Much to my mother’s dismay, I was never really that into horses as a kid. My mom certainly tried to infect me with her horse lovesickness, though. She bought me a horse, paid for weekly riding lessons, dragged me to shows and sent me off to horse camp each summer. She told me over and over how lucky I was—how much she had wanted a horse as a child but her parents just couldn’t afford the pricey endeavor. I knew I was lucky, but I just couldn’t make myself love horses. After a few years of pretending, I fessed up to the fact that they just weren’t my thing. I told my crestfallen mother: “This is your dream, mom, not mine. Please don’t make me do it anymore.” She bit her lip, wiped away a single tear and the next day, looked for another home for Kester.
Still, I understood why my mom loved her horses. She had coveted one since childhood and now she got to have them in her very own barn. But I never really understood her absolute obsession. And I never got why she persisted with her riding career, despite her repeated injuries and the trials and travails that her sick or poorly behaved horses forced her to endure. Perhaps most perplexing, she didn’t seem discouraged by the fact that she would never be as successful a rider as those she saw featured in her dressage magazines or competing on a national forum at dressage shows. And she fully accepted that and didn’t let it slow her down.
It’s not that I didn’t understand what it meant to work hard at a sport. Even though I had abandoned the horses, I was an athlete with my own goals and aspirations. Throughout junior high and high school, I was a competitive freestyle skier. I trained all year long to compete across the country and some years, at the world ski meets. My goal was always clear: make the U.S. Ski Team and go to the Olympic Games. And, for a while, my coaches, parents and I thought that maybe I had a shot. That was the sole reason I left my friends and my home high school each winter to attend ski academy, why I woke up at 6 a.m. on weekends to train and why I traveled with a bunch of stinky boys to competitions. Never would I have made these sacrifices if I didn’t think I had a shot at a World Cup or an Olympic run. And when it began to look less likely after my senior year of high school, I quit competitive skiing, went off to college and never looked back.
My mom has always been an extremely pragmatic person, guided by logic, not emotion. So why does she devote so much of herself to this hobby that will never lead to the kind of success I considered a prerequisite to devoting oneself to anything?
I may never really know the answer. But what I have learned, finally, is that these questions don’t really matter. Throughout the years as I’ve watched my mom with her horses, I have seen how truly happy they make her. She loves them unconditionally, the same way she loves my brother, Ben, and me. Unlike her kids, her horses don’t question her or ask for anything complicated in return, just that she continue to feed and brush them and clean their stalls. They simply ask for her love, which she waited all her childhood to give them. Perhaps horses allow her an escape from the pragmatism and logic that have guided her in every other part of her life. She does not need to justify her obsession to them or to me or to anyone. My mom’s horses make her happy and their steady presence in her life brings a simple joy that does not require fame or glory or any Olympic medals. And really, that’s all that matters.