The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Don’t let your dreams be dreams.”
Jack Johnson

A Love of Horses

Aunt Janice had horses in her blood. At five, she pounded six nails into a small stick to make a horse, one nail for the head, four for the legs and, of course, one for the tail. At ten, she advanced to bigger ideas, using a long board for the body, a smaller one for the head and some string for the reins. Then she made herself a herd. Using a card table as her barn, she opened a riding stable at the curb in front of her house. Her sign boldly advertised, “Hobby Horses for Rent.” I doubt she made much money, but she had fun and loved her horses.

When she was thirteen, she got a job at a real stable in Los Angeles, which kept several dozen ponies for children’s parties and weekend rides. The Pony Park was still the site of many birthday parties when I was a kid. She worked there for free for the first year or so, mucking corrals, cleaning the barn and walking little kids around on the ponies, anything to be near horses. Aunt Janice was also a good artist, and what do you think she liked to draw and paint the most? She had a dream of one day having her own horse farm. And she knew you can do anything you want if you keep working at it. And she did.

Every summer, she would go to her Aunt Cora and Uncle Ralph’s ranch with her sister and her parents. She always hoped there would be a pony there for her, but there never was. Even so, she kept dreaming. Aunt Janice worked at the pony track until she was sixteen, gradually earning up to fifty cents an hour, all the while falling more and more in love with horses. You know you love horses if you like the smell of horse manure in the air. I guess I have horses in my blood too, because that smell always makes me feel good.

Later in high school, Aunt Janice and her soon-to-become sister-in-law, Aunt Patsy, bought a matched pair of painted ponies and kept them at Griffith Park, where they could ride in the ring or on the trails nearby. She married Uncle Dale when she was twenty and moved to Georgia, when he went into the Army. She bought another horse named Sailor in Georgia. My cousins, Lynne and Stephen, were born there.

Soon after they returned from Georgia, Uncle Dale passed away. They lived across the street from us, and we were all very sad when that happened. I felt particularly bad for my cousins who lost their father. He was a good uncle and always nice to me. When I was little, I had about twenty-five pictures of Navy ships, kept together by a rubber band. I told Uncle Dale that my dad had been on every one of those ships during the war, and he was kind enough to believe me.

When Aunt Janice met Uncle Gordon and got married, they moved to his house that had a barn and room for horses. She taught all of us cousins to ride in their corral. She knew how to treat horses and if you didn’t do it right, she’d let you have it. I remember she always seemed to have four to six horses there and a couple of ponies. If you want to read a story about the meanest pony I ever met click Twinkle.

Aunt Janice and Uncle Gordon eventually moved up to the cabin at Lake Tahoe with most of their kids and all of their horses. I have great memories of riding through the forest up there on horseback. If you ask me, there’s no place more peaceful than riding a trail on the back of a horse.

All the while living up at the cabin, Aunt Janice kept thinking about that horse farm. She hadn’t forgotten her dream, and she would talk about it from time to time. She began to look around for land to build it on and finally settled on forty acres between Reno and Carson City. They bought the land and eventually, Franktown Meadows became one of the finest equestrian centers in the whole country.

And to think, it all started with a little girl who had a couple of sticks, a handful of nails and a dream.

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