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SUBURBAN COWBOY, Chapter Two: The Summer of ’95

The summer of 1995 started at Christmas, 1993. That was when my grown  daughter, Kirsten, announced she was going to learn to ride a horse, and that I was going to teach her. I learned a long time ago to do what women tell me, so I agreed to the project, thinking that it probably would never happen. But she persisted and changed my life.

I had not taught anyone how to ride since I was Riding Master at a boy’s camp during the summers I was in college. My brothers and I had been taught how to ride and how to train young horses by Jim Rooker, at that time a veterinary student at Michigan State College (East Lansing, Michigan). Jim went on to become one of the best-known Arabian breeders and trainers in the country. My Dad had, on the advice of Professor Byron Goode of Michigan State’s School of Veterinary Medicine, bought two Arabian yearlings and an older gelding named Don, who had been used to teach college students how to ride. He also set us up with Jim Rooker.

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Suburban Cowboy (Chapter One)

I’m fighting rush-hour traffic in suburban Washington, D.C. on a summer Friday. It’s after 5 o’clock, and I’ve been trying since three to leave the office and go horseback riding. Now I’m working the car phone, waiting for lights, crawling along the parkway, wondering what in the world I think I’m doing. Between calls, the fatigue and frustration of a long day and a long week start to set in. I can’t say I need the exercise — compared to my push-ups, aerobics, racquetball, and occasional jogging, horseback riding seems pretty mild. So much work: grooming, saddling, longeing, schooling. So hot and sweaty. And dangerous, too. Aren’t I old enough to know better? How old do I have to get? When I finally get home, why don’t I just relax with a tall, cold drink and watch the horses from the air-conditioned house? All the
reasons.

I decide to take it one step at a time. After all, I don’t HAVE to go riding, HAVE to groom, HAVE to saddle up. I can stop at any point, right?

Thus do I cajole my tired old bones into changing my clothes and walking out to the stable, I start by looking around at everything, seeing if the workers have left any problems. This activity, of course, is a lot like the office, but the sun feels good on my back, and I notice the breeze on my face. After “fixing” a couple of little things, I decide to go the next step.

I go out to the pasture with a few treats in my pocket. All the horses notice me as soon as I get within range. It’s kind of funny to see how they arrange themselves to approach me. Maia, my beautiful grey Arabian mare, is the Queen of the little herd. She dispatches a friendly old gelding named Speedy (he isn’t) to find out if I have any treats. But before old, slow Speedy gets to me, Sir Prize, a friendly, supremely self- confident four-year-old gelding reaches me and starts begging for a treat, which, of course, he gets. By this time, Speedy has arrived, quite upset that Sir Prize got there first, but he quickly forgets his pique when he too gets a little reward. In fact, instead of reporting back to Maia, he’s hanging around.

I keep walking.

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