Although I grew up in the suburbs, each Christmas I held out hope that my parents would surprise me with a horse of my own. It was a pretty wild wish, since neither of them knew a thing about horses and weren’t inclined to think that riding was a good thing to encourage. But I still imagined scenarios in which they could have a horse squirreled away somewhere nearby and the clever and surprising ways they might reveal this to me.
I think, in hindsight, that I was a kind of a brat to go to bed just a little disappointed each Christmas. While that holiday pony never did appear for me, there were so many other ways that my parents gave to me throughout the year that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time.
I took for granted that they would drop me off at the barn every day after school, then a few hours later make the round trip again to pick me up. (No, they were most definitely not interested in watching horses go around a dusty ring for an hour.)
Whenever my trainers would suggest a competition to enter, I’d take the entry form to my mother, demand her signature and a check (although I recall the more expensive shows in those days as being $45-50), and cart it back to my trainers. I don’t know if I ever said thank you or even really asked. I just assumed I’d go to whatever show I “needed to,” and I doubt my parents ever thought, “Oh great, we can get up one Sunday next month at 4 a.m., drive to an obscure location in Delaware, and no matter the weather, spend the entire day in a field watching our daughter risk her life” (which is most definitely how they saw it).
In fact, the whole concept that most competitions were on Sundays forced my mother to revise her entire vision of my religious upbringing. I’m not sure how I won that battle, but I often heard that, “Horse people are heathens.” Perhaps.
I spent summers and weekends at the barn, backed out of family vacations and the other sports and hobbies they’d expected their oldest daughter to enjoy. Girl Scouts? Piano lessons? Sailing lessons? Nope, just take me to the barn.
They did that and much more, making several trips from Maryland to Kentucky with a car full of kids, once behind the horse van that broke down in the middle of the night. They endured the tears over a failed Pony Club rating or lame horse before a championship. They met me in the emergency room more than once and helped me through stitches, broken bones and the resulting surgeries.
Now that I have an 18-month-old daughter of my own, I expect it won’t be long before I’ll be hearing what she dreams of for Christmas. It may or may not be a pony, but I’m sure she’ll never get exactly what she wants each year. I hope someday she can also look back and realize that it wasn’t what she got for Christmas that mattered in the long run but the spirit of love that she received all year.
Beth Rasin is the editor of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine. A graduate of Middlebury College (Vt.), she has competed through the intermediate level of eventing with horses off the track, foxhunted and earned her Pony Club “B” rating. She has run her own boarding stable, worked exercising steeplechase and flat horses and at Thoroughbred breeding farms, in addition to many years as a working student. She and her husband are currently building their own farm in Hume, Va., where they live with their daughter Maggie.