OTTUMWA — After helping 92-year-old Mildred Burkhiser onto the horse, the Kaiser family stayed protectively close. They needn’t have bothered.
Mildred took the reins and with them, control of the horse. If you’re wondering how long you’ll remember how to ride a horse, the answer is, at least 50 years. That’s about how long it’s been since the former substitute school teacher had ridden.
“I learned to ride on (a) Shetland pony,” she said Monday while the Kaisers, family friends of Mildred’s daughter, prepped the horse for a special birthday ride.
Mildred, who turned 92 on Sunday, says that while Shetlands may look cute, the sweetness ended at their appearance: “They’re a hard horse to ride. They were ornery!”
But in 1929, around the age of 8, she learned to ride and then moved up to the big work horses around the farm. When she became a school teacher in various one-room school houses in Appanoose County, her riding skills came in handy.
She did have access to a car, a Ford Model A, she said, but she usually went to school on horseback.
“The roads were so muddy,” she said. “Sometimes, the only way to get [to the school] was by horse.”
She’d told her daughter, Brenda Jeffers, stories of her rides as a child and later as an adult. One steed, a former race horse, decided on the way home that he was going to show off a little. Nothing the teacher did would convince him to stop, so she just held on.
The idea occurred to Jeffers that it would be nice for her mom to get back on a horse. She contacted a friend she had known since they were in 4-H together, Karen Kaiser. Karen’s daughter Ashley had the perfect horse, they decided.