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I was speaking at the Ohio State veterinary meeting some 20 years ago when Dr. Bud Johnson asked me, “Do you have a young daughter?” “Yes, Mikkel is about 7 years old,” I said.
“Make sure she grows up ‘horse crazy’ vs. ‘boy crazy,’” he advised, his voice rising for emphasis.
It was good advice, and it still is. I didn’t have to convince my wife, Teresa, about the importance of horses. She’d grown up with them, loving their strength, athleticism, companionship and smell. We gave Mikkel the same childhood, starting her out with Breyer horses and letting her ride real ponies and horses at county fairs and on vacations until we moved to our Almost Heaven Ranch in northern Idaho when Mikkel was 12.
Once at the ranch, we populated the log horse barn with Quarter Horses, and Mikkel became intoxicated with them. Besides trail riding, she competed with horses in 4-H and on the show circuit. At age 17 she became the three-time Canadian National Champion in Western Pleasure.
What is it about horses and girls? I’ve co-authored four books on horses (two of them with my wife, Teresa, and another with Mikkel), and I think the intro I wrote for Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soulsums it up pretty well:
Watch as a little girl, only a hock high, holds an apple in her hand as this massive animal takes it gingerly into its mouth. So delicate she is, in contrast to the horse’s massive size and strength. The eternal instinct to flee is subdued as the little rider climbs onto the horse’s back; a position this prey animal should find threatening, yet there is no fear, only a mutual shared trust.
Further in the introduction:
For all their strength, horses can touch with amazing gentleness. For all their speed, they can gloriously harness their “stay apparatus” and stand three-legged for hours in the sun. For their size as the largest domesticated animal, they allow waiflike riders to control them with simple pressure of a bit. It is in these amazing contradictions that we find ourselves lost in the mystery of the bond between our two species.
Now it’s our granddaughter Reagan’s turn to be bitten by the horse bug. Not long after she learned to walk, she loved to mount the rocking horse in the living room and give it a go. When visiting with her mom (Mikkel is now Vetstreet's pet-behavior expert) at Almost Heaven Ranch, she loves to go to the corral and feed treats to the horses, each massive at a thousand pounds, plus.
But I think the horse-love really kicked in on a recent visit to the Twin Falls County Fair & Rodeo in Filer, Idaho, very near to where I was raised and practiced as a veterinarian, and where both our children were born.
For the fair, Reagan got to dress up as a cowgirl with a pink cowgirl hat, western shirt, sparkly belt, detailed cowgirl boots and yes, lil’ Wranglers. Before going to the rodeo, Teresa and Mikkel took Reagan to ride the ponies. Again. And again.
The look on Reagan's face says it all.
And what does Grandpa Marty have to say? I'm happy to be paying for another generation of horses. I want her “horse crazy,” not “boy crazy” growing up. For the boys, it's “Get-ty Out!” — and for the horses, “Giddyup!”
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