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From the Desk of Marty Schaffel: Family Fun – What Horses Are All About

When my daughter was 5 years old, we went on a family vacation to California. I thought she might get a thrill if she sat on a horse when we passed a small riding stable. We pulled off the road and asked if our daughter could sit on a horse. The horse was huge and his name was Mouse.  Once perched atop this horse, her face lit up and she had a gigantic smile on her face.  

After returning to Florida we inquired about riding lessons in the area. My cousin mentioned to me that there was a riding stable near her home. We hopped in the car to check it out.  By sheer coincidence, it was a Saddlebred barn. To the unsophisticated eye of a guy who grew up in a city, a horse is a horse. But these were magnificent creatures.

Fast forward to when she was 12, I inquired about buying a horse. And we did. However, my knowledge of horses had not changed. While golfing one day with a friend who grew up in the country, he asked if I bought my daughter a horse yet. I said as a matter of fact I just did the previous week.  “What kind of horse did you buy,” he asked? I said brown. He laughed and inquired, “Do you at least mean chestnut?” I said no, I was pretty sure it was brown!!

As typical parents, we watched as she took lessons, practiced and showed. We cheered her on at every event. I tried never to miss one if I could. Of course I always was a spectator, never a participant.  We traveled as a family to every show we could.

I was not an active rider of horses due to wearing my knees out on the tennis court. But one day I thought it would be fun to drive a horse around the barn property. Day by day I worked up my confidence to go around trees and do other little maneuvers, very slowly, to build my confidence.

Within a year I moved into driving a road pony. I found this to be a blast. I usually came in last or close to it, but I got the occasional blue ribbon when I was alone in the class. But this was when I truly learned something special about our sport. No matter how I did in the ring, when I came back to the stalls people encouraged me, helped me build my confidence and told me what a good job I did. At first I thought they would just say that even if my pony jumped the rail and leapt up into the stands! But I came to realize that this was the culture of our sport; to have fun, encourage participation and build confidence.

I began to wonder why more parents didn’t find a way to participate as a family.  It is fun to cheer each other on in our family.  I cherished hearing my daughter bark out commands to me while I was in the ring! And give me her sage advice. Eventually I built up my confidence to test drive a road horse. I was scared, as can be when I started.  My mouth was dry and my stomach queasy, and my family was near panic. But I loved the first road horse I test drove. And as I built confidence we went faster and faster, into tighter turns and explosive straightaways. It was the most exhilarating thing I had ever done. Then my daughter started to drive him, and we shared the thrill together while my wife looked away and closed her eyes in fear.

Not long after that my daughter and I won the WCHS amateur and youth classes with the same road horse in the same year. Words cannot describe how much that meant to us. We came a long way together in 15 years and we did it as a family.  I would love to see more parents who are spectators stick their toes in the water and find the joy I have in our sport. No matter how it goes, everyone cheers you on, encourages your success and shares in your happiness. This truly is something we all can do as a family.  

Marty Schaffel, Interim ASHA President

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