By Judy Van Put
SULLIVAN COUNTY September 10, 2002 Summer is such a special time here in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. How precious are those 10 or so weeks that we can enjoy green grass, warm summer sun, horses with short, shiny coats, and riding without gloves or extra layers.
As a teenager, I remembered summers lasting forever a carefree, easy time of long rides every day, a relaxing of the hectic schedule of school, more time in the barn, and especially more time to spend with my horse. Those days seemed to last so long, and the weeks seemed like a blissful eternity until we were almost ready to get back to school and Septembers rigorous schedule. As an adult, it seems to me that the lazy, hazy days of summer speed by so fast. Before we realize it, the season is over, were wearing a jacket to ward off the mornings chill and all of a sudden its Labor Day and time to get back to our busy schedules!
Thinking back, though, on those childhood summers and how enjoyable those times were that were spent with my first horse, Squire - I know now that they were more important than I ever knew then.
At a time in my life when teenagers were looking for something to do, I always had something to do. I had a horse to care for, to feed, brush, train, ride, and prepare for the shows. Every day I had a responsibility.
The deal I had with my Dad was that he would buy me a horse and help out with the big things like fencing, and keeping the water source running fresh whenever I needed his help, but the rest was up to me. I had to get up earlier each morning to do the chores before school feeding, brushing, mucking out the stable and again at night all over again. I loved it all, and never regretted the work. In fact, I was happy not to have to deal with the problems many teenagers faced; I didnt have the time.
I worked daily with my horse, establishing a bond with him and learning how to ride to the best of my ability. Some days we just hacked on trails, other days involved serious training in the show ring. (We lived about a mile from the fairgrounds in Grahamsville, and at that time, I could ride over the mountain and through the woods to get there.) I remember working in that ring almost every day during good weather, preparing for the shows. At the end of the day, I had a great sense of satisfaction and was proud of my accomplishments.
Today when I visit the county fairs in places such as Grahamsville and Walton, I am always drawn to the Youth Fair and the horse shows. It is such a wonderful feeling to see youngsters who have worked so long and hard with their horses in preparation for these shows, who are able to present themselves and their mounts so beautifully.
I remember those long weeks and months spent working with my horse, practicing over and over until I felt we were perfect. And with thanks to my 4-H leaders, supportive parents, trainers and others around the county who gave freely of their seemingly unlimited time and patience, those sunny summer days were rewarded with ribbons, money prizes, and the chance to ride at the New York State Fair.
I admire youngsters who follow a similar path they are not afraid to give up free time for the responsibility and hard work that comes from keeping and caring for a horse. It is gratifying to see all those young people in the show rings, whether at the Sullivan County Youth Fair, the New York State Fair, or at open horse shows around the area. These boys and girls are good representatives of the qualities we wish for in our children hard work, dedication, kindness and a desire to excel and do their best with a good measure of time management and, at times, self-sacrifice thrown in. The responsibility of owning and caring for a horse builds character and enables young people the opportunity to make something positive happen in their lives.
The next time you travel to a horse show or youth fair, take a moment to really observe the young people in those classes. Think about all the hard work and dedication it took to get their horses to that level and to show them so well. And remember to support and congratulate those who are involved in the Youth program here in Sullivan County!