Essay: Generations of the Horse Gene

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Author Heidi LaPoint, her grandfather, great-great-grandmother, and sister.

Mom reached for the camera, knowing the moment would one day be worth a thousand words.

She was right. For more than twenty years, it has been tucked safely in our family album, keeping the past alive each time it is visited.

As I look at the photo, five generations of memories flood my mind. Grandpa’s bay Quarter horse, Sheik, stood patiently harnessed to the newest addition to his horse-drawn vehicles. Over the years, Grandpa had quite the collection, from his homemade carts and the sleighs he used for town parades, to this Amish wagon someone recommended he buy. As with most things he bought, it became a project. He repainted the wheels, making them red to offset the black body and match the red leather seats. Once it was finished, it was a conversation piece that sat beautifully in the yard when it wasn’t being pulled around our small historic mining town.

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“Horse-drawn vehicles on Main Street, Mackinac Island, Michigan”, 1890-1910
(Photo: Library of Congress; Reproduction #:LC-USZ62-89691)

I remember riding in the wagon the day the photo was taken. My sister and I felt like royalty as we waved to everyone who watched us go by. We were in the back seat, and my great-great-grandmother sat in the front next to Grandpa. The look on her face said it all as she sat proudly next to her grandson.

Born in 1905, just three years before Henry Ford built the famed Model T, Grandma Begor was no stranger to horse-drawn vehicles. I later learned that the ride reminded her of her childhood. She grew up in a time when horses were used as a means of transportation and vehicles were used by only those who could afford them. Stories about traveling during harsh winters and attending the county fair were passed down through my family. She always talked about how they brought extra blankets to keep warm on their commute to the schoolhouse and how the highlight of the fair was being pulled by a team of eight horses in a wagon that was big enough to hold her and her seventeen siblings. A crucial part of her life was spent around horses because that was the way of life. For her, this ride was more than just a ride around our small town. It was a trip down memory lane, and, at 90 years old, it was one of the last rides she would ever have.

“She grew up in a time when horses were used as a means of transportation and vehicles were used by only those who could afford them…that was the way of life.”

For me, this ride created a memory I will cherish forever, one that not many people are lucky enough to experience. It was the beginning of the many horse adventures that Grandpa would take me on, and, at four years old, it was fuel for the passion setting my horse-crazy world on fire.

Grandpa has always been my connection to the horse world. Just like his parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles who used horses for work and transportation, he, too, inherited the horse gene. He says he was the first in his family to want to learn how to ride after years of being around draft horses. His father recognized his curiosity and encouraged him to sell one of their cows to buy his first horse, which he later named Charlie.

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“Family shown in horse-drawn wagon in farm scene, northwestern part of Custer County, Nebraska.” Solomon D. Butcher, 1889
(Photo: Library of Congress; Reproduction #:RG2608.PH:000000-003219)

Owning Charlie made him into a lifelong horseman. To this day, he still wears his cowboy hat and boots everywhere he goes. Being a horseman is a part of who he is, and everyone who sees him can tell. Even after twenty years, I can still see the passion in his eyes as he carefully polishes his boots after a hard day’s work around the pasture, and the way he hangs his hats around the house, almost as if they are on display.

After my grandfather, the gene stayed alive for two more generations and eventually planted itself in me. He has taught me everything I know about horses and has inspired me to never pass up an opportunity to be around them. When I was younger, I would spend hours in the barn, helping him with chores as he taught me about horses, and I would accompany him during his trips to get grain and hay, where our first stop would be the town store for candy or ice cream. Although I would never come home empty handed, it was his ways of keeping the generations alive that kept me going back. I would climb eagerly into his pickup truck where he would sing along to Marty Robbins, Hank Williams, and other country classics of his younger days that were playing on the cassette, and he would tell me about the family members I never got to meet.

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“Drive through the oaks, Hope Ranch, Santa Barbara, California.” Detroit Publishing Co., 1911
(Photo: Library of Congress; Reproduction #:LC-USZ62-64850)

Like Grandpa, I had an interest in learning how to ride. From the first time I sat on my rocking Palomino, I knew I would have a lifelong desire for more. Grandpa saw it, too, and he was there to guide me on my first solo horseback adventure on my Shetland, Trigger, who was passed down from older cousins. Although I came back with tears in my eyes and scrapes on my arms, the desire grew stronger. Some of the best memories of my childhood were on the backs of Grandpa’s horses, riding alongside him down the dirt roads of our peaceful small town.

Our love for horses bonded us, as it does all horse people. That’s why I hold the memory in the photo so close to my heart. We were all connected, not only to the ones who shared that moment, but to the generations before us and to the ones who will follow.

One day, I will be in Grandpa’s seat, returning the favor to my grandchildren. I will sing songs by George Strait, Garth Brooks, and other country stars from my childhood who will be the new generation of classics. I will tell them about the good ole days growing up around horses and pass on the knowledge I have gained throughout my lifetime. Maybe they will be as lucky as I was and Grandpa will be there, too.

Image Credits:
Cover: “3 people in horse-drawn carriage”, Curtis Publishing Co., 1903, Library of Congress, Reproduction #:LC-USZ62-70863
Full-Width Photo:“Katharine Wright, Harriet Silliman, and Agnes Osborne in horse-drawn carriage across from Wright home”, Wilbur & Orville Wright, 1897, Library of Congress, Reproduction #:LC-DIG-ppprs-00496


About the Author

Heidi LaPoint is a horse enthusiast who has loved horses from the moment she sat on her rocking horse at age two. She has a passion for writing, especially about the horse industry and western lifestyle. A few of her favorite things include cowboy boots, country music, and her cat, Foxie.