December 18, 2017

A Horse For Christmas

A Horse for Christmas

(Or How Not to Give Your Kid A Horse)

By: Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg

            When I was a child, like so many young girls, I wanted a horse. I had read loads of books, rented a horse nearly every Saturday, and watched every horse movie I could find. I was ready for my first horse! Of course I lived in the city. We couldn’t keep a horse at home, but there were horse properties and stables nearby. So the begging began.

            One year when I was about 11 years old, my parent’s business had a good year. Money was no longer tight. My older brothers were getting huge Christmas gifts that year and I knew it. The oldest one got a car and the middle child got a real, professional drum set. It was Christmas Eve (when we always opened our gifts) and we had opened all the presents that were wrapped and under the tree. The time was upon us. I knew my brothers gifts were in the front driveway. So we all traipsed outside and standing there next to the car and drums was a HORSE! MY HORSE! I screamed and ran toward the poor animal so fast that she nearly bolted. After much conversation about her name (Belle), age (about 12), breed (Quarter Horse-ish), etc I was ushered back into the house while my Dad walked Belle back to the stable. Yep, at night, in the dark, on city streets. My Dad had been raised on a Midwest farm during the depression. He had worked with horses plowing the fields. He had even gotten to ride his horse to school! What a luxury! He knew horses and had picked Belle out himself.

          The next morning I was forced to wait until after breakfast to see my horse again. Finally, my Dad took me to the barn where she was living. It was a neighbor’s backyard within bike riding distance. The neighbors would feed my horse along with theirs and I would clean the stalls. There was no arena, round pen or anything. Just a stall in the backyard, a turn-out area on the side of a hill and a shed that doubled as both a tack and feed room. The neighbor’s horse lived in the stall and Belle lived in the turn-out pen. The shed had an extended roof that gave Belle some shelter from the rain and my dad had built a feed manger on the outside wall for her feed. My Dad had also purchased a bridle to go along with the halter and lead that came with Belle. He showed me how to put on the halter and how to put on the bridle. I was the happiest little girl in the world as I trotted bareback around the turn-out pen.

          After that Christmas Day, I was free to ride whenever I wasn’t in school. I would ride my bike to the barn and off Belle and I would go, blissfully riding the trails. Well, that’s what I wanted to happen, but the reality was somewhat different. Since I had only one lesson on bridling it was often very difficult for me to get Belle’s bridle on. My Dad knew horses but he worked all day and didn’t have time to spend teaching me to ride. Mom worked also and was basically afraid of horses. I had no saddle so mounting was a problem also. I had never been the gymnast type so I would lead Belle up to a fence and hope she would stand still long enough for me to climb on. We lived in the city, so there weren’t any trails nearby. We did have some fields so I sometimes rode there. Of course, the fields were quite a distance away so most of the time I just rode around the small pen that Belle lived in. The neighbor’s horse stabled with Belle was retired and not ridden anymore. I had no one to ride with or learn from.

          Almost immediately, I began having lots of problems getting my new horse to do my bidding. For some strange reason she was completely incapable of reading my mind! Since I had no clue about proper cueing, we were at an impasse. Well, it was not so much an impasse as a complete take-over on Belle’s part. Belle did pretty much whatever Belle wanted to do. For some strange reason she didn’t seem to want to trot up and down the hill of the small pen she lived in for hours on end. She did become very proficient at getting me off her back whenever she was tired of me. Bumps, bruises,  sprains and torn jeans soon became the order of the day.

          It wasn’t long before I got tired of falling off my horse and having to ride my bike home with a sprained ankle or scraped knees. I began to complain that Belle was stupid and wouldn’t do what I wanted. I wanted a different horse. I wanted a horse that would do what I wanted. I wanted a horse that wouldn’t hurt me all the time. My parents said that if I didn’t want Belle anymore they would sell her, but no other horse would replace her. It was Belle or nothing.  Reluctantly, I agreed to keep Belle. But I needed some help! My Dad looked around and decided to move Belle to a nearby stable.

          So Bell went to live in a huge pasture with 20 or 30 other horses. Every day I would go catch her, bring her in and feed her in the tie stalls set up for that purpose. Yep, she got fed once each and every day. I wasn’t allowed to ride until she finished eating all her hay. During the times of the year that grass was plentiful, she wouldn’t usually let me catch her at all. No reason for her to want to work, right? She was quite happy hanging out with all her friends. But despite these things I did finally improve my riding skills. I had horse people around to teach me the right things. I had friends to ride with. I had a proper arena to work in and I was no longer trying to muddle through on my own. Dad also bought me a riding crop and taught me how to use it.  Finally I was in charge of Belle!

          I owned Belle for 4 years before I moved on to a new horse. I trained her (or she trained me) and together we learned about things like cues and leads.  We worked hard and had some success at the local playdays and shows. Belle also presented me with a beautiful chestnut colt one year. Apparently a long-yearling stud colt broke out of his stall one night. The stable owner failed to mention that he found them together until we started asking questions 10 months later!  I named the colt  Galveston and he was the first horse I ever trained from beginning to end.

          Belle turned out to be a great first horse. I not only survived but thrived because of her. It was a school of hard knocks at first, but all’s well that ends well. I was lucky. I never got badly hurt. This was long before the days of helmets, videos and lessons on youtube. I learned by watching, reading books and doing. I worked to earn money for luxuries like fly spray, grain and a saddle. All my birthday and Christmas gifts were for my horse. I became a horse trainer and riding instructor despite my dubious beginnings. Or maybe it was because of them…

          We always remember our first loves be they animal or human. Tell us the story of your first horse.

          Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor and Clinic Instructor. She is also a registered AQHA Professional Horseman. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 30 years. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted.




  1. What an incredible story and one I can certainly relate to. Don’t we all treasure our first experience with our own horse? They are definitely a first love.

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