I have had a love affair with horses as long as I can remember. I have also had some wild experiences with them as well. Growing up in England, I rode at the Royal Riding Academy when I was about 8 years old. This was particularly interesting, as, not only did we ride in a ring but also through the parks. One day I was riding in the main ring and there was a huge jump in the middle, I hadn’t started jumping yet, so the exercise was to make a figure 8 around the jump, well my horse took one look at the very high jump and went right for it. Before I knew what was happening, my hard hat fell in front of my face and I missed not only the jump, but also my mother seeing her life flash in front of her. Supposedly, I took the jump perfectly! And that’s when it was decided I could start jumping, only this time I wanted to be able to see it! When we moved to the States, my grandmother had rented me my first horse for the summer. Bubbles and I fell instantly in love and I couldn’t believe she had to go back to her real home when the summertime was over. After Bubbles, my other horses were Corky and then a beautiful bay named Butterscotch Morsh, who was blind in one eye. One day I was working with my teacher in the ring, when a bunch of kids in a pick up truck drove by, screaming out the window and honking their horn repeatedly. Butterscotch’s blind eye was turned to the road and she took off heading straight for a huge cement wall, this time I could “see” and I could see we would never be able to jump it. Truly, things went in slow motion and I was wondering how this was going to turn out. Again, my poor mom saw her life flash in front of her as Butterscotch stopped on a dime and put her head down to the ground. I bumped out of the saddle and slid down her neck. I was completely safe!
I started riding with my friends, Erika Shaevitz (now Huggins and co-president of production for Imagine) and Elizabeth and Claudia Winkelman every Saturday from 5th to 6th grade. We spent all day taking-riding classes, learning about horses and their care and rescuing birds. It was an incredible time for me. I started to compete and my first time out, I won 2nd place!
When my oldest son, Austin was born and was old enough to hold a toy, he always held a horse. NO cars, just horses. As he became older, his love of horses and his knowledge became greater and greater. In fact, whenever I would leave for work, he would hand me a little horse to keep in my pocket so, we were always connected. I still have them and every now and then I will put on an old jacket and find a little horse stashed away. Austin really wanted to learn how to ride and I found out the stables where I competed was still open and could teach all of us. Landon came too. We had been taking lessons for a while and my boys were loving it but I was starting to get fearful every time I got on a horse and then my friend, Elizabeth, Now Dr. Elizabeth Winkelman explained the ratio difference between the size of a horse brain compared to the size of it’s body, not good odds. Hmmm, this wasn’t feeling good for the first time since I started riding. I had a beautiful young trainer. She was 24 years old and her name was Amanda. One day during one of my lessons, I was talking to her about my fears and how it was interfering with joy of riding. She felt as I did that it was connected to being a mom. We talked about not having any regrets in life and to do what makes you happy and comfortable. I thought to myself as we said good-bye and told each other, “See you next Saturday!” What a beautiful soul she was and even though she was young, she had tremendous insight and compassion. The following Saturday, the boys and I drove into the stables but there were baby blue balloons everywhere. I figured someone was having a big party, I had never seen the ranch decorated like that before. I saw the owner of the stable walk over to my car and give me a strange look; I rolled down my window and she said, “Didn’t anyone call you? Amanda was killed while training a young horse. This is her funeral” I was completely taken aback. I couldn’t fathom that that beautiful, sweet amazing girl was not part of this earth anymore. I tried weeks later to get back on a horse with a new trainer but I just couldn’t do it. The fear was so great, that there was not even a modicum of happiness associated with my ride. So, I gave up riding.
It’s been 10 years since that happened, and I’m taking my first dressage lesson today with Austin. His passion has only gotten stronger and now that he has come back from college wanting to do dressage. I finally agreed to go take lessons with him and strangely, out of nowhere, he found ALL my old riding gear. Everything still fits like I bought it yesterday and my boots still smell of fine English leather and fit perfectly, I’m waiting to see if they are as uncomfortable as I remember them.
I’m also waiting to see how I’ll feel. I’m taking personal inventory of my emotions because I will never be able to get on a horse and not say a prayer for Amanda. It will never cease to make me well up just to think of her. But I believe in passion and I believe in joy and this is what my son has for horses. What a gift it is to share that with him. So today, I throw on my hard hat, my breeches and boots and I do this for Austin.
Many years ago, I was at a dinner party and I sat next to a monk. We started to talk and the subject of fear came up. My friend, actress Roma Downey always says, “When you feel fear, just replace it with love.” I said this to the monk and he said, “I prefer to see it as, when you feel fear, you know you are in the right place!” Now, I don’t mean the dark alley kind of fear but the kind of fear that can stop you from taking a step into the unknown that can change your life. The monk said to me, “What do you fear the most?” I told him and then he said, “Then, do it!!” And guess what? I did! There were two things at that time, that gave me a fright and you know what? I did it. I did what I feared the most and walked thru it and it became a game changer for me. It was not easy and sometimes I didn’t think I could continue but as hard as it was, I will NEVER forget what he said to me and I will always be grateful that I was able to do it!