Thank you, Dad!
Having grown up in the Canadian Rockies, I spent a great deal of my childhood outdoors. From a young age, my parents instilled in me the appreciation for nature and the importance of taking the time to enjoy it in all capacities, which is why I’ve elected to celebrate Father’s Day recounting some of the memorable experiences I shared with my father.
My father, Craig Richards, is a photographer. The majority of his work is landscapes, and countless hours of my childhood were spent on the side of the road, brimming with youthful impatience as he set up his large-format camera and spent an unquantifiable amount of time waiting for the light to hit his subject in just the right way. So many of our family vacations were delayed in this manner: my mother, my sister and me, waiting in the car on the side of the highway, with my father insisting, “just give me ten more minutes!”
When we were older, we discovered that it was much easier to just relegate him to a separate vehicle.
In my teenage years, I developed a passion for horses. My poor, unsuspecting parents decided it would be fun to own horses, and probably spent the next dozen years or so regretting the decision.
We ended up with two horses. After my sister hit puberty and discovered the opposite gender, her interest in equines began to wane, and it was my father that stepped up and took her place. The majority of my teenage years were spent on horseback, where I was introduced to the concept of long-distance racing. My fondest memories involved the hours spent with my father, miles away from humanity, raincoats and winter jackets strapped to our saddles as we explored the trails across the province.
Our first competitive trail ride was by Sundry. Our inexperience, both as horse owners and as competitors, was so obvious that it now causes me pain to reminisce about, but somehow we survived. We arrived at the race site on Friday night and erected a small paddock outside our horse trailer using a newly acquired electric fence, only to discover in the morning that we’d built it wrong, and the horses had escaped.
I remember wandering into the woods, only hours before the race was scheduled to begin, searching for our escaped mounts. I was calling for our horses, shaking a bucket of oats, probably in tears and fearing the worst. It was my father that found the horses, who had joined a herd of nearby cattle, and then had to locate his wayward daughter as well.
We made it to the start of the race in the nick of time. I don’t have any idea how my dad pulled it off; he was always a super-hero. We made it through the race without any major mishaps, and the following morning I was awarded a third-place ribbon (I now know that there were only three junior riders in the race, but my father never brought that to my attention at the time). It was the highlight of my life.
And so began our tenure as competitive trail riders. For the following three years, my father donated countless hours of his time to making me happy. As it turns out, we were pretty successful competitor, and once we were established in the racing community we were both amongst the top tier in our respective divisions. I can’t even begin to measure the commitment my father made, either in time he spent away from work or the fiscal demands of my new hobby.
When I was 16 years old, Trail Riding Alberta Conference sponsored me to represent our province at the Canadian Nationals, and my father dutifully loaded the horses into the trailer and drove me to Manitoba. I returned home with a first place trophy, and my father earned a second-place ribbon for being the best father ever.
Horses are no longer a part of our life. After I graduated high school and moved away from home, my parents got rid of the horses and everything involved with that lifestyle. I eventually went on to fulfill my childhood dream of riding thoroughbred racehorses on the track, and I credit my success completely to my parents, so sacrificed so much to make my dreams come true.
Although we don’t ride together anymore, I remain very close to my father. When I lived in the mountains we would camp and hike together, and once our days were no longer filled with horse chores, he taught me how to ski. I also learned how to skate, and when I go home for Christmas, my father pulls his old hockey skates and wooden stick out of storage and we head down to the pond together.
I’ve been unbelievably lucky. I probably wasn’t anywhere near thankful enough of all the time and effort my parents sacrificed on my behalf, but I’ll try and make it up to them now by recognizing just how fortunate I am.
So for all of the fathers and families out there, Happy Father’s Day!