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Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 5-16-11

Shelli Mader
Hays, Kan.

“Dad, I want a horse!” While I was growing up, my poor father heard that phrase more times than he or I care to remember. I used those words as a bargaining tool, a plea, a guilt trip and a way to fill the number one spot on my Christmas list each year. I took the term horse crazy to a whole new level. I decorated my room with all things horse. My mom bought me a subscription to Western Horseman and I spent hours pouring over the articles, daydreaming. I am embarrassed to admit I even played horse show and rodeo with my Breyer horses until I was about 12.

My affection for horses didn’t go unnoticed by my parents. They humored me by getting me clothes and books with horses on them and taking me to watch rodeos. My dad even bit the bullet one year and took the family to stay a night in South Dakota at a bed and breakfast that offered trail rides. It was a thrill for me and my younger sister and brothers to ride those painfully slow horses for a half hour.

My parents weren’t totally against me having a horse, but up until I was 10-years-old they didn’t really have a place to put one. But in 1991, when my parents did move to a bigger place with corrals close to the house, I doubled my I-want-a-horse efforts.

My dad had a lot of valid reasons for not getting a horse. One of his favorites was that we didn’t need one (darn all those flat, treeless Eastern Colorado pastures we had). My dad, a self-proclaimed 4-wheeler cowboy, constantly reminded me of how quickly he could get the cows checked with his ATV and how much time it took to saddle, unsaddle and feed a horse.

My dad also liked to tell me how expensive horses were, how much they chased cows and calves and how dangerous they were for kids who didn’t grown up around them. But, like any stubborn girl, I still really wanted a horse.

I used to dream about what it would be like when I got my first horse. I was sure that one day my dad would take one of those carefully selected want ads I handed him, agree it was a good deal and buy the horse.Or I thought perhaps he would finally go to one of those cow horse sales I circled in the paper. But the day I actually did get a horse was nothing like I imagined – it was a shock to the whole family – even my mom.

We were at an auction in Hudson, Colo., in the spring of 1996. The whole family went to the sale to look at a crowding pen and some cows. There happened to be about 10 registered quarter horses for sale that day too. For some reason we sat and watched them being ridden and auctioned off. I thought one of the prettiest horses there was an 18-year-old palomino gelding. After he sold, I was surprised when my mom asked me what I thought about my new horse. I hadn’t even realized my dad was bidding on him. At that moment I wasn’t even excited – just shocked that my dream was finally coming true.

My brothers, sister and I spent hours brushing our horse that night. His registered name was Twleve Pack, but my parents made us come up with a more appropriate name. My dad called him One Foot (as in one foot in the grave) but the rest of us called him Dandy after a horse named Dan my grandpa had when he was a kid.

Though Dandy was old, he was definitely the perfect horse for inexperienced kids. He had a smooth gait, would ground tie and never left us when we fell off. I showed him in 4-H, took him to Rodeo Bible camp and entered him in gymkhanas and rodeos.

During my high school and college years my parents did get a few more horses (my dad would never admit he kind of liked them) and I even got to try out another sport I’d always wanted to – team penning. Dandy lived until he was almost 30.

These days, I often feel like a kid again, wanting a horse. But I am a parent now, with all the reasons why we can’t have a horse. Life has definitely come full circle. I have a horse crazy 5-year-old girl (oops … I shouldn’t have gotten her all those pony onesies and decorated her room with horse pictures). Now my husband and I are the ones who get to hear, “I want a horse!”


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