When you’re crazy about horses, you look forward to the time when you can share your passion with your children. But when the time comes, it doesn’t always play out the way you’d envisioned.
My own childhood was spent longing for a horse. My parents finally acquiesced when I was 13. That was in the 1950s, when my family moved to a small farm in Baltimore County, Maryland. The payoff for my parents was that they always knew where to find me—schooling my horse in the ring, riding him on a local trail, or sitting astride him in the stable at night, doing homework.
Twenty years later—with a husband, three sons, and a teaching career on hold—I couldn’t stop thinking about initiating my own family into the joys of horsedom. Finally, after being without a horse myself for 10 years, I arranged for my oldest son, then 8, to receive what I’d longed for at his age: a pony.
[READ: The Pony’s Prayer]
I’ll never forget that frigid Christmas morning. Too excited to sleep, I arose early and crept out to the barn. I groomed the furry bay Shetland, clipped a red bow to her bushy forelock, and turned her into the paddock with a pile of hay.
Back inside, breathless, I led my son to the window.
“Merry Christmas, Mike,” I said, dabbing tears from my eyes. “Your very own pony.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Thanks. Maybe I’ll go outside after I open my other gifts.”
I followed him back to the Christmas tree, where he opened a box containing a rubber curry, body brush, mane comb, and hoof pick. He accepted these gifts with the zeal of someone receiving his very own carpet shampooer.
Mike’s enthusiasm for Tammy, as we called the pony, never quite regained the plateau I saw at the window that Christmas morning. But the pony did come in handy later when I started a small riding school to support my rekindled horse habit. That’s when my boys decided that horses were pretty cool after all—as girl magnets.
All of my students, of course, were girls. They swooned over the acrid scents in the barn and tack room. They kissed the horses on their dusty muzzles, and buried their faces in the animals’ hairy coats. They begged to help with the grooming and hoof-picking, and even volunteered for stall-mucking duty. All of this astounded my boys.
One time, alarmed, the boys reported to me that two of my students were in the tack room, eating handfuls of sweet feed and munching clover hay.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s a girl thing.”
Being male, my sons didn’t share that genetic predisposition towards all things equine. But it’s not as if they never rode. As long as there was a goal beyond just being on a horse, they were willing, if not ecstatic. They hated the arena, but they enjoyed playing hide and seek on horseback in the woods. Early on, picnics on horseback were also acceptable. And, of course, racing anywhere was okay.
Each time they humored me by mounting up, I clung to the tiniest hope that the horse bug might one day bite them.
Reality hit one Saturday morning when I needed someone to exercise one of our large ponies. I overheard the boys arguing about who would do it, and was delighted. “Enough ponies to go around,” I sang out. “We can all go.”
But when they drew straws, the grim truth was revealed: The short straw had to ride with me, and the long straw—the “winner”—got to cut the grass.
Later, as I rode down the trail with a son who kept looking at his watch and dreaming of lawn mowers, I reminded myself that someday, perhaps, I could have granddaughters.
PEGGY ROWE lives in Perry Hall, Maryland, with her husband of 44 years. Although she’s given up the country life and retired to a condominium, her passion for horses has found a home in her writing. Her three sons are grown—and there’s still not a horse enthusiast among them.