Twenty-one years ago, my best friend Kristen got a horse for Christmas. He was a flashy black and white paint named Cowboy, and I was so happy for her. And I was so jealous. Even when she told me, sweetly and earnestly, “He’s our horse,” I was equally touched by the sentiment and painfully aware that her generosity did not make my dream of owning a horse come true. Sometime in the aftermath of that Christmas season, I asked my dad about buying me a horse, and he responded that he had no plans to do that. No problem, I thought. I’m a problem solver, so I decided that I would earn money and save it and buy my own horse. All of that year, I did odd jobs and extra chores along with my regular job mowing the yard at my dad’s office building. I saved all my pennies. I bought a saddle. And by November, my bank account and my heart were both ready. And while my bank account was flexible, my heart was set on a horse I called Tigger, a two-year-old stallion that belonged to one of my parent’s clients.
It had been love at first sight with Tigger. He was so beautiful, and the lop-sided snip on the side of his nose was so unique. He was, and is, a horse with loads of personality. I knew it would be a long, uphill struggle to get him because he wasn’t even halter trained. But I was fourteen, with no real sense of my own mortality, and where I was insecure about almost everything else, I believed I could do anything I set out to with a horse. Even so, I knew it wasn’t an ideal situation, but I believed in my heart it was Tigger. I was sure that he was supposed to be my horse. So I asked my mom to talk to their client to find out if Tigger was for sale, and how much. I held my breath. All of my dreams hinged on the answers to those questions.
When my mom told my dad that I wanted to buy Tigger, he was surprised to find out that I had saved enough money to make the purchase. Surprised, and pleased. He decided that if I was responsible enough and dedicated enough to work hard and save up, then he could buy me a horse. So he did. And for weeks before Christmas, I kept asking if they had an opportunity to find out about Tigger, and they kept putting me off. Not yet, they said. They hadn’t been able to get in touch with the owner.
Finally, Christmas Eve rolled around. My family always opens presents on Christmas Eve. That year, after all the presents had been opened, my mom pulled out one more, for me. I opened the box and found a stuffed Tigger doll, which I loved. I thought it was a nice way for my parents to show support for my dream. I was delighted. But my parents and my brother were all looking at me with expectation, as if I had missed something. Finally, my mom said, “There’s more.” So I started looking through the tissue paper in the box to see what else was in there. “No, not in the box,” Mom said, and I was totally confused. “Tigger the horse is yours,” she announced. “Dad bought him for you for Christmas.” I screamed. Did I cry? I don’t remember, but it seems likely. In terms of raw emotion, I think that was the happiest moment of my life.
Twenty years later, Tigger is still my Christmas pony. How things have changed! We’ve both learned so much, though certainly he taught me more than I taught him over the years. He’s been my go-to horse for whatever new skill I decided to learn. He’s done everything I’ve ever asked of him, including not dying a few times when he seemed on the brink of it. He’s made me a more confident rider, a gentler trainer, and a better person. It’s hard to say what moments in our lives are the most important, the most meaningful, the most impactful. But the year I got Tigger must be near the top of the list for me. He changed my life in immeasurable ways, and I am so grateful to him and for him. And I’m grateful to my parents for trusting me and supporting me.
Twenty years ago today, Tigger was my dream come true. He still is today.
This year I’m battling a nasty cold, so I won’t be able to take him on our annual Christmas Eve ride. But I went out to the barn to see him anyway, to tell him thank you, to remember what it felt like to be a 14-year-old girl seeing her very own horse, the horse that made everything seem possible. I went to remember that wild happiness I felt when I knew he was mine. How lucky I was, and how lucky I am, to be gifted with such a special animal.