Becoming An Authentic Rider

IMGP3523.JPGAs soon as I walked up, I knew something was wrong. Jacob is our tour director, educator, helper, assistant, rider, and most importantly an encourager at the farm. So when I saw his sweat stained brow and dirt encrusted cheeks sitting in a chair sipping a bottle of water, I instantly knew that something was very wrong.

 “I am fine!” was his greeting to me.

 That’s when a cacophony of voices rose in one and told me that Jacob fell off of Milkshake.

 “What happened?” I asked incredulously. Falling is not something I ever want a rider to experience, but it is a necessary rite of passage for all riders if they intend to be great riders.

 Jacob is a special rider that has literally transformed himself from an angry, easily frustrated youth, to a gentle man that seeks to please others over himself. It is touching to see how this young man has gained strength, wisdom, love, kindness, joy, and peace through his discovery of what he could accomplish on the back of an opinionated Appaloosa pony named Milkshake.

 He had just learned how to canter, a huge milestone for someone who was afraid to even trot. This transformed him into a confident rider that was ready to attempt jumping and cantering regularly.

 When he was given an opportunity to have a free ride, he decided to perfect his canter. Milkshake was only too happy to oblige and that’s when it happened. He got off balance and realizing that he was slipping, he threw his leg over the saddle, pushed himself away from the galloping hooves and did an emergency dismount. He rolled away from the horse- textbook perfect. He was shaken, Milkshake was startled and stood over his good buddy. Everyone launched into action. Rider down. All hands on deck. Tori, the instructor was checking the damage, Eva was holding his hand, Rachel grabbed the horse, Megan was calming the other riders. The well oiled Raise Your Dreams Farm Team was reacting to their friend and fellow team mate, and when he got up all clapped as his mother shed a tear.

 Eva held his hand and lead him out of the ring. He said he was not afraid to get back on, he just needed to sit awhile. That’s what happened prior to me getting to the riding ring.

 “Jacob, it is official,” I said rubbing his shoulder.

 “What, Miss Jill?” he asked.

 “You are now an authentic rider. There is not one great rider out there who has not had a fall. It just means that you are a true rider. Fair weather riders would just give up, but not you. I am proud of you Jac!”

 I grabbed his hand and he grabbed mine. I knew then that Jacob has conquered a lot in his short life, but that day revealed the man he has become. I am glad Jacob rides at my farm, he has just demonstrated his character.

Have you been made into an authentic rider?  Tell your story!  You know I LOVE to hear them!imgp3523



Milkshake- A Million Dollar Pony


“Dan, this pony is so ugly. I am afraid the kids will get scared,” I complained to my husband on the end of the line.


“I feel that God is impressing to me that you should go ahead and buy him,” he said.


My husband knows nothing about horses, he just puts up with them because he loves me. I was on a horse hunting spree to help teach riding lessons, and I landed at this farm with one ugly pony.


The woman who was selling him was a horse dealer. She told me that he did not like to canter and she told me a price I could not refuse. With that, I took this ugly large pony home with me, unsure of his future. He certainly was not a horse that I would have chosen, if it had not been my husband insisting that I purchase him.


We always re-name all horses and ponies that come here and there was quite excitement over what his name should be. The kids, parents, and instructors came up with great names, but one of my autistic children came up with the perfect name- Milkshake.


Milkshake is a Pony of America. He is white with small black specks throughout his coat. Hence the name Milkshake was perfect.


Milkshake had a larger than life attitude. He was strong and he would just bulge at his shoulder and my students were too weak to discipline him. All of the instructors were constantly on him and working out his many kinks.


As time went by, he became accustomed to this spoiled life. Carrots with the tops on, apples drizzled with molasses, warm bran mash in the winter, fans in the stalls in the summer, and a growing fan club that just adored him. He learned to jump, and he did it quite well. His trot is so smooth, that a rider can sit or post, either one is comfortable and smooth. His canter is so slow and rhythmic that he teaches all beginners. But his most endearing quality is that he is so versatile. He changes to meet each one of his riders and their needs. For beginners, he is very slow, waiting for the correct aids to direct him. For advanced riders, he will jump a course of 2’6″ with a flying lead change.


We took him to a show, and we were uncertain as to how he would act, but he was a professional. He even lined up to face the judge. He was smart, capable, and caring. He was and is the perfect lesson horse. Though I think he is perfect, I did not know that he was gathering a fan club outside of my farm too. The show world was noticing him too. He even won “Horse of the Horse Show” because of his versatility. That’s when I would hear whisperings from other competitors that Milkshake was here. Offers for me to sell him to their children started pouring in, but I would tell them that Milkshake was not for sale.


Milkshake is a pony that has too much personality. Yesterday I was cleaning out the tack room and I had Milkshake in the riding ring, because he is on a diet. That’s why I was shocked when I turned around and there he was, in the tack room with me. He kept nudging me to itch his scratchy spot- he has many, and to pay attention to him.


This sums up Milkshake perfectly; a true people lover because I think that he really does believe that he is a person and not a pudgy white pony.


Do you have a “four- legged character” that thinks he or she is human? Please tell your story!



The middle fence rails were out, this means one thing, my pony, Buttons is out. Panic set in.   It was only 5:00 in the morning. I had to go to work, now I had a real problem on my hands, Buttons was gone. I turned on the lights in the feed room and discovered that there had been a slaughter of every edible thing. That included dry bran mash, supplements for joints, horse treats, cat food, and who knows what else.


Immediately, my panicked voice split the morning air with a plaintive call for Buttons. No sound, only whinnies from my other disgruntled horses that their feed time was being interrupted by this very bad pony.


I walked into the fields exploring the turn out sheds, there he was. Apparently, he let himself out and when he was spent from gorging, he let himself back in.


His swollen belly told me that he was in trouble. Immediately, I grabbed Banamine and gave him a dose. I was somewhat worried about him. He was not looking too perky or happy with himself. He was showing no outward signs of collicking, but I knew he was in severe discomfort.


Then, as God always does, He showed me an idea to solve the problem. I grabbed one of the feed sacks and tied it to the tree. Then I grabbed the portly pony, and walked him by the tree. The wind flapped the bag and he bolted forward and then stopped and stared at this very scary scene. He snorted and then lifted his tail and promptly pooped.


Here is my plea- free pony. His name is Buttons, he likes to escape, enjoys early morning feed binges, will bite your butt if you don’t keep your eye on him, loves to be squirted with the hose on hot days, enjoys playing long and hard with the other horses, he is extremely intelligent, and loves to be ridden. Though he is portly, he jumps carefully and well. He is a handful for an inexperienced rider, but he does not have a bad bone in him. He is ornery and enjoys “trying” out his rider to see what he can get away with. He loves baths, grooming, and EATING!! He has been known to eat snow cones, mint chocolate chip ice cream, Cheetos, Doritos, pepperoni pizza, chicken wings, Ginger Snaps, Coke, cookies, French fries (only McDonalds), and a peach.  If you pull up and you have food, he will go to the window and “beg” for a bite.  He is very adept at smelling French fries, which he loves immensely.


Any takers on my FREE PONY?

Hope Has Four Legs


“If he does not start walking by September, the school insists that Tyler go into a wheelchair, I do not want that to happen. Can you help me?” she choked back tears.


April, Tyler’s mom, had heard about the great results of equine therapy. She already had physical, occupational, and speech therapists working with her son and none of these therapies were helping him as rapidly as she would like if her son was to walk by September. She was desperate for something that would work quickly.


“I know equine therapy will help. I cannot guarantee anything, but I would like to say with assurance that equine therapy encourages children to walk. I would like to meet you and your son,” I said. We set up a meeting for the following day.


An entourage pulled up, his grandparents, therapists, and friends of the family. April held up little Tyler. He was beautiful with blonde curls, deep blue eyes, and chubby little legs. Timmy picked him up and held him. Then Tyler grabbed onto Timmy’s hand. Timmy knows first-hand how equine therapy works because he is a product of what equine therapy can do. Like Tyler, Timmy could not walk or talk. His parents enrolled him in equine therapy and that’s when, “he got his legs underneath of him.” I told the story of Timmy’s equine therapy experience and I saw a tear escape from under Tyler’s mom’s dark glasses.


It has been three years since Tyler has started equine therapy. During that time his core strength has become so solid that he can now sit up on the horse. He even corrects his balance without the assistance of the side walkers. He lifts his legs to go around the pony. He even high fives all of us. He walks through the grass with bare feet, something he could not tolerate until equine therapy. Today he crawls, pulls himself up, stands up, sits up from a lying position, and is interested in animals, especially the family dog. All of these behaviors were not seen until he started equine therapy.


Tyler now walks with the aid of a walker, he powers through the school hallways. The power of the horse conquered foreign lands, built ancient societies, and now the noble horse carries the weakest to fields of greatness.


Check out Tyler’s progress on Raise Your Dreams Farm Facebook. There is actually a video of him walking with his gait trainer.

Do you know anyone that has been helped by a horse?  Please tell!  I LOVE to hear your stories!



Chosen By A Horse

IMG_1678He came to me at one of the lowest times of my life. I had just broken off an engagement, was working at a horrible job, and while losing all hope, I decided to go shopping for a horse.

“Young lady this is a fine young horse,” he tipped his withered cowboy hat at me and spit into the ground, “he just needs a few calories.”

He had just pulled out of the barn a sorry horse with bones that jutted out, and it was easy to count all of his ribs.  The horse looked frail, it was as if he could break.

“Go ahead, climb on his back.  He is a good ridin’ horse.  I even have papers on him, out of the Native Dancer line,” he handed me the cracked and hardened leather reins.

Tenderly, I pulled up the girth, and gently placed the reins over the poor horse’s neck.  He stood patiently while I mounted.  His walk was fluid and free moving, his trot floated, and his canter was rhythmic and very balanced.

“Well, what do you think?” the horse dealer rocked back on his heels while plucking his hands deep into his pockets.

“I like him, how much are you asking?” I said.  The horse was almost leaning against me for support.

“I’ll take $2500, he is worth every cent,” and he tipped his hat forward creating a shadow across his face.

I hesitated.  I was a high school teacher and I barely had twenty-five dollars to my name.  My instructor grabbed my collar and pulled me close so that she could whisper something in my ear.  “Take it!  He is worth it!” she said barely containing her excitement.

My hesitation and pained expression on my face lead him to impulsively drop the price.  “Ok, bottom dollar, $1500 for you.  I know you will give him a good home, and the good Lord knows he needs one,” he patted the red bay that was now leaning against me and breathing into my neck.

“I’m not saying he is not worth the money you are asking, but I do not know if I can swing $1500 right now,” I could feel my throat tighten with emotion.  I had done nothing but dream and hope for a horse my whole life, and it was within reach and yet so far away.

“Missy, don’t give me anything!  You have three months to try him out, and if you do not like him, bring him back.  Just give me $500 every month if you like him,” he winked at me and stuck his hand out.

I grabbed his hand with both of mine.  I could not believe that this man was going to give me a gift of a life time.

“His name is Raise Your Dreams.  I will drop him off at your trainer’s home tonight.  Is that ok?”

That day changed my life.  I became the proud owner of a horse that has carried me proudly to numerous shows, Dressage tests, cross-country jumping, fox hunting, trail rides, paper chases, and countless clinics.  It was at a clinic that I was approached by a show woman and she asked me if “Dreams” was for sale.  She said she would give me ten thousand dollars that night.  I told her that dreams would never be for sale.

Today I have owned countless horses and ponies, but none will ever measure up to the horse that transformed my life from sheer hopelessness to hopefulness.  He gave me a reason to live, and I think I gave him a reason to live too.

I remember riding with an Olympic coach who was vehemently insisting that I buy a Dutch Warmblood in Europe because “dis horse, no good!”  While riding in one of his lessons he asked me to collect my horse and go into a pirouette.  It felt as if I were floating, and each footfall was so precise and accurate, that my instructor cried out.

“Jill!  Dis horse is fabulous!  He have no ability, but because he loves you, he does it!”  He shouted at me.

That day, I won the world’s greatest test.  My horse had no ability to do what was being asked, but because he loved me, he would do whatever was asked.

Have you ever been chosen by a horse?  Tell me!




He Only Seeks to Serve

IMG_2031“Miss Jill, I have something that you are going to love!” Timmy said as he practically squirmed in the passenger seat.

“Oh yeah, Timmy what is it?” I glanced over at his gleaming eyes and perfect smile.

“I’m not tellin’ until we unload the hay!” Surely his secret was almost too much for him to contain.

I had put in a full day and now I was in over time. My fifty-three year old body was slowing down to a crawl. Timmy, nineteen years old, would be perpetually six or seven in his mind. He was slowed by his cognitive ability, but his glorious body was full of vigor and strength.

By the time he was a year old, he had open-heart surgery and his life was held in the balance between life and death. His resolve to grow maintained his life. Through the help of a glorious fat pony, he not only learned to walk, run, and eventually speak.

His love of the Lord was fostered by his mom and dad. Just being around Timmy makes one understand the Lord, because he is one of the purest humans I have ever gotten to meet. Timmy seeks one thing- to serve, especially me. I met Timmy five years ago. His mom wanted him to do equine therapy at my farm.

He came to fall in love with my biggest horse- a Friesian Cross, named Brutus. It is him that has carried Timmy over his first jump and a few canter strides. Timmy feels invincible when he is on Brutus. Timmy slowly crawled into my heart. He would do anything for “Miss Jill” and for that I am truly blessed.

Tonight after doing a million lessons and teaching at my high school all day, we have just driven a half-hour to a hay distribution center, and loaded twenty-five, seventy pound bales of hay into the back of my Nissan Titan. I have crawled on the back of the bed and as each bale hits the truck bed, Timmy and I wrestle the bales into a precise grid to secure them on the back of the truck. When you pay almost seven dollars a bale, you cannot afford to lose one on the road.

Our path takes us past the local McDonalds. Timmy says, “What are you thinking, Miss Jill?”

“Naughty thoughts Timmy!” I reach over and playfully slap his shoulder.

“I think we need to stop,” he says hopefully.

“Is a milkshake calling to you, because I know it is for me,” I say.

I tentatively pull into the parking lot, driving slower than a cotton-headed old woman that can’t see above the steering wheel. I tell Timmy we cannot do the drive thru because we are too fat to fit.

He giggles and tells me that he will go in and get me whatever I want. I decide on a chocolate milkshake. I hand over a ten dollar bill.

He returns ten arduous moments later. I have learned that when Timmy goes anywhere, he cannot help but think of everyone and he feels compelled to bring them something back. There have been too many times when I send Timmy on an errand to the local feed store, to find that he has bought a chocolate bar for all of his friends at the farm, his mom, sister, brother, and a coke for his dad. Therefore, I limit the money I give him. Ten dollars will surely be enough money for him.

He comes back with a creamy chocolate shake and an oreo-something-or-other for himself. He is gleaming and so proud of himself because unbeknownst to me he has gotten me a gift.

Fortified with ice cream and chocolaty goodness we make the last stretch home. He jumps up to the top of the truck which is probably twenty-five feet above the ground and beats his chest.

“I’m the king of the hay!” he holds his arms wide.

“Ok, king of the hay, get your minions off and into the barn!” he starts laughing hysterically at this and begins to push each one to the ground. We load the bales into the barn and Timmy stands back amused at his handiwork.

We feed the horses and I notice the clock says 8:30. I have been up since 3:30 in the morning and I suddenly feel content and worn out. Timmy is sustained by thoughts of my reaction at his “gift” that is still waiting for me.

We get back into the truck and it roars to life, and this is when Timmy begins to wrestle in his pleather wallet complete with a picture of a real cowboy. He pops out what looks like a French fry wrapper. In it is a McDonalds gift card.

“It’s fifteen dollars. I just knew you would love it!” he says to me.

“Timmy, how did you get this?” he never carries money on him.

“I had twenty dollars in my wallet and decided to get this for you,” he was so pleased with himself.

“Timmy, I will treasure this forever!”

“Yup, I knew you would love it!” Content and satisfied in blessing me, he sat back in the seat and stared out the window, trying to find deer in the fields as we drove to his home.

That’s my life, full of little blessings with a guy who is only satisfied when he blesses someone else. Why do I always learn so much from him?





My home sold, now the task at hand was finding a farm, one that I could afford. I was looking in four states: Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. My dream state would be in the rolling hills of Maryland or Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until I was driving to a friend’s Bible study that God spoke to me directly. No, not an audible voice, just a “knowing” that I should only concentrate in New Jersey.

Once I arrived at my friend’s home, my heart was heavy with sadness, for the last state I wanted to live in was New Jersey. Tears welled in my eyes and the women at the Bible study surrounded me and prayed for me to have peace, and like a warm embrace I fell into the serenity that only God can give me.

My fortieth birthday was quickly approaching on June 3, and I was using this milestone as my stopping point. My realtor was a stick-thin-high-octane-quick-talking woman with bleach-blonde hair with six inch heels and a mini skirt. She was a mover and a shaker in the community and I was confident that there was a farm for me; she would be the one to find it.

With great excitement she would drive me to the middle-of-nowhere-New Jersey and we would either find a beautiful home and a ramshackle barn, or a barn that was pristine with a home that was in shambles. I had my standards and my criterion was quite daunting on a tight teacher’s budget. I wanted at least ten acres of flat clear land, great fencing, a barn, and a three bedroom home with a garage. One particular adventure we drove an hour away. She was in her standard realtor uniform of high heels, pencil skirt, jacket, and blonde hair in tight little curls that framed her beautiful face. She was newly engaged and her finger was weighted by the five carats that glistened in the sunlight as she drove her sports car. It was an unusually warm day in March and she had the top down with the heat blasting. She was full of hope, and I was holding onto the promise that God would lead me.

The farm was located on a particularly hilly part of southern New Jersey. As she drove, I read the description and combed through the pictures. This was a farm that I was desperate to see, for it exceeded my expectations. It had thirty acres, three barns, an indoor riding arena, and a four bedroom turn-of-the-century home. Once there, I noticed that the fencing was barbed wire and the owner met us in the driveway while his menacing Rottweiler growled and barked ferociously at us.

He swatted at the dog with a lead-line to get him to back away and my realtor quickly put up the windows and closed the roof of the car. The owner, a skinny cowboy type that could be thirty-five or fifty-five, his face was partially covered by a big black Stetson. Once he secured the dog, we reluctantly got out of the car. He steered us to the barns, there was discarded feed bags, hay strands littered the floor and the scent of heavy manure surrounded us like a dark shadow. My realtor began tip toeing around the mess, and it was somewhat comical to see her, for her face said it all, she hated this place.

The horses must have thought they were getting fed, and the sound of us in the barn started them to gallop down the field and into the barn. All I remember was the realtor screaming in terror, and I ran to her and pushed her against the wall to protect her from the scrambling horses. In his haste to show us the barn, the owner had never closed the barn doors. The horses saw the opening and out they flew down his driveway and across the street to a big corn field.

He started to scream at us that it was our fault and we needed to get his horses. My realtor just got into her car and grabbed her cell phone. It was just too much for her. I asked the man for lead lines and some feed, I told him that I would help him get the horses from across the street. He just glared at me and stalked away. I got into the car with my realtor and I noticed that her hands were still shaking. I drove her back to the office, and though I found the whole thing a little humorous, it was too much for her. She would never go to another farm with me. Instead she would send me listings via emails and I would drive myself to these forsaken places. None interested me and I was losing all hope that I would find a home that would hold my dream.

April had come and gone. My dream was slipping through my hands. A farm usually takes sixty days to close and my heart was breaking. So many miracles had happened in this short time period. One was my home selling without it being for sale, and this encouraged me. May first I got a phone call from my realtor, and I was reluctant to drive to the home that was listed as a contemporary farm house.

My vision for my farm was a sweeping tree-lined driveway. A yellow house, red accents, and red barns would be my choice of a home. As soon as I pulled in the driveway, I knew this home was what I had been searching for the whole time. It was situated just one mile outside of a small Victorian town with a hundred year old high school.

Once inside the home, I knew it would be mine.  It was everything I ever wanted.  An engineer bought it and was quickly transferred to Michigan and though they had only lived in it for one year, they had put up two barns and fencing.  The home exceeded my expectations it had a large office, sun-room, living, dining room, huge laundry room, an open kitchen, hardwood floors, and three bedrooms with a gorgeous master suite.  The master bathroom had a tub as big as a pool with jets to rest my tired body.  The ultimate caveat was that the bath looked out on the horse pastures. Within twenty nine days, this was my new home.  I celebrated by taking a Jacuzzi bath and looking out on my horses in the field of my first farm, Raise Your Dreams Farm.

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