The Force of the Horse® in Action
Like many other girls, Lucy Street loved horses while growing up in Seattle and Canada. But when she was bucked off in riding class when she was 18, it was the last straw at a boarding school she hated. She refused to have anything more to do with horses.
“I was terribly homesick,” Street says of St. Margaret’s School for Girls in Victoria, British Columbia. “I cried every time my family visited. I didn’t get hurt in the fall, I just refused. I would have nothing more to do with horses.”
For more than six decades, she didn’t waver. Then five years ago at Howarth Park, Street met Linda Aldrich, who runs the pony rides and lessons at Howarth Park. She also is director of the Pony Express Equine Assisted Skills for Youth, a non-profit that advocates on behalf of horses and kids in need.
Street has macular degeneration, a partial loss of sight that makes it hard to identify people or other objects except by remembered shape.
For weeks, she just watched the children ride the ponies. Then she started bringing apples and carrots, and Aldrich led her to each horse to dispense goodies, a pat and a kind word.
Then Aldrich suggested she might like to ride.
“I thought, ‘Gosh, if the little ones can do it, so can I,’” Street says. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that her inaugural ride would be astride Milo, a kind and patient horse in his late teens or early twenties. Three or four volunteers helped her climb on.
“Lucy always loved Milo,” says Aldrich. “Not all horses would patiently wait while four of us stand close for Lucy to mount and dismount.”
Milo is gentle, Lucy says. He knows her. Each week he comes to greet her and nuzzles her with his head. Recently when she was standing by the fence, he walked over and laid his head on her shoulder.
What Street didn’t know was that Milo once feared humans as much as she feared horses.
“It wasn’t the career for him,” says Aldrich, who worked for the program. “I am not a vet, but his body language told me he had back pain that was exacerbated by having to carry heavy people. I think the riders balanced on his mouth, causing more discomfort.”
He had violent outbursts, bucked, bit, reared and bolted. Labeled dangerous, he was sent to the Petaluma livestock auction to be sold by the pound.
Aldrich noticed that he was missing, drove to the horse broker’s house and bought Milo for $500. That’s the price he would have fetched as dog meat.
She put Milo in the field with the rest of her horses, and his fearful, distrustful behavior eventually disappeared. After he had healed physically and mentally, she started to retrain him. Eventually he became one of her most trustful and gentle horses.
Street had no fear of Milo, she says. Her physical therapist told her that riding him improved her balance and muscle tone, but more than that, she says, she appreciates the confidence and renewed joy in life.
“He’s wonderful,” Street says. “I am in the fresh air with Linda’s girls and Linda. I can ride anytime I want.
“Riding Milo has improved my interest in life. I am no longer afraid of crowds. One Sunday at church, I was asked to teach Sunday School. I ran out of the church crying. I couldn’t do it. Now, I can do anything!”
Simple walks progressed to trotting. Although Street has confidence in Milo, Aldrich and the girls who work with Aldrich, she still keeps a firm hand on the saddle horn.
In January, Aldrich gave Street a surprise 84th birthday party, attended by the horses, the ponies and the girls who help Aldrich. A balloon was imprinted with Milo’s image and the birthday cake was dedicated to him.
Street was delighted to share the occasion with the horse and the trainer who helped her come full circle.
“My most relaxing time of the week is when I am riding Milo,” she says. “Every week when I am done, I can’t wait to come back the following week.”
- For the Love of Wild Horses (rtfitch.wordpress.com)