By Jenny Schneider
Schneider Farms Proprietor and Trainer
Have you ever watched a “horse show” on TV? Ever read a horse book? I’m that girl… the kid who wanted to take riding lessons but could never afford to.
Without my parents’ help or encouragement, I read every horse book I could get my hands on (we didn’t have the Internet then.) I would call every local stable listed in the San Antonio phonebook and get a quote about lessons, costs, etc. when I was only 9. Funny enough my parents put me in everything else…Piano, Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Gymnastics… but never horses.
My mom loved horses too but she was always worried that I would feel “less” because we couldn’t afford a horse while being at a barn in lessons with kids who owned their own horses. Today I see it as such a blessing… so what happened?
Well when I was 11, I was at a store and saw an advertisement for an equestrian summer camp that said they took working students. I was super excited. I got home (no cell phones either) and called right away, unbeknownst to my mom, and asked how much camp was and how much discount could I get? Turns out to get a discount I had to come work and stay at the facility for 2 weeks before camp to get it ready. The camp was $1000 for two weeks but I could go for $500 if I came and worked. In the ’80s, that was a ton of money to go to any camp, especially a horse camp. My parents liked my motivation but could not afford that. So, that started my campaign to work around the house, earn money, call relatives and ask if I could work for them… all to earn the money. My parents saw how much I had raised and were impressed, so I got to go!
I was finally going to get to ride …. and ride English. So I went to work 2 weeks early. I cleaned cabins, faced my worst fears… spiders… literally scrubbed all the tiles and grout of the swimming pool with a toothbrush, mucked stalls, ran the weed eater… all to ride horses. In Central Texas in June, working all day in the hot sun is no joke. Clearly, because I worked well, the owner took pity on me and decided to start giving me lessons in the early evenings once we were done working… all before my camp session started. I got to ride several times that week. I still remember the horse’s name, a big Thoroughbred named Pooh-da-Pest and to me, he was the most beautiful thing in the world. I dreamed he was mine. He listened to me. I brushed that horse until he glistened. I absorbed every word that was said about horses. I just soaked it up! I have memories to this day of the joy I felt!
It was one of those camps that assigns you one horse for the week if you don’t bring your own. Of course, all of the other kids brought their own amazing horses. Most of the kids went to boarding schools and kept their horses there. Do you know what happened? Was my mother correct? Did I feel less? Was I intimidated by other kids and their fancy horses, fancy clothes, fancy boots, fancy schools, fancy luggage? No…I was living my dream! I was getting to ride, the other kids could tell I loved it and they were all actually super supportive. There is this persona of “the mean rich kid” at the barn in horse books and shows, but that’s not how it was.
There is something in some of us humans that just cries out for contact with horses. I think that creates a bond between “horsey kids” and you can’t help but respect and admire those who love what you love. I learned I was good enough to hang with them and their fancy horses, because horses are the great equalizer. A $50,000 horse can act up just as much as a $500 Slaughter Auction horse. All of us riders are doing the same thing. We are all impressed by a good ride and all frustrated by a bad one. They humble us, they teach us to be patient, they teach us to work with others.
Do you know how a good trainer tells you to communicate with your horse? We typically say, “Ask him to trot, ask him to Canter,” because we must ask. If we don’t ask with the expectation of an answer, we may not get the desired result. Yet, we must ask. All of the whips and spurs in the world won’t make a horse go that won’t want to. These massive creatures allow us to sit on their backs; most enjoy it. It is a joy to share that bond with a horse like no other. It creates an instant bond with another horse person. It creates friendships that can only, truly be appreciated by another horse person. Yet, these magical creatures also humble us, because if we don’t ask right… we may not get what we want. They instill confidence. They make you brave. Yet at the same time, they listen to you. They respond to you. They know your moods, and will reward you with a great ride, with funny antics, by listening and communing with us… I think they are a bit of heaven shared with us by God.
So how did camp end? Well… I did really well at the end of the camp show. I even beat several of the girls who had their own horses. I got two first places and a third place and a trophy for Most Improved Camper and Best Attitude. They even let me go to another week of camp for free. To this day, those ribbons and trophy are among the things I am most proud of. Back then, not everyone got a trophy. You earned it. The sense of accomplishment from that experience, the joy from those weeks at Camp Amir and with Pooh-Da-Pest taught me I really could achieve whatever I wanted if I was willing to work for it.
A few years later when I was in college I wanted to ride horses… I remembered… if people see you are willing to work for free and volunteer because you love something, then they will teach you and reward you and it leads to very rich rewards. The kind you can’t buy. So, I called up most of the boarding stables in Lubbock, TX and asked if they would let me ride if I would work for free. So I started working and getting to ride. Soaking up anything anyone would teach me. Over time, that led to me living at a stable and getting to own my own horse while still in college and begin to start teaching lessons. The amazing thing was the lesson also applied elsewhere. Hey, if it worked with horses why not with my professors? So I began asking my professors if they needed work.
I was a Wildlife and Fisheries Management Major. This led to me getting several student jobs and paid positions and offers for graduate school and eventually a highly coveted 6-month internship with Texas Parks and Wildlife. From there, I got offers to work for US Fish and Wildlife collecting sea turtle eggs, spent my time working for Parks and Wildlife on boats and fishing in all kinds of cool ways to sample fish populations, then heading up an aquatic revegetation project. Then eventually to be able to teach teens about Environmental Science. Wow! All of that from learning to work for what I wanted at a barn.
Today I am 45 years old. I have a horse barn and had a horse business. I started a Pony Camp and Horse Camp and let kids come as working students. I started a working student program and lesson program and riding for low-income families… not just children… horses are beautifully packaged miracles for all ages. I own 7 horses/ponies, three of which are Thoroughbreds, one is 1/2 Thoroughbred and one is 1/4 Thoroughbred. We used them in our lesson programs and they are amazing. I also formerly owned and used two other OTTB’s to teach the kids, both of which we eventually lost to cancer and old age.
Eventually in the last year due to lots of unavoidable health issues, I had to stop my riding programs while hoping I will be able to get back to it someday as that is always where my heart has been. Because when I was a young girl, it really was hard for me to get to spend time with horses. Most friends at my school could never dream of spending time with horses and back then I told myself someday, I’m going to have a horse ranch and teach kids to ride no matter what if they can afford it or not.
As I grew older and taught low-income kids in South Dallas, I saw how most never had opportunities like those I schemed and dreamed of creating a program in schools like this that could teach about horses and riding as an art (as all the way back to Renaissance times and before horsemanship was considered an art that all men must perfect to be an “accomplished” educated man), but also as a PE credit since riding is incredibly physically demanding as is working around horses.
Later as I grew in my faith, I realized I wanted to not only pour the love of horses into kids but also the love of Christ and dreamed of creating a mentorship program for families where I could do just that. Some physical health circumstances have put that dream on hold, but I still dream and look for ways to share my love of equestrian relationships, riding and Christ. To see a good friend of mine have something so similar put on her heart so close to where I am is just an affirmation of all of my dreams… manifesting in a different way.
Now I get to be part of her organization to teach kids who might otherwise not be able to ride and learn about horses. There is still time for my dream… and I have achieved it … all because what I learned many years ago. It impacted my life greatly. I met my husband because of it. Everything. Horses truly are a gift from God.
“There really IS something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”~ Winston Churchill