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My Turn: Love of horses finally gets free rein

Brown Pony, forefront, is Laura Emert's lesson horse,

Brown Pony, forefront, is Laura Emert's lesson horse, whom she's been riding weekly since September 2019. The horse in the background is Scotty. Credit: Laura Emert

Growing up in Mineola in the 1970s, I was horse crazy. I don’t remember when it happened, but I begged my parents for riding lessons. I would look through the summer camp ads in the back of The New York Times Sunday magazine, always attracted to one for Camp Bobbin-Hollow proclaiming “If your daughter loves horses she’ll love camp Bobbin-Hollow!” I begged to be sent to this camp, which I pictured as horse nirvana. Sadly, I never made it there.

One day I was excited to be taken to the Jericho School of Horsemanship by my parents to observe a group lesson in an indoor arena. I recall kids riding in a circle with an instructor standing in the middle yelling “heads up, heels down!” I was in awe of this wonderful spectacle and hoped my parents would sign me up that very day. I was told the school was being torn down shortly for a new state roadway that would go right through it. This time, eminent domain created an unwelcome detour in my riding dreams.

My next memory is of Gray’s Saddlery, on Post Avenue in Westbury, a store with a life-size dappled-gray horse in the display window. The saleslady there helped us select tan riding jodhpurs with nice brown suede patches on each inside leg, a velvet riding helmet and tall black rubber riding boots that were a tad too big on my feet. I was then given group riding lessons at a Glen Head stable where once a week I was thrilled to learn to walk, trot, canter and jump a horse over cavaletti (small, low jumps). After two sets of group lessons, I participated in the horse show where I was completely astonished to win second place out of almost 10 riders in the walk-trot group. I thought maybe, just maybe, I had some talent for what I loved more than anything. After winning that second-place ribbon — one of the proudest moments in my life — my horse world came to a screeching “whoa!”

I tried on my own to resuscitate my connection to horses, writing a letter to Mr. George Morton Levy, founder and president of Roosevelt Raceway (the former harness-racing track) to ask if I could help with the horses in Westbury. I received a reply and was assigned to a barn to help groom horses. A few men working at the barn the day I arrived chuckled because I was so short I could barely reach the horse's withers. The same horse also stepped on my foot; but hey, I was excited to be there. After my first day, my mother informed me she would not drive me back and forth to the track. My horse connection was again severed.

As a high school senior I had an unexpected palm-reading session from an Indian gentleman wearing a turban who on Saturdays manned the front door at the Manhattan School of Music, where I was a Classical piano student in the pre-college music program. I had heard rumors from other students that the man read palms, so I asked him to read mine. Observing my open palm, he told me among other things, that in past lives I had been a man in China, a man in Russia and a horse! This is still perfect validation of my soul’s connection to horses. (I am still trying to figure out the Russia and China thing, though I do like borscht and Chinese food!)

Fast forward to 2019. After getting married, raising two children through high school and college, then sitting on my bum watching television every night after work for far too long, I decided to explore riding lessons again. I found a barn in Manorville that was exactly what I was looking for. Though I’m no longer a child, I am aiming to compete again, enjoy the competition experience and try for more ribbons. I have found several inspiring role models, including the horsewomen (older than me!) who are still competing professionally. Even more so, I am inspired by the woman who owns the barn because she is so willing to share her knowledge with me and others who love these beautiful animals and the art of riding. And though he doesn’t ride, my husband is my hero for graciously giving me free rein to trot ahead however I choose.

Laura Emert,

East Setauket

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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