HARVARD, Neb. — From the time she was a little girl, Michelle Callahan has loved horses.
My family always had horses, and we always did 4-H and the horse shows, Callahan said.
When she and her husband, Mark, married 30 years ago, Michelle got rid of her horse. It was only a few years later when the couple could afford their first horse and made the purchase.
Then one turned into nine, Michelle said jokingly. Mark has a habitual thing about horses.
Today the couple and their children live on a farm just west of Harvard in rural Clay County with nine horses and three ponies.
Michelle and Mark agree that the animals serve as a type of therapy. Michelle is a loan officer at U.S. Bank in Hastings, while Mark is serving as interim CEO at Mary Lanning Healthcare.
It's nice to come out here and just be with them, Michelle said. You don't even have to ride them. You can just come out and stand by them and talk to them. And they don't tell your secrets.
As long as you scratch them, they listen, he said.
Michelle's main rider horse is Tee, a buckskin-colored quarter horse. Mark, who loves a variety of color in his horses, had bought the buckskin for himself; however, Tee decided that he wanted to be Michelle's horse.
Mark's main horse is Dewie, a bay-colored horse and clearly the most plainly colored horse of the bunch with mainly dark brown hair and one white spot on his forehead.
We just kind of hit it off, Mark said of Dewie. I'm not sure why. I really like color in my horses. That's why I've got a dun, red dun and buckskin. And I ride the bay.
The largest member of the Callahans' horse family is Reese, a quarter horse who stands 16 hands high (a little taller than 5 feet), which is pretty tall for a quarter horse.
The family acquired Reese after he already had been broken and ridden by someone else who used him strictly as a competition horse. That means he didn't know what treats were until he came to live with the Callahan family.
And while he's tall, Michelle, who stands about 5 feet, 5 inches, doesn't let that keep her from riding him.
It's funny, though, when you go to get on him, you look at where the stirrup is and where your leg is and it's like, 'There's no way I'm going to get up there,' Michelle joked. In fact, Michelle pulls out a step stool when she's climbing onto the backs of most of the family's horses. And while Michelle prefers the tall ones, Mark — who stands 6-1 — has found a new fascination with the shortest of the family's horses, the Shetland ponies.
The Callahans got their first Shetland pony, Twister, from Wilkinson Pony Farm years ago. Each of the Callahans' five children learned to ride on Twister's back and loved the horse dearly. Then, Twister died unexpectedly before the Clay County Fair of what veterinarians think was a heart attack — leaving the Callahan family heartbroken.
Michelle called the horse breeder, who lives near Chapman, and by the time they were finished the family had three new Shetland ponies.
Commander, the one male of the bunch, is Mark's new pony and the only one of the three that competes in horse shows.
They don't look like your typical ponies anymore, Michelle said. They're not the little fat, merry-legged ponies. They're a little bit more refined.
Mark and Michelle treat the animals like their own children.
They're just part of us, and they all have a special place, Michelle said.
Some people think, 'It's just a horse,' Michelle said. 'But it's like, 'Yeah, it's a horse, but you don't understand. He was one of my best friends.'