By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN New Winsted Holy Trinity eighth-grader Mason Paumen was only a toddler when his horse, Harley, was born.
Back then, Mason had no clue he’d be winning state 4-H competitions with Harley just over a decade later.
In fact, Harley wasn’t even supposed to be Mason’s horse at all.
“I had my plans, and God had something else in mind,” said Mason’s mother, Margaret.
Originally, Margaret thought she’d give Mason a tame older horse Harley’s mother, Fancy and keep Harley for herself.
A “freak accident,” in which another horse broke Fancy’s front leg, stifled those plans, however.
After a series of painful and costly procedures, it became apparent that Fancy wasn’t going to make it.
“We ended up putting her down,” Margaret said.
Mason was 3 years old at the time, and Margaret had a hard time explaining what had happened.
“He said, ‘why don’t you want her anymore?’” Margaret recalled. “We took him out there, and he asked if he could brush her one last time.”
Grooming Fancy had been one of Mason’s favorite activities.
“Mason would stand on a five-gallon bucket and spray her with Pepi spray,” Margaret said. “She must have been the shiniest horse in the county.”
One time, Mason flipped off his bucket, and ended up on the ground underneath Fancy. Instead of becoming afraid or excited, Margaret said the horse simply looked at Mason as if to say, “What are you doing down there?”
With a lifetime of memories like those, saying “goodbye” to Fancy wasn’t easy.
“Mason was so heartbroken,” Margaret said. “We were crying, and I told him he could have Harley.”
One happy Harley
In the months that followed, Margaret set off to train her son’s new yearling.
“The first time I got on the horse, he laid down,” she laughed. “Easiest horse I ever broke.”
When Mason was 5, he started riding Harley with help from his parents.
“A 5-year-old boy riding a 3-year-old horse is pretty unheard of,” Margaret said.
The inseparable duo went to their first competition at the Wright County Fair two years later.
Although young children typically ride more mature horses, age didn’t seem to matter with Harley and Mason.
“We let them learn together,” Margaret said.
The last few years of training have really started to pay off, too.
Riding to win
At the 2012 Minnesota State Fair, Mason and Harley won first place in barrels, second place in the key race, and third in jumping figure 8.
“It went actually really well,” Mason said.
In a key race, contestants gallop at least 75 feet to a “key hole,” which consists of three poles on each side. Riders go through the pole entrance, turn around, and race back through the entrance way to the finish line.
Speed also matters in jumping figure 8s. Set-up for this race includes a 10-foot-long plastic pole 12- to 18-inches off the ground, 21 feet beyond the starting line. Three barrels, 21 feet apart, are placed parallel to the starting line.
Contestants jump the pole, complete a double figure eight around the barrels, jump the pole again, and cross the finish line.
“I like the jumping figure 8s,” Mason said.
Mason and Margaret both train weekly with Sue Ahlgren of Darwin.
“I’m self-taught,” Margaret said. “That’s why I take lessons now.”
Margaret has been riding most of her life, and says she “couldn’t live without it.”
For the Paumen family of rural Maple Lake, which also includes Mason’s father, Ken, and older brother, Austin, horses are even part of their vacations.
“What do normal people do when they’re camping?” Mason asked.
And, of course, Harley is the horse Mason takes with him.
“It was just like they were made for each other,” Margaret said.