Anyone who's been around this blog for a while knows that I started out riding H/J at Tricorne Farm in Holmdel, NJ when I was but a wee tyke (5). I stayed there until I was 12 years old, but then things weren't going so well (didn't care for the new trainer) and it seemed like time to make a switch. So where did I go?
Better Barns and Gardens.
Nope, I'm not making that up! The giggle-worthy name was cooked up by the trainer/person in charge and the "silent partner" actual barn owner. The barn was a single pole-style main structure with about 14 stalls and a tackroom, and the "garden" was the flower beds on either side of the main door. The rest of the facility consisted of a nice-sized outdoor ring, a small stone building that was optimistically called the "office," a hay/shavings storage shed, two huge pastures, and two homes - one extremely old and uninhabited and the other a farm house, probably built in the 30s and occupied by the trainer and her three children. The buildings were located at the end of a long dirt lane that ran alongside the main pasture.
The barn had just opened and my mother's good friend's daughter was taking lessons there, so on the strength of their recommendation over I went. I was a bit intimidated by the trainer lady at first; she was a bit older than my mom, and very forthright with her opinions. Keep in mind that my self-esteem was practically non-existent at that age (middle school = HELL, no?). Fortunately, she mixed compliments in with her criticism so I decided I could live with her training style.
On the other hand, Trainer's kids absolutely reveled in giving me a hard time. A sensitive, insecure, straight-A student with braces and a flat chest? Oy. Might as well have painted a bulls-eye on me. There were a son and a daughter older than me, and a daughter who was a year younger. All three of them treated me like I was the dorkiest, most socially-unacceptable person they had ever met. It didn't help one bit that the son was pretty cute so of course I developed a mad crush on him... or that he was dating Mother's Friend's Daughter (who, by the way, was none other than the exact same person who I was sent with to Little Hope Ranch. Gaaah.)
Enough about my social angst. What about the horses and the riding? THAT part of BB was really good. There weren't a lot of horses, but the ones I rode the most were great. Photos are very sadly lacking from this riding era, so unfortunately the only one I can find to share is this crummy Polaroid I took out in the big pasture:
Mare was a very well-trained gal and taught me a lot. She was a great "next step" type of horse for my riding ability. Among many things, I learned what an extended trot felt like and how to ask for it, how to do a turn on the forehand, how to jump bareback (she was extremely comfy) and how to get a white horse clean. Incidentally, KEEPING her clean was another matter: I'd spend hours shampooing and scrubbing the day before a show, tuck her in a well-bedded stall for the night wearing a sheet, and then arrive at 5:00 AM to find she'd managed to lie down in a poo pile or two and accumulate lovely stains. Baby powder was my friend!
Mare also pulled like a freight train when she got excited (at least when I was riding her - she went like a dream for Trainer's Daughters), so another thing I learned was how to use a Pelham. Even then, our jumping rounds, especially on an outside course like we had "back in the day," were less than things of beauty. Just picture me pelting around a large grass field at warp speed, screeching to a halt in time to pop over the rustic jumps. (It probably wasn't quite that bad but I do remember being scared a lot of the time.)
The best part of riding Mare, and indeed, riding at BB, was that my trainer turned out to be a very enthusiastic proponent of 4-H. I'd had zero exposure to the program before this and was excited to find out I could be part of a club despite the fact that I didn't own a horse. Our new club met twice a month at Trainer's house and I was soon plugging away on my Horse Project. We also formed a Horse Bowl team and I eagerly joined that as well. (More about 4-H experiences in next post)
My mom was willing to leave me at BB for long stretches, so I really became a barn rat at this place. All kinds of things went on there, good and bad, as I'm sure you can imagine. Some of my favorite memories (most of which my mom knew nothing about*):
- Taking the dare on touching the hot wire on the pasture fence. What I didn't notice was my challenger, who touched the wire to demonstrate that it didn't hurt, used the BACK of his hand. I put my palm on it and got "stuck" for about five seconds, which didn't feel too good.
- Jumping on bareback and riding the horses in from the pasture with nothing but a halter and lead shank. Big fun to someone in a lesson program!
- Learning how to braid manes and tails and getting good enough at the former to charge others $$.
- My darling dad staying up all night to take me to the barn at 4:30 AM for shows.
- Riding in the horse van on the way to shows (a real "horse box" type like nobody uses in the US anymore) between horses and getting green sneezy-snot in my hair.
- Being exhausted, filthy and sweaty after being at the barn on a really hot day and walking allllll the way down the lane to meet my mom, then sneaking in to cool off in the neighbor's pool. I'm sure they wondered about all the horse hair in the filter!
- The barn lane itself. Driving down this became quite an exercise in auto preservation over the years, as enormous car-swallowing, axle-banging holes and ruts developed (in the summer, muddy swimming pools, and in the winter, frozen mini-ponds) and the BO never paid to have it graded. I actually took perverse pride in my ability to navigate it as you had to be a "regular" to know the way. I'd be practically standing up in the station wagon, hollering, "Go right! Now left! MORE left!" at my poor mom as we tried to wend our way through a 1/2 mile of torture.
- Holing up in the "office" and spending hours and hours happily reading back issues of Paint horse magazines, looking for mention of horses I knew (especially Mare).
- Scrubbing "my" white horse until my fingers were raw, including using water and bleach with a Brillo pad to get her pink hooves clean.
- Learning how to use horse clippers and do fetlocks, bridle paths and whiskers.
- Riding through the pain of hideous, raw shin rubs and the joy of getting my first pair of real leather tall boots, which finally eliminated them.
* (And never will, I guess, because she sure doesn't read this blog!)
So between the good riding, hanging around the barn, the 4-H activities and dealing with Trainer's lovely (koff, koff) kids, I was getting quite an education.
The most amazing thing was the condition of Trainer's house. Now, my own house was never what you'd call immaculate. My mom had better things to do then clean all day. But this place... whoa. Cat hair, dog hair, and just plain old dirt all accumulated in vast abundance along with myriad flotsam and jetsam related to horses and riding. Broken halters draped on the lampshade? Check. Hairy, muddy brushes? Check. Random animal-chewed leather items, whip handles, dirty polo wraps, rusty bits, discarded horse shoes, faded ribbons, dog-eared magazines, stained saddle pads, and tarnished and bent trophies? Check. You name it, it was flung around that house. I would literally have to clear a space to sit down, and the whole place stank of cat pee to boot. Yes, my mother did know about all this but she told me later she just closed her mind and told me to shower when I got home. :-)
And then there was the night when the house caught on fire during a 4-H meeting...
* TO BE CONTINUED! *