“How can you afford to pay for that?” someone asked me recently when I told her that my daughter rides horses. My husband had just been laid off, so our financial outlook was bleak. But I didn’t think of the strain on our budget when I answered the woman, I thought only of Catie’s passion for horses and everything that riding gives her. And I answered, “How can I afford not to?”
Catie, 12, began riding two years ago. She wanted to ride before that, but I tried to tune her out. I thought horseback riding was for people with lots of money, or with horse farms. We had neither, so I signed her up for a dance class.
Catie enjoyed dance, but was much less interested in leaping through the air than leaping onto a horse. I don’t know how she finally got through to me–maybe it was the pile of horse books on her nightstand, or her approaching 10th birthday–but I finally scheduled her first riding lesson. When she climbed into that saddle, she had the look of someone who has finally come home. And she’s been riding ever since.
There’s no denying that riding lessons are expensive, but they’re not unaffordable. Somehow, we find a way. As for the other costs, we bought the basics–a helmet and riding boots–but Catie baby-sits and works at the barn to pay for the extras: fancy riding pants, her own crop, a tack box filled with grooming tools. Last week she even bought her own saddle. And because she had worked so hard to save the money for it, she opted for the cheaper second-hand saddle, so she could get her own saddle pad, too.
Shows and rallies can be quite costly too. Catie would love to participate in every horseback riding event held within 100 miles of our home, but she knows we can’t afford that, so she chooses with care those she’ll ride in.
Having said all this, it would be dishonest of me to deny that I occasionally worry if we can afford to keep Catie riding. But I really believe what I told that woman: We can’t afford not to. And it isn’t just because riding and spending time with horses brings Catie such joy that I would do almost anything to see her do it. I also value the other things riding teaches her–perspective, fitness, and responsibility. Through Catie’s experiences, I have seen why horses and girls go together so well.
Already, riding is helping Catie to keep her social life in perspective. Although many of her friends have begun dressing up for boys, the only males Catie dresses for are the four-legged ones, and for them she just needs riding boots, jodhpurs, and a polo shirt. Of course, riding won’t keep Catie’s mind off boys forever, but from what I’ve seen of the older girls at the barn, it will help her keep her head on straight when she first experiences young love. A boy won’t ever be her everything.
Riding also keeps Catie physically fit. She has become stronger than ever since she started cleaning stalls, catching horses, and riding. She has also become aware of the need to take care of herself, both physically and mentally, if she is to get the most out of her riding experience. As any rider learns early on, if a horse even thinks that you’re not in charge, you’re not. So drugs and alcohol hold no appeal for many young riders.
Learning responsibility comes naturally with riding. Horses must be fed, watered, brushed, and combed. And while grooming a horse may be fun, mucking out its soiled stall is not. Yet you must do both if you want to ride and have a healthy horse. Catie does, and I’ve never once heard her complain about it.
I’d rather have Catie roaming the barn than cruising the mall any day. There may be some things that money can’t buy; but in this particular case, it buys a lot. So much, in fact, that we can’t afford not to let Catie ride.
Jeannette Sanderson is a freelance writer living in Peekskill, New York.
Editor’s Note: Another valuable aspect of horseback riding is the intensive learning about the animals in terms of their anatomy, health needs and issues, personalities, social behavior and more. It’s like a pre-veterinarian course all by itself. And then there’s the pure wonder of nature – animal, human, and environmental, that is a bonus, too.