My horses and my bullies.

Riding a wonderful old gent on the Cape in MA.

I saw a Facebook post going around last week about why a particular parent pays for her children to ride horses. I’m not sure if it’s a real post, or if it was originally about horses, but either way it rang true to my heart. I wanted to write my own post, from the child’s perspective. Growing up riding horses did so much for me. But it was only recently that I realized how much. See, horses made me almost completely blind to the fact that I was being bullied, and then when I did realize it, they gave me the confidence to not care. 

I had an awesome childhood, from a home life perspective. I had a great stable family life and parents who just let me do my thing when it came to horses. My mom was busy and couldn’t be very involved, but she just let me do it. She let me be at the barn, and for her that was a big sacrifice. And I’m grateful.

What wasn’t awesome was school. I always had a really difficult time with friends {looking back: hello introverted child!}. I had great friends from my neighborhood, but I was a grade behind them in school so we didn’t have the same classes when we were young. My only memories from elementary school are being called over only to be purposefully left out, made fun of, and just being generally disliked. I started riding horses in second grade, and the only way my mom could make it work with her schedule was if I did it before school started. Which meant that I went to school in my boots and smelled like the barn. Which lead to more ridicule. But when you’re a horse girl, it’s in your soul. And nothing else matters. And that’s exactly how I was. Being told my boots were stupid and I stunk one day a week was totally worth it.

Little baby horse

Half of the barn where I boarded and cleaned stalls in HS had surrogate mother mares, most of which were crazy. I made friends with this one and she let me pet her and her baby.

In middle school, it was the same story. But this time I had a horse of my own and he was just a block away from my school. I lived for that bell at 2:15 pm. I had so much anxiety about different classes, walking down the hall, who I had to sit by, standing up for group actives, that I would often be physically sick to my stomach all day long. Once the bell rang I would walk as fast as humanly possible to the barn where my horse was. I had a good friend my age at this point who also kept her horse at that same barn so I wasn’t such an absolute loner during school. My horse was not an easy one. He was nothing but trouble and my mother had threatened to sell him because he wasn’t very safe and he had a chronic hoof disease that we didn’t know how to deal with {navicular}.

Pony Camp

My friend and I organized and ran a few pony camps. Also, those sunglasses were the best.

My teacher and the owner of that barn asked me one day if I’d like to work for her in exchange for lessons. I, of course, said yes. In my first lesson, she helped me understand my horses limitations, why he may be naughty if he was in pain, and asked me if I was willing to work through all that, or if I though getting a new horse would be a better option. I said I wanted to work through it. Working with that stubborn horse {and wonderful instructor} taught me more lessons than I can count. I not only learned how to clean a stall, but I learned how to manage my money. I learned that I was a capable human being and could work for things I wanted. I learned that sometimes there are restrictions in life, but that doesn’t take away joy or progress. I learned that when you simply decide you will work at something, great things will happen. I learned that I was worthwhile. I learned that people loved and cared about me outside my family, even if I didn’t feel like anyone at school did. I learned that I had value because this horse needed me to show up, get it right, figure out the hard stuff, and keep coming back everyday.

Duckie

Watering Duckie at a show. He was my instructors horse that I enjoyed riding. For some reason, that halter was my favorite ever.

I got less and less anxious at school. I started to look outside of myself for humans I could help, not just horses. I learned to sit on the hay stack and look at the beautiful world around me, and realized that it was so much bigger than the halls of middle school. I realized that I wasn’t great at making friends, and that was ok. I was good at other things. I realized that sometimes, you just have people that you’ll never be like. But I didn’t need or want to be like them anymore. And I realized that it was fine if there was only one pair of shoes I liked wearing to school {yes, someone actually made fun of me for that – it was a pair of red vans, and now I have red boots, ha!}.

By the time high school rolled around, I had switched barns and horses and moved to a different instructor. At this point, every second not spent in school was spent at the barn. Working, riding, watching, grooming, and learning. The next three years until I graduated were the best at that point in my life, and not because of high school. Because of Barn School and my teachers and friends there. I was able to have classes at high school with friends from my neighborhood, which was a welcome relief. I still wasn’t liked by the kids my age, but at this point I totally didn’t care. You know how ducks have water-proof feathers and when they come up from a dive, the water just rolls right off? That was me. I knew I was talented, hard working, maybe even a little bit pretty, and definitely strong.

Rolex

At the Rolex 3-Day event in Lexington KY with great friends.

I didn’t care to the point that I wouldn’t even realize when someone was being mean to me {being slightly air-headed helps too}. At one point, someone smeared jam underneath the door handles of my truck and wrote “RESOL” {LOSER} on my window with it. But it took me 3 days to realize this, I just couldn’t figure out why my hands were always sticky! Once I noticed the word on my window, I just laughed. Because horses taught me that I wasn’t a looser. I knew I wasn’t a looser. Whoever wrote that didn’t, but that was ok. Losers didn’t work their butt’s off at age 16 to pay for weekly rides with one of the best instructors in our area or periodic rides with olympian clinicians. Losers didn’t run their own little businesses grooming and exercise riding ponies for 3 different barns across 2 counties at age 17. Losers didn’t march out of a classroom when it was on lockdown because they were being sponsored to ride someone else’s horse with a high-profile clinician in 1 hour and couldn’t miss it for some silly drill. Losers didn’t have two families that loved and cared about them – the one at home and the one at the barn. Losers couldn’t clean a whole barn of messy stalls, ride three horses and then go home and do all their homework and still get A’s and college credit. Losers couldn’t lift, haul, carry, and clean like a boss. Losers simply don’t exist. And horses taught me that.

My mare Lexi

I never made it far competition-wise {baby jumps}, but I had a lot of fun learning.

Horse taught me compassion. And patience. And unconditional love. And how to communicate. And how to not communicate. And how to try again. And again. And again. And to never give up. And how to show up when you’re exhausted. And how to work hard, and then find out that you can work even harder because some jobs just have to get done. They taught me to work for what I want. They taught me to be clean, tidy, presentable, and polite. They taught me when to be quiet and when to speak up. They taught me everything that “life skills” class I took in high school should have.

Most importantly, they taught me that kids are mean, and sometimes it makes you mad. And sometimes it makes you cry. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Horses taught me that I was a unique individual who mattered. How do you put a price tag on that? 

The main point I’d like to make is this: If your child has a true passion about ANY interest, horses or otherwise, please support them with everything you can give. You may not know until much later in life what you were really paying for. I don’t think my parents did. I would not be who I am today without horses – no question about it.

 

***It should be noted, that I would really appreciate it if nothing bad was said about those who were mean to me. This isn’t me being a gracious human, it is simply the fact that it doesn’t matter anymore. Kids are mean, but they grow up. I’m over it and it doesn’t bother me, so don’t let it bother you :).

The life lessons horses taught me and the confidence they gave me, in spite of bullying.

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Waiting for Horses • Longbourn Farm
    May 23, 2016 at 11:51 AM […] things I’ve done now weren’t even on my radar back then. But it’s not because my love for horses has faded.  It’s just because I’ve learned to love a few other things too. I took a […]
  • Reply
    Linda
    April 20, 2016 at 12:52 AM This is such a read! My daughter is on the autism spectrum. You remind me of her so much, the one pair of comfy shoes, the airheadedness, the friend thing...only difference is my daughter is homeschooled, so no bullying. I will not denigrate your bullies, but I will say I'm glad you had horses to get you through and make it to type this :) My daughter is horse mad too. She rides with the local horse therapy place, and occasionally at the general stables near us. She really wants to do their horsemanship days, a day at the weekend, once a month, we pay, she goes to work and for a ride too :) they have known her as a rider since she was 4. We're going to let her go for it! I worry a little ( OK, a lot!) about the social side of her working there a whole day ( she misses so many social cues! And has no friends ) ....but reading this has reminded me...she has HORSES! What ever does or doesnt happen there for her socially, won't matter because she has horses :) Thankyou!
    • Reply
      Alli
      April 20, 2016 at 10:39 AM Hi Linda, Thank you so much for your kind words!!! I so appreciate your comment. I love that you are so supportive of your daughters love for horses. I can't even imagine how much worry a parent has for a child in your situation, but I think with the horses there she will be just fine. I also think horses give kids who aren't great with social cues or other friends a way to connect with other people - which is the first step to making a friend. She will have the horses which automatically gives her something she knows and can talk about if she wants too. She will be a rockstar!! You're an awesome mom. :)
  • Reply
    Sheila Staley
    April 19, 2016 at 10:19 PM I never realized this was happening to you. :( You have always been so amazing to me. The Mama Grizzly Bear in me wants to go back and defend you, but you have shown the world that nothing gets you down. Keep being as wonderful as you are!
    • Reply
      Alli
      April 20, 2016 at 10:40 AM Thank you so much Aunt Sheila! You've always been so kind and supportive of me, I love you for it! Not many people knew, I wasn't great at communicating and then once I found a way to deal with it through horses it wasn't a big issue in my life anymore. Anyone can overcome this obstacle with the right support, I was lucky enough to find mine early on!
  • Reply
    Reena Dreon
    April 19, 2016 at 6:12 PM I really enjoyed your blog Allie. I have been a horse junkie all my life. They are my therapy and worth every dime I have spent on them. Reena (Megan's grandmother)
    • Reply
      Alli
      April 19, 2016 at 8:00 PM Thank you so much Reena!! I totally agree, they are worth every penny :)

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