By Kim Hodges Schoch
Ever since I was a little girl I have always loved everything related to horses. When I was 6 years old my mom and dad sent me to my very first horse camp at Camp Mary Atkinson and I jokingly say that my father regretted that decision ever since (only because horses are an expensive hobby). Camp solidified my love for horses and from then-on-out, I sought a way to keep horses in my life forever.
My immediate family moved to Colorado in 2004 so my dad could pursue a job, but I feel as though I went to pursue horses. I learned how to barrel race (if you can count wobbling around in the saddle as a well trained quarter horse trotted a familiar pattern as racing) and, more importantly, how to care for horses from a young cowgirl with a big heart.
When a job opened up back home in North Carolina in 2009 my father jumped at the opportunity to move back home. We couldn’t yet afford to purchase a horse of our own but my mother tracked down a farm where I could take riding lessons in exchange for barn chores. This farm had an English riding program and I swapped a comfy Western saddle and brightly colored saddle pads for sleek English saddles and polished show boots. I shadowed more experienced riders in the show ring and learned how to care for tack, set up a stall, and properly groom a horse for a show.
One of the most influential people in my life soon became my trainer. She not only showed me how to clear fences on horseback but also taught me how to truly care for our four-legged companions. I learned to braid manes, trim tails, safely cool down a hot horse, poultice and wrap swollen legs, dress wounds, soak abscessed feet, and much more. This trainer also helped my mother and I find, and purchase, our very first horse, Bachelor! (You can see him in our pasture if you visit our farm today. Bachie is the big, distinguished grey gelding who is usually camped out by the hay bale.)
I do not think my passion for horses would have been kept alive if I did not have the solid, steady support that this particular trainer provided for me as well as a slew of other young girls and their horses. Some of my fondest memories growing up were of us together in a truck pulling a trailer full of horses to our next show or off-farm training.
Over the next few years, I juggled Bachelor, a part-time job, and classes at NCSU. I would go to class, work a few retail hours, and then jet off to the barn to sneak a ride in. I would often get home well past 10 and get up at 6 the next morning to do it all over again. Any money that I could save would go towards horse care and entry fees for horse shows. Bachelor helped me bring home a rainbow of ribbons and, more importantly, he helped me grow as a caretaker. I loved everything about horse care so much that I even changed my major from Engineering to Animal Science!
University passed like a whirlwind and before I knew it I had a six-month internship in Kentucky at a thoroughbred breeding farm that led to a ten-month stud hand position in Denmen, Australia taking care of broodmares and their babies.
Horses taught me responsibility, compassion for animals, and provided amazing life experiences that I would never have had the opportunity to have otherwise. I have worked at some of the most beautiful farms in the world and have been blessed enough to bring that experience back home to my beloved family farm. For all of the young girls and boys out there with equine dreams, I encourage you to pursue your passion! Find a barn that needs weekend muck-out help and learn all you can about horse care (not just riding) and grow your dreams into a future!