Blowing Up Our Barn, For the Sake of the Horses, and My Daughter
Updated: Apr 17
A note from Parker
December 6, 2019
He lunged at my face with his teeth. Duff? What has happened to you? I asked out loud. I was in my barn, walking past a horse I owned, and he wanted to kill me.
This was five years ago. Duff wasn't my only angry horse. I had a barn full of them. I knew I had to make big, hard changes.
After years of dealing with Cash's mental illness and its fallout, I had already closed the show barn. Cashlyn and I were surviving on our riding academy. But others had been running it. I had leased stalls to one of our riding instructors who started her own training barn out of CLS. Her horses were angry and hurting too. I couldn't help those poor creatures. But I was determined to help mine -- and to show Cashlyn a better way.
For more than three years, I had been slowly confronting my truth. My riding program was a sham. It was huge, we took 30-plus academy kids to horse shows, and we won lots. To many, Cash Lovell Stables looked successful. But I knew better. Our kids could pose. But they couldn't feel a horse and ride. My horses were overused. Our saddles were ill-fitted and full of broken trees. Every time I tried to make changes, I was shot down. My staff wanted me to be what I had always been when Cash was healthy: the rainmaker who brought all those potential riders and horse buyers through the doors at Cash Lovell Stables. My role was supposed to stop there. After all, for so many years, my role had stopped there.
Our motto has long been "Horses Raise Great Kids." But at Cash Lovell Stables at that time, they weren't. I reached my breaking point in September 2014 when I walked into our standing stalls and found a $2,800 saddle on the ground. When I asked the child who owned the saddle to pick it up, she deadpanned: "That's what we pay you for."
Gone. The next day, I "blew up" Cash Lovell Stables. They were all gone. The instructors. Most of the students. KABOOM. I was done. And our sea change began.
Six months later, in May 2015, Cash died leaving Cashlyn and me with a mountain of debt and virtually no money. Frontal Temporal Dementia (FTD) robs its victims of their ability to tell right from wrong or good from bad. The part of the brain that makes us "human" -- able to love, able to feel, able to empathize -- literally disappears. For more than 10 years, Cash had looked normal. But he progressively became a mad man. Images of his brain looked like Swiss cheese. He had the self control of a six-year-old child. His diseased brain had decimated our family and our world.
I considered selling everything and closing the barn. Cashlyn wouldn't hear of it. She is fierce. I remember an evening with her. We were both exhausted and pushing through the nightly barn chores. I heard tears in her voice. She rarely cries. "Mary learned from my Daddy, and I never got the chance, and it's not fair!" Indeed. Life isn't fair. I held her on the bench in the barn aisle, and we sobbed. Then we sobbed some more.
That's about the time a young filmmaker approached us. Megan Orr asked if she could tell our story. We agreed. Watching it now makes me smile. Cashlyn was so little. I was so fat. We were so broken. But we were determined. (We still are!) Below is a link to the film, Pee Wee Lovell. The film earned the award for the Best Human Interest Documentary in 2017 from the EQUUS Film Festival.
Cashlyn is now 17. All she wants to study is a horse. Thanks to our dearest friends who've helped to keep her in a private school, she is able to study English, Math and show horses, trick riding, barrel racing and all things horse. I hope her path leads to college, and through the barns of some of the greats of our industry who have offered her internships. She was 6 years old when dementia stole her Daddy -- and our business. She's struggled beside me, figuring out how to make a living with horses on our own. I've made some whopping mistakes. I've tried to learn from them. I will make many more. I will try to learn from them.
A few wonderful people from different parts of the the horse world have reached out to help Cashlyn and me. Among them are Steve and Julia Joyce, Ellen and Molly Beard, Hannah Sette, Peter and Kim Cowart, Ray and Nancy Hawley, Kathryn Rodosky Taylor, Smith and Alexandra Lilly, Madison MacDonald Thomas and Keegan Thomas, Mike Brannon, Sharon Anderson, Dr. Scott Bennett, Sandy Siegrist, "Frosty" Beukes, Tim Roesink, Shelley Fisher, Owen Binnie, Scot Hansen, Gene Naples, Burt and Miriam Honaker, Kathleen Lynch, Chilango Hernandez, Beto Mora and many others whose names will come to me after I hit the SEND button. Ugh.
Our family and dear friends continue to surround us with love, and they help pay our bills when we can't. "Please Mama," I said to my mother after the blow up. "We can do this a better way. Please just believe in us." She did. She continues to.
The hardest lesson I've learned is to listen to my gut -- and then act on it. Listening isn't enough. When my gut curdles, indicating something or someone is wrong for us, now I act. It's not easy. Sea change never is.
Thank you for reading. Horses Raise Great Kids, and Inspire All. Godspeed.