time.
My parents and I had a deal: I would keep up my grades (by that they meant that I would receive an “A” in every subject – or no less than an occasional “B”), and I would be rewarded with stable time. It seemed fair to me, and I knew I could hold up my end of the bargain. I made every minute in school count, paying attention and doing all the assignments on time and sometimes ahead of time. In high school, I studied until wee morning hours for exams to maintain my “A” average each year, but it was always more than a grade. I needed horses like I needed air.
Each Saturday and Sunday I mucked stalls, groomed horses, cleaned tack, and led ponies around and around the ring on a lead shank to teach young children how to post to the trot. My favorite ponies were Oswald and Jungle Juice – they were the best teachers ever! By summer of my fourteenth year, my riding instructor made me a junior counselor at summer camp, and I helped to give lessons. My expertise was getting new riders started. Throughout the seasons, I taught students from the age of four to the age of sixty-four!
Sometimes, I got a free riding lesson for my efforts. Sometimes, I took people on the trails through Whitemarsh. Each time, I got to be with horses and breathe it all in. I loved every moment of it. The weekends were something to look forward to – my sisters were inside playing with paper dolls or watching television – but I was outside with magnificent beauties. I was learning how to be a riding instructor, learning how to work hard, learning about the kind of person I wanted to become.