DIANE MAKAR MURPHY This family knows: It's good to horse around
Heidi Bokry loves horses.
"Nothing is more beautiful than letting the horses out of the barn in the middle of winter. And the snow is glistening. And they run out and lay in it and do snow angels!"
And it's so cold, the water is frozen in the bucket and snow pants accompany her on trail rides. But then, that's love.
The Bokrys live in Austintown, where Heidi drives a school bus, and her two children play with their black Lab, barn cat and three kittens -- and care about horses. They, and her husband, Steve, have come to share Heidi's passion.
"I could ride before I could walk," she said. "I showed as a child in 4-H. I stopped when I married and had kids, putting it on a back burner." But now, she and her daughter Victoria compete in horse shows, and Steve and son Stephen, 10, enjoy riding.
"My husband was never into horses at all," Heidi said. "We thought we'd get a pony for Victoria. Then, I got a horse. Then, he thought it looked fun and got one for himself." Soon, they started boarding horses, expanded from a three- to a nine-stall barn and have plans to put in an arena.
Looking ahead: And Victoria, 12, has pegged her future on horses, with plans to be a large animal veterinarian or trainer and stable owner. Like her mom, she competes regularly.
"I like horse showing very much. I grew up with them," Victoria said.
Heidi added, "It's a lot of work. She does Western, English and Showmanship classes. She has to bathe her pony, make sure the tail is up and braided, mane banded [parted and ponytailed], hooves clean and coated." And she must ensure her pony can follow the set pattern for each competition -- walking, trotting, backing up, turning, as required by the judges, Heidi explained.
"It's 50/50," Victoria said. "Half on the horse and half on me."
Victoria, who is already 5 feet 7 inches tall, is looking for another mount. Quincy, her pony, at 14.2 hands high is getting too small for the seventh-grader. Plus, Victoria wants to begin jumping and compete in a Hunter class, which focuses more on ability than appearance.
Both Heidi and Victoria train their horses, sometimes using outside help. "I train about three hours a day," Victoria said.
"That's time spent with the pony," Heidi said. "It might just be sitting there, but she's with him, feeding him, cleaning his stall, watering him. Practicing. And we go trail riding. Tons of riding."
While "all kinds of people show at all kinds of horse shows," it's not an inexpensive sport. Caring for the horses, paying fees, about $4 per class, sometimes totaling $30 to $40 per horse show, and regaling the riders adds up.
"The custom made clothes, boots ..." Victoria said. "If you want to win, you have to care about those things."
"And you have to have a horse trailer and someplace to put it," Heidi added. "And the horse has to be shoed. It's expensive, but I know where my kid is."
Pay back classes, where fees are higher and winners share the proceeds, sometimes provide fairly big prizes. And winning horses can be used to bring in money breeding.
Rich returns: But the rewards go beyond money. "[Victoria's] learned to be responsible. And she's gained patience. There is a lot of waiting between classes," Heidi said. "And the fine-tuning she has to do, the attention to details. It's showing up elsewhere in her life."
"It's also fun. It's a mother and daughter thing. We go to shows together, and we have time to talk."
As Victoria and Heidi search for a Hunt seat horse, Quincy is nursing a sore foot. So, for now, Victoria is grounded. "I'm a little disappointed I won't be competing at the Canfield Fair," she said.
Heidi has to weather her own disappointment. "I discovered I had a fractured vertebrae. No riding for a couple of months," she said. "It's breaking my heart."