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Why I bought my daughter a horse

Hands free . . . taking a ride on Cabernet

"So," my husband casually brought up as we drove to a barmitzvah. "Our neighbor told me that some local kids are selling their horse. The price seems reasonable and it would really make our daughter happy."

I remember turning to him in surprise, trying to gauge from his expression just how serious he was. But the street lights didn't reach into the car to touch his face. I sat back reflecting how just the other day I had firmly told my kids that our fish, hamsters and cats were enough pets and that they would have to find other homes for the puppies they found. Owning a dog entailed too much responsibility, too much work, too much mess. And now my husband was introducing the idea of bringing a horse into our family? Our daughter had been asking for a horse since she was four, and while buying her a special present for her upcoming batmitzvah was reasonable, a horse was out there in fairy tale land, the kind of dream that most little girls would have to keep alive till they were old enough to buy their own.

I stayed silent, thinking he just needed to throw the idea out, a crazy idea that would not have suitable ground in which take root. We live in a house right outside of Alon Shevut, a small community south of Jerusalem. We had enough land around our house to grow a variety of fruit trees, but not to stable a horse.

The next day my husband joined me on a short walk on the grassy hill near our house. We saw the white horse tied to a tree in the distance. "So," he began again, "others have shown interest in buying the horse. We need to give an answer soon."

We didn't allow ourselves time to mull over all the cons, like the fact that we had zero experience caring for a horse and no clue as to the amount of work required to keep it healthy and happy. As we watched the beautiful creature peacefully grazing we reflected on our 11 year-old daughter who was struggling with school, had no motivation to study, yet has a deep love for horses which we have nurtured through infrequent riding lessons and summer horse camps; who was learning for her batmitzvah, but had no outlet to develop a real sense of responsibility. Having a horse was cheaper than occupational therapy, we reasoned. But we realized that the longer we thought about it, the lower the chances we would go through with it …

My husband took out his phone. "So, should I tell him we'll take the horse?" We spent more time choosing tiles for our kitchen than we did deciding about the horse.

We could not wait to surprise our daughter. We introduced them later that day. She stared wordlessly at her own horse. Blinking, and then blinking again to see if he was still there. Then a smile of disbelief started and expanded to include us all. 

Heather Gelb’s daughter with Cabernet near their home in Alon Shevut

Slowly, we are learning the ropes of horse care. Our neighbors have goats, and generously allowed us to build a stall right next to them. The owner of a local hardware store has some horses of his own and sold us two tons of hay neatly packaged in four enormous bales, delivered and dropped right in our back yard.

Right before our eyes, our daughter bloomed in strength, motivation and responsibility. She named her horse Cabernet since he loves munching on the deep purple grapes that cover our hill from late summer until the rainy season. Week after week, between the extremes of scorching heat and freezing rain, she brings the hay, brushes his sleek coat, cleans out his hooves, rides him along the many paths that branch from our house and lead past ancient 'mikvaot'. She even rode him bareback during our rare winter snowfall.

With the help of my husband she prepared her batmitzvah presentation on halachic dilemmas that come up when caring for a horse on Shabbat.

She has learned to handle Cabernet in all his moods, whether stubborn, wild or friendly. There have been days she came to me in tears with a bruised foot from a hard hoof, or a pinched hand from a quick bite, or a beating heart after he reared and took off at an uncontrolled run. At those times I questioned our decision to pair up this powerful horse with our lightweight daughter, and I jumped into the pool of "what if" scenarios. But my daughter would stand strong and with determination seek guidance through books, videos and experienced horse teachers for new ways to relate to her horse.

I no longer question our hasty decision, for I can clearly see the strong correlation between her improved horse riding skills and her great leaps forward in her studies, grades, self-confidence and love of life. And I feel a stronger connection to her through all the hours I have stood by her side as we cared for her horse together.

Our horse has been a blessing. 



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Sunday, 19 May 2024

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