I received an email just over a month ago with an announcement for a memorial service for my first horse trainer. After the initial shock that she had passed on – she was in her late 60’s, I made plans to attend the service. I hadn’t seen Jan in over 20 years but she made a huge impact on my life, one that I never had the chance to thank her for.
My parents really had no clue what to do when we acquired our first horses. They were city folk that moved to the country to raise their kids. Luckily we had good neighbors that bred Quarter Horses. After being entertained by our beginner antics they would often lean over the fence and give us advice. I was on my second pony when the neighbors suggested that I start taking lessons with Jan Perry – the lady that had a barn down the street. They had watched me get bucked off my first pony time and time again and didn’t want to see the pattern repeated. I was only 8 years old at the time but I will never forget what a big deal it was to get to ride with Jan. The neighbors told me that I would have to mind my Ps and Qs while on Jan’s property. My pony would have to arrive brushed and my tack had to be clean and I was to listen to Jan and do what she said. Most of all I was not to embarrass then since they had put in the good word.
Jan was recently divorced when I started riding with her and was running a full care boarding facility and training barn on her own. She also drove a big dually truck, she was by far the coolest woman that 8 year old me had ever met! She had breed and shown Appaloosa’s with her ex-husband, the tack room walls were plastered in ribbons, plaques and trophies. Jan was a stickler for equitation and good horsemanship. She was in no hurry to teach me to jump but made me ride in two point forever in order to strengthen my legs and seat. She took me to my first horse shows at the saddle club; I still have the ribbons I won in the walk jog classes on my pony. Jan ran a tight ship and I always knew I had to follow the rules when I was with her. I had to ride by her place on my way to the saddle club and she made it clear that if she ever caught me trotting or cantering my pony on the road that she wouldn’t teach me anymore. Jan taught me to put my horse first which meant skipping out on more than one ride with the girls down the street who liked to run their horses on the road.
I was given the opportunity to share my stories of Jan at her memorial service. I only rode with her for a few years; she wasn’t able to keep the farm afloat on her own so she went to work for Washington State Ferries and eventually sold the farm. She walked away from the horse world and moved onto the next chapter of her life. I was blown away at the service hearing about all the different pursuits in her life and all the people she inspired along the way. After the service I was approached by her family and asked if I would come take a look at the horse related items she left behind. She had held on to 4 trunks of select items but rarely spoke of her time as a horse trainer. I finally made the trip out yesterday to pick up the tack.
It is amazing to see what one holds onto when they walk away from horses. There are quality bridles, reins, romels, halters and a few bits. My plan is to hold on to a few select pieces and donate the rest to a horse related nonprofit. I have no interest in making money off of Jan’s possessions; instead I want to find a way to honor her legacy through them. The pieces that I am keeping are the show halters and head stalls all of which need a good polishing. The silver has turned black and I’m hoping I can bring it back. I have Jan’s show saddle which I am unable to part with. If it doesn’t fit my horse I plan to hold onto it as a show piece. The custom saddle is also in need of a good polish, but I am just in awe of the quality of it. Clearly this was something she treasured. The timing of this is interesting as I am in the process of making some changes in my personal life and wasn’t looking to acquire more stuff. What it has done is to cause me to reflect on the quality of my life and how I want to live each day. What legacy do I want to leave behind to those 8 year old little girls that might look up to me?