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Let's Talk Horses

By Judy O'Brien Van Put
LIVINGSTON MANOR — December 31, 2002 – One of the greatest joys in my life has been the privilege of owning a horse.
In a day and age where we are no longer dependent on them as beasts of burden, it is indeed a privilege to own and care for such simple but powerful animals. From the time I was a baby, my parents used to tease me by telling me that “your first word wasn’t Mama, it was horsie!”
Typical of many young girls, I dreamed of the day when I would actually own one of those most beautiful creatures that cantered through my mind on a regular basis. Fortunately, I was able to join the local 4-H club, and I eagerly learned as much as I could, and all that was necessary to care for a horse through the diligent instruction of my mentors, Carolyn Coombe and Milton Turner.
4-H was a great outlet, and provided my first real “hands-on” experiences with horses. I was able to borrow a mount for the annual trail ride, and learned enough in the years between the ages of nine and 14 to reassure my city-born-and-bred parents that I would be able to carry out the many necessary duties pertaining to horse ownership.
I will never forget that warm, late-summer day of my 14th birthday, the day when Dad believed I was old enough (and sufficiently dedicated) for the huge responsibility that came with ownership of a horse. We traveled up the long and winding road to the YMCA camp that housed a stable of summer hacks. I can still remember every detail of the drive up, the stop by the tiny waterfall of a Neversink tributary, the sights and smells of the barn and the dust kicked up by those galloping steeds as they were rounded up for our inspection. It was from this herd that I would get to choose my very own.
I immediately fell in love with a red sorrel gelding who sported a big white blaze and white stockings. As I look back on those photos, I can see that he was old and swaybacked – but to me, he was perfection. Along with the deal, the $100 horse came with a brand-new studded Western saddle and matching bridle and I felt that I was surely in heaven. Typical of a young teenager, I was devoted to my horse and spent as many of my waking hours as possible with him.
On this patient and dependable old “gentleman” I bestowed the name of Squire, a name I felt was deserving of the respect I felt for my new charge.
Jump ahead some 25 years. There had been several other horses to follow my gallant Squire, who had succumbed to a then-unknown disease – which was some 30 years later identified by that very same veterinarian as Swamp Fever – and another couple of trusty mounts during the first few years of my marriage. But when the children came along, they took up most of my time and energy. The barn had been empty for about 15 years and the prospect of horse ownership seemed like a dim memory. My mother had just passed away after a difficult seven-month illness, and my husband, who knows me even better than I know myself, suggested it might be time to get another horse.
Instantly, my pulse quickened and my mind raced and within about an hour’s time, I had scanned the classified ads and was in the car and on my way to purchase a horse! I came home a couple of hours later, the proud owner of not one, but two Tennessee Walking Horses – and began to make plans to re-build the fence, empty out the barn and get ready for their delivery in just a week’s time.
Of all the horses I’ve owned, those two have meant more to me than any others. They immediately filled the void that had been left with my mother’s passing – and they seemed to return the love and emotion I poured into them.
Every day I am greeted by their bright eyes and whinnies. They have been patient and sturdy and dependable, only asking for food and water but offering so much in return. I worry about them if they’re “off feed” or have sustained an injury, and share their enthusiasm with the dawning of each new day and the prospect of a trail ride.
There are many reasons for people to own horses, whether for sport, exercise, competition or companionship; in my case, not only for those previously listed, but also to fill a need during critical times of my life. My teenage years sped swiftly by, with pleasant memories of days astride, and a kinship with my horses that enabled me to overcome the temptations that can make the teenage years difficult. Then, as an adult, after suffering the loss of my mother, my life was again enriched by the ownership of a horse.
There are now three horses in our barn, and each one is special in its own way. Privileged are we who own a horse (or horses), for we enjoy a relationship based on those great qualities of trust and caring – a bond that is renewed each and every day.

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