By Jef Rietsma
With apologies to soccer moms, dance moms and stay-at-home moms, the world of horse moms is far different from that of their peers.
Twenty-year-old Erika Fojtik said the support of two moms, in fact, was required when she was involved in horse shows as a teen.
“You can’t be involved with horses if you don’t have a supportive family that is heavily involved, as well,” she said. “It’s not a one-person hobby.”
Fojtik, a 2012 Vicksburg High School alumna, said her mother, Madeline, was an integral part of the countless weekends they spent on the road at horse shows, often in far-flung places.
Madeleine Fojtik, however, said her husband, Joe, frequently did the driving and deserves credit for playing an understated role over the seven years their daughter participated in horse shows. But it was the assistance of Scotts-area resident Deb Barrett that helped make so many of the journeys possible.
Barrett’s daughter, Liz, has been close friends with Erika Fojtik both inside and outside the world of horse-related events.
“(Erika and Liz) would be up late the night before a show. They’d be up early the day of, and Deb would come get them …Most shows would almost always start on a Saturday at 8 in the morning, so they were on the road pretty early,” Madeleine Fojtik said. “There were times when all I’d have to do is just get there and show up because Deb did what she did. People were so helpful and Deb was no exception.”
Erika, an engineering student at Western Michigan University, said the circle of associates who participate in horse shows has a strong camaraderie that reflects a unique bond among like-minded people. “Anybody would help anybody; it was a genuine friendliness,” she said.
The family’s interest in horses started when they moved to their Brady Township home 23 years ago. Most of the fenced-in backyard was set up for a pasture, but a barn and other enclosed areas north of their house provided an ideal setting for farm animals.
A friend of the family inquired about boarding her horse there, which the Fojtiks allowed. Madeleine Fojtik said the family getting horses of their own was a gradual process.
“We weren’t thinking about anything competitive; I just felt that horses are beautiful to look at and watch, so that’s where it all started,” she said. “We had a horse when Erika was born, and she joined 4-H when she was 7. She would show our mini-horse at the time.”
That was the springboard for what, for the next decade or so, would become active participation in competitive horse shows. Madeleine Fojtik said she appreciated what 4-H and the horse shows did for Erika, the youngest of her three children.
“Caring for a horse and being active with it taught Erika a sense of responsibility that I really appreciate,” she said. “4-H provided her an opportunity to grow and learn skills that I see Erika use as an adult.”
Erika showed a pair of scrapbooks she kept as part of a 4-H project. They are filled with photographs of her sporting English-style attire as well as a Western look, her wardrobe reflecting the nature of the event in which she was participating.
A few photos capture her in a September competition in Ingham County, where an unseasonably cold spell saw her wearing a heavy jacket.
Madeleine Fojtik remembers the event well.
“It was only September, but it was in the 40s and so cold. When we watch the video I took at the event, it wasn’t steady at all because I was shivering,” she said. “The weather was a real mixed bag through the years, from the 40s to a few times when it was 100 degrees.”
Erika’s show horse, Kimmy, is boarded at a nearby farm in Vicksburg. For the past four years, Kimmy has been ridden by a Vicksburg High School student on the school’s equestrian team.
Erika said she will be looking for someone interested in riding Kimmy for the same purpose. She said she occasionally rides, but her grown-up obligations compromise her horse time.
“Between school and work, unfortunately, Kimmy isn’t my top priority,” Erika said. “There’s a neighbor girl, probably about 7, who has asked about me giving her riding lessons, so I’ll probably still have a little something to do with horses, even after I’m out of college, I hope.”