Horses provide unique experience for daughters and family

John Oncken

Over the several decades of penning this column, I have written about my son John and his large John Deere agricultural dealership in North Dakota. But my two daughters, Lynne and Laurel, both who now live in California often ask me why don't you ever write about us?

My answer is simple: John runs a business that impacts hundreds of farming people, They have different types of involvement in agriculture.

Five great years

Then I thought of the five years when our daughters provided a great family fun time – showing horses at Open Pleasure Horse shows around southern Wisconsin.

Yes, we owned a horse, actually two horses at different times. The first I bought at the ABS auction (where I worked as advertising manager) where they were selling the offspring of the artificial insemination research they were doing. We housed the young horse (named Billy) in a vacant barn on the housing development where we lived and the girls took care of him full time.

As the horse got older, we noticed he often stumbled while working out on a lunge line. Dr. Larson, a top ABS veterinarian, came out to inspect Billy and concluded he had a disease called wobbler syndrome and would never be rideable and that we should sell him. Which we did.

If you've never taken a horse from two teenage horse- loving girls you have an experience coming including lots of crying and sorrow. So what must I do? Get another horse, of course! Which I did from a classified ad in the newspaper.

“Princess” was an older mare who one might describe “had been around the block” a few times. Just the horse for my daughters. Now they had to learn how to ride a horse properly

For that I hired Fred Friedel who worked for a fertilizer company in Sun Prairie, known as a forceful and strict trainer who over a period of time made expert riders of Laurel and Lynne.

The first horse show

Somehow we got the idea that we ought to compete in a local horse show of which there was one most every Saturday or Sunday. As we didn't have a trailer, we depended on Bill Youngdall (PR director at ABS) who lived close by and had a car with a trailer hitch. I don't remember where we borrowed a trailer but our family got to our first horse show at C Bar J near Cottage Grove.

Things started slow as Princess would not enter the showring despite all our pleading. A person standing nearby gave us some advice: “That's Princess. She always does that. Just give her a gentle pat on the rear and tell her she has to enter the ring.” We did just that and into the ring she walked.

Lynne, our oldest daughter, was in the first horsemanship class and circled the ring with 29 other riders. We had never attended a horse show before so really didn't know what was going on. As time went on the judge kept pulling horses to the outside circle until there were just 8 – 10 remaining. He then began naming the top five riders beginning with number five.

We still didn't understand until he got to Number 1 and the winner was - Lynne Oncken! We just could not believe it; winning the first class in the first show we ever attended. A bit later our youngest daughter Laurel swept her age-group classes making for an almost unbelievable first day competing at an open horse show.

Always a winner

Thus we became regular entrants at horse shows with Princess always placing near the top of the class, with Lynne and Laurel riding in their own age classes and showing in halter competition (and often winning the top placings). Laurel also competed in Missouri and Oklahoma events riding a friends Pinto/Paint horse in the National show at Tulsa Oklahoma, placing eighth. She also, for the first time, competed in the carriage class and did very well.

End of the ride

Of course, all of this ended as Lynne and Laurel began their college careers and there was no one to care for Princess or clean the barn where she was stabled. We sold her to a DeForest girl who just wanted a nice riding horse – a perfect retirement home for a great show horse.

Above all, Princess and Lynne and Laurel gave our family an interesting and enjoyable five years of fun and learning. And our daughters experienced responsibility, hard work and competition. We still have the trophies, photos and memories of those years so long ago. What could be better?

John F. Oncken can be reached at