Life Comes Full Circle
by Pam McAfee
“How did you get into horses?” This is a question I am often asked. I think many horse people get the same question as well. Usually it is a place or a person or a passion that sends us down this horse crazy road. Some folks grow up next to a horse farm. Some people have a friend with a horse, and some have an instinctual curiosity about horses. For me it was a person that sparked my love of horses.
My Uncle Bob was a horse person and having no children of his own he was eager to get me around horses at an early age. He was exposed to horses because his grandfather, (my great grandfather) had been a fireman and groom way back when horses pulled the fire wagon through the streets of Portland Maine. As a child growing up on a military base during WW II. Bob and his friends came across an unexploded grenade. Boys being boys, the set it off and my uncle was left with mild injuries and scars. The army offered the families apologies and a monetary settlement. My uncle was told he could use the money for whatever he wanted. He wanted a pony. That was Bob’s first pony of many over the years. He rode all over the world as the family was stationed around the globe. Once adulthood took over, he grew too tall for his dream of being a steeplechase jockey and wound up owning racehorses. As a young girl he would take me to the training farms in Maryland and to the races to see his horses.
Eventually around age seven I convinced my parents to let me try horseback riding. (Uncle Bob was thrilled.) I can still remember the day my mom brought me to a local stable in Montgomery County Maryland just to be there and see the horses up close and smell the manure and swat the flies. She wanted to be sure I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of barn life before committing to ride. To me the smell and the flies meant nothing next to the friendly ponies carrying children like myself around the arena.
That summer I went to an overnight horse camp in Leesburg, Virginia. It was there at Montresor Camp that I first sat on a horse and fell in love. Each summer for years to come I would return to immerse myself in barn life at Montresor. Back home during the school year, I could ride for one hour once a week at a lesson barn, but that paled in comparison to those summer days of waking at dawn and feeding and mucking and grooming and riding and all the joy that horse camp encompassed.
Life happens, and kids outgrow summer camp. I attended University of Maryland where I was able to be part of the riding club while earning my degree in business. I worked at a summer camp in Maine as a counselor once school was out sharing my love of horses with a new generation of horse crazy kids. After a brief stint in the corporate world I have since been fortunate enough to earn a living riding and teaching and training horses. In the late 1990’s I had two mares I was competing in dressage. One of them, Dancer, was a horse of Uncle Bob’s who was done racing and looking for her next career. I was boarding at a facility in Fairfax county, and my husband proclaimed that with what we are paying in board plus our mortgage we might as well own our own farm. Looking back, I know he was merely complaining about the cost of my horses, but I took the opening and ran with it. Soon enough we were scanning the real estate listings regularly. We looked for months, and then a piece of land came up for sale on Montresor Road. Wouldn’t you know it, my old camp had been sold and subdivided and land parcels were now up for sale. We met the realtor that evening and I was transported back in time standing in the field at Montresor.
That same day over twenty years ago, we put down a deposit on ten acres of land and went on to build a home and a barn right where my love of horses was born. We moved Dancer and my other mare out to the new farm that spring. Now and nearly every day since then I wake up and feed and muck and groom and ride my horses here on Montresor Road with the old red topped camp buildings still in view and the sounds and smells of my childhood filling each day. Life is good and it has come full circle.