Free-range your pony kid



Jorge enjoys a dandelion snack from Leah

When I was a kid we were basically like free-range chickens at the barn. Our parents dropped us off early in the morning and we spent the day pecking all around the farm – looking for ponies to ride, horse shows to put on, trainers to annoy and junk food to eat – so what if we weren’t exactly the organic kind. Then at night they would pick us up, put us back in our respective coops at home so we could sleep, then do it all over again the next day.

It was pony kid bliss.

Maybe it wasn’t fair to our trainers – the barn isn’t exactly a day care – but instead of complaining they just put us to work sweeping, watering, picking rocks and (half heartedly) cleaning tack for the promise of french fries from McDonalds.

When I look back on my horsey life, those same chickens are still my best friends to this day. Those little girls whom I challenged to bareback match races and ran amok through Ledges or Lamplight are the same women in my life now using a pool stick for a limbo bar on a Saturday night out.

Among these women many have their own budding pony kids now, who range from ages 4 – 16. What I appreciate the most – and why I sincerely enjoy having their children around – is their same approach to free-range barn parenting. A few of these women are trainers themselves. More of them grew up working just as hard as I did to excel at our chosen sport. Other pony mom friends came to this late in life or don’t ride at all but understand the inherent value in supporting this immensely expensive habit.

jt and hh

20+ years later, pony kids still show together

You could have knocked my 16 year old self over with a feather if you told her that eventually she would willingly pass up rides on her very own horse to watch a kid trot his legs off for hours. You might have needed to call 911 had you suggested I would ever buy a horse that was all around “useful” rather than frothing at the mouth with wild eyes but could jump a mountain. You most definitely would have stopped my heart to even suggest that one day I would be yelling about tack getting cleaned and horses being properly brushed before the two-legged horse show reconvened next to the barn.

Watching two young ladies in my life delight in taking turns riding my green, yet steady-eddy Reno last weekend was the best time I had not riding in a long while. They both rode with a saddle, then without, and nearly an hour and a half later, I finally pried the reins from their hands. However, they quickly went missing and were found dragging my broken thoroughbred in from the pasture to make him “dance” and traipse through an orange cone course strewn across the indoor.

I love having these horse-crazed teens & pre-teens around because I clearly see myself in them. I want them to have every experience that I had, every opportunity I was afforded, every victory and disappointment and struggle realized.

What these parents know, and what I didn’t realize for many, many years is that we learn significant and invaluable life lessons being afforded the chance to be a free-range pony kid.

I learned early on how to do things for myself, or devise a way to get it done. If my pony held its head up and I couldn’t get a bridle on, I had to find a stool or stand on a trunk – no one was going to do it for me, that was a given. Unless I couldn’t remember where I left my bridle the day before… which was a regular occurrence and meant halters & lead ropes for me!


Six year old Emmeline on Reno

I discovered that sometimes no matter how hard you work, you still get dumped in the dirt. It is in those times you have to pull it together and literally get back on the horse. And in my case, you better not cry in front of your trainer unless something was broken or you’d be getting back on without your stirrups.

I found out that my parents weren’t going to protect me from myself and shield me from criticism around every turn. When I didn’t do something right, or I wasn’t paying attention, I got yelled at. And never once did my mom intervene to make it easier on me because that’s life. In return, I wanted to become a good rider for me, always trying to do my best to live up to my high expectations.

I learned if you tried hard, practiced a lot and never said no to a new opportunity, you got to do totally awesome things. For me, it was (and still is) an incredible compliment from someone if you were asked to ride their horse, and particularly if you had the chance to show it for them. I’m in awe of horses and I can rattle off hundreds, if not thousands, of rides I’ve had in the past 35 years from people who trusted me enough with their pride and joy.

There will be times when you have given it your all but it wasn’t good enough. And that you cannot under any circumstance let that defeat you. When I had a bad show, or even just a bad lesson or ride at home, it never made me want to quit. (Though from time to time there may have been temporary pouting or anger – I never said I was perfect.) Instead, my resolve became stronger and I worked harder to overcome the issue to gain whatever skill or level I want to reach. It is why I love being an equitation queen!


Pony moms like mine can’t help but to find  pony kids in need at shows!

I want all the kids that come to the barn to have this experience, to learn these lessons, to try and fail and try and succeed. And to have more fun than they could ever imagine.

I want to see them ride the ponies and horses for hours. Then do it again. And again. I love seeing them give each other lessons or playing (safe) games on horseback. I want to kick the two-legged horse show to the other end of the arena so I can hack. I feel the need to have a gaggle of 4’ minions surrounding our horses at the in-gate, learning how to post for a class, wipe boots, tell each other their courses and be good ambassadors for our barn – whether they are showing that weekend or not.

I want the parents to back off – let the trainers train, let the kids run free and ignore the dirt, bumps and bruises. I want them to feign ignorance at tears of frustration just one time and watch their child start to blossom into a determined and resourceful young woman or man. I need non-horse parents to understand that us horsey kind are kindred spirits and we won’t let anything happen to your child, trust us. You can watch your child ride, but do it from the lounge behind closed doors or put duct tape on your mouth if you can’t keep it shut! Let your kid learn how I did – through the school of hard horse knocks.

Because there is no Participation Award (or there shouldn’t be) when it comes to riding horses. You show up to become a better version of your self for you and your horse – he’s counting on it.

So who would have guessed that I would ever love kids. Certainly not anyone who knew me as a terrible teen. Still, I’m doing my best to pay back all the great experiences I had to these pony kids so that they do the same some day. It seems the least I can do to instill responsibility, respect and determination in them, as we share this passion for horses.

Finally, I’m asking parents of all types to put some faith in those your child looks up to at the barn – the trainers, the teens, the *cough cough* older amateur who just yelled at them to stop running in the aisle. For the most part, we turned out all right. And the good among us are in this with the best of intentions to groom the next generation of truly educated and sophisticated riders, well versed in good horsemanship and life skills.

Yeah, your child may come home tonight and tell you that she fell off my horse while jumping – but that will be the afterthought, because what she’s really trying to tell you is I trusted and liked her enough to let her ride my horse today.

Which is a life lesson that, believe me when I say this, you do not have enough money to buy for her! 🙂


Jorge’s friend Sophia was the last person to ride him before  he broke this summer. 

SubstandardFullSizeRender 2 (1)

Girls trotting the legs off ponies together 🙂







Filed under Uncategorized

17 responses to “Free-range your pony kid

  1. Catrina Stern

    This is written so perfectly! I have tried to say exactly the same thing but NEVER got the point out there.
    Beautifully put in black and white! I will direct people to this article time and time again! 🙂

  2. It was pretty cool to be a “free range kid/ barn rat” with you growing up!! We certainly have become an accomplished bunch when you look at the group as a whole. I support you in all you do. May your pastures be green, and your kiddos have fun!

  3. Heather O'Shea

    LOVE this! Congrats on a GREAT article and thank you for allowing me to share it with so many. So much of what you say applies to ANY sport that kids are involved in today. Hopefully many will understand!

  4. I write with tears in my eyes. I always knew every word you have so perfectly repressed. Now I can reread it as I find the joy watching my free range grand daughters whose mother has created a beautiful life for them with their own horses at the barn full of free range friends. THANK YOU SO MUCH. A proud mom and gramma

  5. My upbringing to a T! Love it!

  6. Lori Maciulewicz

    My sister and I were free range kids at home on 30 acres. We didn’t have a barn to go to or lessons, but galloped all over the fields and rode all over town. We learned by falling off and then learning to stay on. We had fun! Something I want my students to experience.

  7. Susan Koso

    65 years ago I would ride two busses an hour each way and hang out at the long gone barn in Balboa Park in San Diego……would sneek into the zoo on horseback…ride double bareback and get bucked off…make forts in the hay lofts and play with the barn cats…..I still have a horse, but take much pleasure when the young girls ride her….you got the story and the feeling right.

  8. Dianne

    Love it! So true.

  9. Lesley McKnight

    Absolutely an amazing read !! I feel blessed to have been one of these kids growing up, my military family travelling all over, would always find me a barn to join in all things pony and horses. And now I am grateful to have this for my girls and we are blessed to be able to be apart of the pony family with Kirsten Kaiser , where my girls love to be, among their pony and horse crazed friends..where they all have such kindness and fun with each other .. Each teen or child looking out for one another and learning from each other .. It brings joy to my heart .. But mostly because it is a happy place for my girls to be and be accepted for whom they are, and knowing that they are building true friendships, memories and lessons learned that they will take into their future journeys.. That is truly a blessing ❤️

  10. Thank you all for leaving your incredibly kind and heart warming thoughts. I wrote this because I feel like too many kids these days miss out on what I had growing up, which made me sad. But the thousands of shares and likes from so many former (and current!) free range pony kids – many of whom are raising their own chickens now – has me grinning ear to ear. Like you all, I’ve always been happiest and at home when in the barn. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your experiences, thanking your trainers and parents, and raising the next generation of good, solid, dirty pony kids!

  11. What a great article! Please let us know if you’d be interested in contributing articles The Horseaholic. We would love to showcase your perspective on the website!

  12. Lance Charles Cowan

    The Absolute Best years of my life were riding lessons 4 th grade to 8th! Rode Show and loved Dressage! The only thing in my I entire life I was the Best at! Love Out to Marilou Bauder who was my saving grace at “Grand Rive Academy”! You are still the Love of my life!!
    Bless You and Yours

  13. Rennia Meek

    I, too, read this with tears in my eyes…….I’m the non-riding mom who dropped my kid off at the barn. She continues to love horses and barn time, sharing it with not only my beautiful teen granddaughter, now……but with other kids. As I read this, I thought to myself…..maybe I DID do something right as a parent! Barn time………….

  14. Catherine

    Hi I just read your piece on the day Jorge went 3 legged lame and you had to move “stupid llamas”. I was due to pick up my dream girl this week but was very upset and hurt to find out that we had been made stable-less by our selfish money grabbing landowner, I was literally heartbroken but your story has had me in fits of giggles for hours. U sound just like me…..unless I’m with a horse…..dont talk to me lol . Hope Your beautifully stunning boy is better and you are out on the hacks again at one with the world xxxxxxx lovely reads xxx

  15. Louise Lyon

    We have a lot in common. I am now 75 and have not had a horse for years. Last year I bought a clever 16 year old Missouri Fox Trotter who was used as a trail horse. Not much training. Yank left, yank right. I got a bitless bridle cause I am not a “rider” now. We’re doing fine. I have problems with pain that is not related to riding but I don’t care. Sometimes I just go watch her eat grass. I love it when she nickers to me. I remember being 16 and hearing grownups tell me “I would get over all this”. Not happening.

  16. This is so perfectly written and expressed its just flooding me with such hapoy memories of my childhood 🐴🐴🐴🐴

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s