A daughter's dream gallops into our lives

MY YOUNGEST daughter Emily's dream sprouted when she was a tiny 3-year old and wangled her first pony ride. I allowed Emily to sit in the saddle only because the lady who owned the horse farm assured me the pony was lazy and wouldn't go anywhere. Emily had other ideas. She grabbed the reins, kicked her heels, and clucked her tongue. The pony sprang into action. The owner laughed and ran to catch up. I had a horse rider on my hands, she predicted. She was right.

From then on, Emily seized every chance to ride, although opportunities were few since we lived in the city. On our occasional drives to the country, while her older sisters sat slumped in the back seat complaining about the stench of fertilizer, Emily would breathe deeply and sigh, "Mmm, horses!" Her equine-tracking radar would perk up, and she'd spot a stable somewhere that promised riding.

At these random stables, my husband and I were required to sign forms that gave us heart palpitations. Horses are unpredictable, the forms stated. Accidents can happen without warning, causing serious injury or worse. We murmured prayers and held our breath until Emily came bouncing safely back to the stable, a lovesick grin on her face.

When Emily began riding lessons at the age of 10, Duane and I sincerely believed that a two-hour session once a week would satisfy her craving. Instead, her appetite grew.

Over the next three years, Emily helped with lessons at the barn and checked out all the books on horses she could find at the library. She didn't just read the books; she studied them. I once caught her immersed in a technical book on horse maintenance and riding technique. The book was written for experts. Emily was just 12.

"Do you understand this?" I asked.

Emily nodded, barely glancing up from the text. "Of course."

She sent for horse catalogs and quoted the best prices she could find on saddles, bridles, brushes, and blankets. She saved her money and bought a grooming brush and a pair of English riding pants. She wore the pants around the house, insisting they were "comfortable." Duane and I sensed what would happen next.

She began scanning the newspaper classifieds. We weren't sure how to rein her in, or even if we wanted to. Though we were concerned about the high cost of owning a horse, we knew this was not a passing fancy for Emily. It was a heart-filled, yearned-for dream worth pursuing.

So, last summer when Emily showed her father an ad for an Arabian horse, he agreed to take her. Just to look, he said.

I shook my head. I knew better.

But two hours later, when they returned, Emily shrugged her shoulders. "He's a nice horse, but a little small. Not what I'm looking for."

Well, I thought, Duane was right. So, a few days later when Emily asked to see a chestnut quarter horse named Sunny. I didn't think much about it. Again, father and daughter headed out the door and came back two hours later.

This time, however, Emily raced in and hugged me in a pleading embrace. "Mom, he's beautiful!"

Duane smiled sheepishly. "You should have seen the look on her face when she rode this horse."

That night, Duane and I lay awake for hours, figuring, wondering how to work this out. Emily knocked on our door. "Mom? Dad? What are you talking about?"

"The horse," we said.

"Oh!" She hurried back to bed and left us to our pondering.

We tallied and retallied the costs. Purchase price of the horse, stable fees, veterinary expenses, farrier bills, grooming supplies, saddle, bridle, halter - the costs were mind-boggling. We'd have to borrow money to afford this horse. Emily had offered to contribute everything she could earn, but I would also have to work extra hours in the winter, and we would have to scrimp as never before. But before we went to sleep that night, Duane and I knew this was the right thing to do.

And so, a few days later, we brought Sunny to his new boarding stable, a beautiful barn with large pastures in the heart of farm country. Our gentle, good-natured horse gracefully accepted his new home.

He quickly claimed our hearts. How could we not love a horse that ran across the pasture to meet Emily at the gate when she came to see him? He even nodded his head when we talked to him, as if he understood us. Inviting a horse into our lives brought double blessings, we soon realized. Sunny became a member of our family, and his home in the country became our second home.

THE stable gave us an unexpected respite from our busy lives, a place to enjoy the beauty and peace of open land, a place to listen to the nickers and whinnies of horses, and to meet neighbors who rode over on horseback to visit. Emily spent hours grooming Sunny, planting kisses on his nose, and feeding him carrots. She galloped on his back this summer through spacious green fields that slowly turned flaxen in the fall.

The fields now are covered in snow, and still she rides. Horse and daughter create a breathtaking sight, skimming over the snow. It's hard to explain how this stirs our hearts. We have plenty of pictures to show off this pair.

Some of our friends wonder what we do at the stable for hours on end. Not much, we tell them. That is yet another of the blessings. We walk the paths in the fields and watch Emily ride. We are content just to be there, and we are grateful to feast our eyes on a dream come true.

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