The first time I saw her was when she came to lunch at our house with another young girl from the barn. I asked her how old she was, and she said, “10.” With that answer, I went inside and got her a blank journal and told her that I give all 10 year-old girls a journal because it is the perfect time to start keeping the story of their lives. And so began a friendship that has lasted all these past 13 years. During that time, while coming to our farm to ride, she has gone through public school as well as four years at Ohio Wesleyan University. She has a job now and still manages to come up to ride any chance she gets. Her name is Sarah, with an “h.”
I’ve written articles about James (and his pretend horse), so I want to let you know that he lives in Florida and has a good job with the Coca-Cola Company. He had come to the farm for several weeks when he was only 9 and came back to stay the next summer when he was 10. He will be 45 in April, and we have been in touch every year since we met him. It’s always been interesting to keep track of James.
And I won’t forget Katie, who “wanted to ride a real horse.” I told her Dad that I could make that happen. She was in our lives from the time she turned 5 until she was 13, and then she moved away. We miss her coming to the barn after school to help do the feeding. But will never forget the years of watching her learn to ride. I knew she had learned a lot when I went to see her have a lesson one day. She rode the horse clear to the other side of the arena, stopped, got off of the horse all by herself and walked it back to where we were sitting.
Before we met Sarah, we had met another 10-year-old girl who came with her dad to the barn a lot. She was being home-schooled and this was a part of her lessons. She became a jumper. Well, the horse did the jumping, but she was on its back. George went with her to a horse sale in Delaware, for her to buy a horse. They sat there all day, through many horses being sold, but none was just right. That is, until close to the last one. It was everything they wanted in a horse. Most importantly was the fact that the price was right. She had saved her own money to buy herself a horse and got one whose name was “Just Like Sonny.” She went on to college and graduated, and now she has her own farm where she teaches people, young and old, who want to learn how to jump. I always thought they should make a movie of her life, and she would be perfect to play the lead. And if that ever happens, you will know it’s her, because her name is Charlotte.
We also had a boy who wanted to be a jockey, but grew too big to be able to meet the weight limits. Now he has a job at a harness horse stable and works there in the mornings and has school in the afternoons. His name is Gestin.
Now, we have all kinds of young people coming to take lessons and ride. Once, George was going to go up a 12-foot ladder, 1/2 way up the outside of the barn, to replace a broken door. It’s the door you open to load the hay into the mow. He had to fasten the hinges to the outside of the barn siding. I was afraid he would fall with nothing to catch him except the ground. I had my cell phone in my hand to call 9-1-1 if he did, but I was too afraid to even watch him. So, I asked Kora, one of the very good riders, as well as a hard worker, to stand there with me in case I needed her. She is 15 and very grown-up. All went well, but you never know what could happen when you are up that high on a ladder and trying to hang a brand new door on the outside of a barn.
The word “retire” has been sneaking into George’s vocabulary lately more than ever. For years, the only time he ever took off was just one day a year to go fishing with his Uncle Sonny. We always had a picnic at Aunt Mary’s, and then George and his uncle walked Millcreek, that is over by Bellpoint. George partly retired once, back in 2004, when he quit racing harness horses at Scioto Downs, Northfield, and in the fair circuits. But I am looking forward to the day when he completely retires and doesn’t have to be up and over to the barn by 7 a.m. every day of every week. I’m looking forward to when he doesn’t have to make, and put hundreds of bales of hay in the mow every summer. Also, when he goes to get, and take back home, the Amish horseshoe man who has to spend a whole day at the barn every 10 weeks, shoeing and trimming the feet of about 10 horses. I will also be glad when he doesn’t have to get a truck and trailer-load of sawdust from the Amish sawmills about every six weeks. And last but not least, when he won’t be worrying about the weather and needing to catch every forecast on TV to know when the horses can be outside, or have to be kept in their stalls all night. Being in all night results in a lot of cleaning of all the stalls the next day. There is no way I can include all the work he has that goes with having his stables. But it is all worth it when we realize how many children have gotten to ride a real horse.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.