I remember as a second grader walking the two blocks necessary to get to my school, Village Elementary, in Santa Rosa. Of course this was back in the day when it was perfectly ok for kids to walk alone to school, but I was not alone. As soon as I left my house my youthful imagination and wishful thinking transplanted me off of my well traveled main street and onto the dusty trail that I called home. Here I would become one with my gallant steed as we effortlessly galloped our way to school. I could actually feel the wind in my hair and the gentle sway of my horse as he carried me, oh so proudly to my destination. Upon arriving I would gracefully dismount as all of my fellow classmates looked on in awe and amazement. At the tender age of seven I already had the heart and soul for my equine soul mates. In reality, Annie Oakley I wasn’t, skinny Linney, I was. An appropriate nickname as I was always hungry, hungry for horses that is.
I often had trouble distinguishing between my real world, and the one I spent the majority of my life in; the one that incorporated my four-legged fantasies. It was at one of the later moments that I distinctly remember announcing to my entire class that I lived on a horse ranch. As if that wasn’t enough, I proceeded to invite my entire second grade class out to my ranch to go horseback riding. Imagine my parents surprise when later that evening the phone calls started coming in requesting the address and directions to our ranch. My fantasy soon turned to fallacy as my exasperated parents repeatedly repeated to the masses that there was no ranch, no horses, and that the only thing in our back yard was a dog. Though forced by my parents to momentarily dismount from my non-existent high horse, I was not deterred. I would have my ranch someday and my horses. They would all see what I saw everyday; and it wouldn’t be a fantasy.
The very next year, at the ripe old age of eight I found my way up to Howarth Park. There, I quickly discovered, was a pony corral filled with ponies for kids, such as myself to ride. And there I would stay, becoming a dedicated volunteer at Howarth Park’s pony corral, spending entire summers there until I turned twelve. Eventually my father would succumb to my incessant pleas to buy me my very own horse, despite the fact that we still lived smack in the middle of suburbia USA. However, boarding my horse at a local barn would allow me to become a participating member of a very elite club, the girls with horses club. How lucky was I? As such, we would regularly cruise the streets of Santa Rosa, thinking nothing of tethering our horses to the numerous plum and walnut trees that dotted our neighborhoods so that we couldsnack on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before setting off on yet another equine adventure.
As it often does, reality soon caught up and my days as a modern day Pipi Longstocking eventually came to an end. As a less than stellar student with a hunger only for horses, I trailed far behind my fellow classmates in the learning game. Barely making it out of high school I pondered any real possibility I might have of actually being paid to pursue my passion that was horses. Lacking in any formal training, and realizing that riding bareback through the streets of Santa Rosa wasn’t really considered a skill in most job markets, I enrolled as a student at SRJC in the equine science program. Though still hungry for the horse scene, I was by now a single parent with two small children both struggling and juggling my wants with needs to survive. What would I do? What could I do?
The answer to that question lay in my fondest childhood memories. I would do pony rides for children. The very next day I walked myself into Exchange Bank in Montgomery Village and sat down with long time, but since retired bank manager, Rudy Seidler. For reasons still unbeknownst to me, Rudy liked my idea and agreed to provide me with the financial backing necessary to launch my new business venture, appropriately titled The Pony Express. I bought my first two ponies, fitted a flat bed one ton 1980 Ford truck with paneled sides tall enough to safely haul ponies in, and talked my parents into allowing me to board my new four legged venture on land that they had recently acquired. I was off to the pony ride races.
Very shortly thereafter, I obtained the city contract that would allow me to provide not only pony rides, but riding lessons and pony camps at my old stomping ground, Howarth Park. My two pony herd grew as I continued to acquire more work at local fairs, downtown markets, as well as birthday parties and company functions too numerous to mention. In fact business was so good; I was forced to drop out of school so as to focus all of my energies on expanding my equine enterprise. However, my hard work paid off as I was eventually able to purchase my very own ranch that to this day my herd and I still call home.
I also eventually found my way back to school to finish what I started literally decades ago at SRJC. I completed my Master’s in Education at Sonoma State University and had the opportunity to spend ten years teaching in the SRJC Equine Program; a journey that would take me full circle back to my humblest beginnings as a less than stellar student with a passion only for horses. My once for profit equine enterprise evolved as well into a non-profit so as to more adequately meet the needs of both kids and horses in need. As someone lucky enough to be celebrating over three decades oflife andlove for all things equine, all I can say is somewhere between Annie Oakley and Pipi Longstocking here lies me, Skinny Linney, still hungry and still horsing around.