I was 13. And 1983 had been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me. After years of reading Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka, I was oh so so close to buying a horse that spring.

My parents owned a farm in Wooster, Ohio. And we had a 12-stall horse barn that we rented out. One of our tenants was behind in paying her rent and she had a yearling Morgan named Buck that I had just fallen in love with. When the tenant came over, I would drop everything and head out to the barn to help her brush him. To settle the bill, my dad asked if she would be willing to give him the horse plus a $500 payment. In return, my dad made a deal with me that I would pay him back the $500 for the privilege of calling Buck my own.

He was handsome. Sassy. And we just clicked. I wanted him to stay in my life so badly that not having him just made my heart hurt. He had to be mine. It was fate. All I needed to do was come up with the money. So I made a budget. Set goals for myself. And looked for jobs.

That’s where my work career began. To come up with the cash I picked strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. I babysat the neighborhood kids and sold my bike to the neighbor down the road. After all, what would I need with a bike for when I had a horse to ride? For months, I went to visit Buck. He was still too small to ride. He would need to be trained. I would eventually need to buy a saddle and bridle. But in the meantime, I also needed feed, blankets, a curry comb, brush, and hoof pick.

He was my motivation. I just couldn’t let that woman have him. And I set out to make that happen.

So I suffered the heat, had pink knees for months as I picked strawberries, and changed my share of diapers willingly. When I came home my arms were scratched up and bloody from picking the raspberries. But I had a chart on my wall and ticked off the numbers when I handed my dad my checks. After three months, I had raised the money I needed.

I was beyond happy. But when we went to register Buck with the American Morgan Horse Association, the previous owner told us the woman who rented from us had not paid him in full and he was actually the rightful owner of Buck if I didn’t pay him $300 to settle the bill.

Heartbroken, I wasn’t sure how I would come up with more money because the picking season was almost over and my babysitting job was  only for the summer. But my dad told me he could help, if I paid him back. So it was back to the fields and the babysitting I went and I worked very long hours. Eventually, I paid him back. And Buck was registered and all mine.

But by fall, the job market for a 13-year-old had dried up. And I had nothing but a brush and a hoof pick.

So by Christmas morning of 1983, my mom and dad honored my hard work. They bought me all of the equipment I needed. Under the tree I had brushes, feed buckets, picks, a lunge line… everything. As I opened each present, I was shocked. I cried. I was so grateful. It had been years since I had believed in Santa. But I realized that Christmas how much my parents supported my dream of being a horse owner.

Looking back, I realized the power of having a dream, goals, a plan for success, and showing up to do the work to make that dream a reality. In short… that whole year was the best present ever. And I had Buck for several years. A friend in 4-H helped me train him. We were good together — it was fate, but it was also a lot of hard work.

What’s your favorite Christmas?

Love what we do?

In addition to our education features, we’ll be kicking off a series of stories highlighting how parents, students, and educators are adapting to the impact of COVID-19 on education. If this is important to you, please consider donating to our education reporting fund. https://business.facebook.com/donate/1846323118855149/3262802717172659/

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.