First order of business: Find a place to ride.
My parents knew that we girls would be happier when spending significant time on horseback. The first place they found for us to ride on Oahu required a picturesque 40 minute drive from our school in Wahiawa. Situated on the windy, cliff-filled, totally green north shore of Hawaii, Mokuleia, Crowbar Ranch wasn't where Olympians trained. But there were plenty of horses and a gang of young girls like me and my sister with endless hours and extra love, ready to pour ourselves into any underloved steed.
The majority of horses at Crowbar Ranch were kept in two large back paddocks, thick with trees and bushes and muddy parts. Factor in 20-30 minutes just getting your horse, because finding them in that place was an adventure in itself. One time, one of the four attendees at my recent birthday party, Kristin, who had a knack for laughing so hard she peed in her pants, did just that--she laughed so hard she peed in her pants while we searched for our horses. I suggested, still giggling myself, that she sit in the mud so that when we returned with our horses it'd look like she just slipped and fell in mud. Unfortunately the ring of liquid was larger than the ring of mud, but that made us laugh even harder.
Near the riding arenas was a huge, tall mango tree straight out of someone's imagination. It was enormous and seemed to bear fruit constantly. We kids would scamper right up it like monkeys, picking the ripe mangoes and carrying them down to the low branches. I'd toss them down to my fellow horsey friends, and we'd carefully peel them and eat some ourselves, then feed some to our horses, being careful not to feed them the seed (we heard it was poisonous, whether that was true or not I'm not sure). They'd slop up some of the sweet fruit just as messily as we did; our hands and their muzzles would be sticky and slimy, and smiles were on all of our faces.
The best things about Crowbar didn't involve quality instruction, though we got a little of that. The best things involved water. After a lesson or whenever we had even more extra time, we could ride down the entrance road of Crowbar, carefully cross the two-lane road where cars whizzed by (and once hit and, sadly, killed the vaulters' reliable, old gelding who got out of his paddock one night), and head to the beach. We'd ride bareback, of course, and walk our horses along the shoreline, appreciative but not fully understanding how lucky we were to be doing this on no particular day, not a long-saved-for vacation. The waves lapped our horses' feet and stole their hoofprints behind us as we walked along the windy beach and breathed in the salty air.
But Crowbar's always-warm pond was my favorite place. This pond was part of the cross-country course at which I'd have a spectacular fall just a few years later, where my horse flipped over me dramatically as we competed together. But this first year, I was just warming up in the Hawaii riding scene, and serious eventing was still a year off. In the first year, after riding we'd change into bathing suits and ride our horses bareback to the pond, sometimes with just a halter, which meant we'd simply hope they'd listen to our tugs and squeezes as we directed them to the swimming hole. Kula, one of the horses I rode during that year, would simply stand in the water, chest-deep for her. I'd give her and myself a mud bath and lie on top of her with my head on her rump, legs crossed on her sturdy neck. Good old Kula would just stand there. I'd climb up on her back and make my way to her broad rump and jump off into the water. Then, I'd do it all again.
Days at Crowbar were wonderful, lazy days. Wearing a watch was pointless. If my sister and I had anyplace to go, we forgot about it while we paddled around our horses. Time seemed to look at us and grant us whatever we wanted, pausing so we could soak up these easy, lazy days full of salty air and sweet mangoes and the magic that happens when a girl meets a horse.