Parents, let your daughters grow up to be horse girls.
Let them learn early the joy of dirt under their fingernails and the responsibility of cleaning tack or sweeping aisles. Let them learn that if they don’t do the chores, or if they don’t keep their grades up, they can’t go ride. Let them struggle it out with lesson horses that aren’t very skilled, only to then earn their way to either a horse that is kind and fun to ride, or a horse that is just a big enough monster to keep them humble, and to maim them just a little, but not permanently damage them. Whichever one they start with, make sure it’s followed by the other.
Parents, let your daughters go to horse shows. Let them learn to deal with nerves, with crowds, with going from hearing their coach in their ear every step to being totally alone. Let them learn to plan ahead, or let them forget their breeches or hairnet or test, and don’t save them, so they learn to take some ownership and not do it again.
Let them set goals and reach them. Let them set goals and fail miserably. Let them learn that, if they work incredibly hard, practice like hell, ride the best quality horse they can and take impeccable care of him, they’re sometimes going to get beat by someone with 10 times the money and one tenth the drive.
Let your daughters grow up in the barn. Let them learn that horses don’t care about your schedule or your plans. Let them learn that buckets need filling and stalls need cleaning, even when it’s raining, even when it’s frozen, even when they have a different idea for how the day should go. Teach them to drive trucks and trailers and ATVs. Teach them to change tires and wrap legs and give shots. And let them leave a spur mark, or a bit rub, or a bandage bow, and let them deal with the shame of causing pain to an animal they love.
Parents, let your daughters make mistakes. Let them enter the show one level too high and get their butts kicked. Let them ride the horse that’s beyond them and hit the dirt. Let them be rude to the pony once, because the pony will make it clear that that will only happen once. Ditto talking back to the clinician, or getting angry at the show and lashing out in front of others.
Let your daughters be working students. Let them learn that no one is ever so good a rider that they can’t clean stalls. Let them learn that well pumps break exclusively at 3 a.m. on hot days. Let them learn that even when clients are literally THE WORST, they still have to be nice to them. Let them be a working student for someone who’s a jerk to learn how to deal with a crappy boss, and then let them be inspired be a great boss, and then let them remember both when they’re the boss. Let them learn their own unimportance. And then let them learn that if they make themselves invaluable, if they prove their worth, they will be given opportunities, just never when they expect it.
Parents, let your daughters own horses. Let them spend a little money on something underwhelming and have it blow everyone’s expectations out of the water. Let them spend a lot of money on something extravagant and learn that big dreams require big risks. Let them learn that colic surgery and lameness and founder don’t care how much the horse cost or whether it has potential or not. Let them learn the joy of handwalking and icing. Let them watch other riders succeed when they’re stuck with a young horse temper tantrum or an infected abscess.
And let them learn that the greatest kindness we can do for our horses is to know when to let it end, whether it’s declaring victory after a tough ride, or letting a horse go on to the great beyond.
Parents, let your daughters grow up to be horse girls, because they will learn quickly and repeatedly that life isn’t fair, that hard work is often trumped by Lady Luck, and that every defeat, no matter how terrible, is temporary. Let them dream big and kick on. Let them learn confidence, grace and grit. Let them build big muscles and strong backs, and learn that a little blood and a little sweat are good things, because they show you you’re living.
Let them grow up with horses and with good horse people, because it will teach them to be humble, and to be resilient, and to be brave.