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Why I'm a . . .

. . . Horse Person

May 03, 1999|JILL-MARIE JONES

It's a disease, this horse fever. I became a lifelong victim at age 6, when I took my first ride on my sister's new pony. Somehow I wound up hanging off her side trick rider-style, clinging on as she raced round and round the stables and repeatedly past my horrified parents. I eventually fell, unhurt, into the barn's manure pile.

And I was hooked.

Many, many years later, I still am. It's a disease that forces you to get out of bed at 5 a.m. on weekends for shows, to stay up all night and then take off from work to be with a sick friend. It makes you understand that the first words a fellow rider wants to hear after a bad fall are not "Are you OK?" but, "Your horse is fine. No damage."

I've learned about life from my horses. And death. I met my dearest friend when I was just 15. Before he died more than 20 years later--leaving an incredible, insurmountable gulf--Beezer taught me all about responsibility and courage, patience and persistence; about paying attention to the quiet clues in conversations. We competed together for more than a dozen years (he spent his retirement as a companion to my young horses), traveling thousands of miles and across many states. His faded championship ribbons and now-tarnished silver still grace my shelves.

Beyond that, he was my pal all through those tricky high school years. We ate doughnuts and candy apples and hamburgers, slurped orange soda (his favorite) and spent long hours poring over my homework--which I usually did in his stall. My teachers learned not to comment on the bits of hay and slobber that decorated my assignments.

Somewhere in a scrapbook is a series of pictures that sums up one of Beezer's finest lessons. We were in the middle of a row of huge jumps at a show, and he made a rare misstep. He went down on his knees and nose, but somehow pulled himself back up and powered us out over the final fence. His message was clear: You make a mistake, you figure out how to fix it. And you never, ever lose heart.

Important lessons, those. And my horses are still teaching me. I plan on learning as much as I can.

My horses touch something deep in my soul. They complete me, define who I am. Plus, thanks to them, part of me is still that teenage girl who believed anything's possible. My own personal fountain of youth.

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