By Debra Davis
Thundering hooves drown out the giggles of Jenny and Mitch Foster’s four children as they race across the pasture on their farm in Crenshaw County. Mounted on horses of various sizes and colors, each child’s personality is matched with that of an equine companion that brings out the best in each of them.
“Horses are hard work, but most of the time, we don’t think about it like that,” said Jenny, who is an internal audit manager at Alfa Insurance and serves on the Alabama Farmers Federation State Equine Committee. “Horses were a big part of my childhood, and I wanted my children to have those same experiences.”
Jenny said she and sister Jodie were ”horse crazy” as young girls. Their first horse was a rowdy steed that was a little too much for the inexperienced riders. Their uncle, Max Ellis of Brundidge, was an experienced horseman and lived nearby. He provided the sisters with horses, encouragement and transportation to area trail rides.
“When I turned 16, my parents gave me the choice of a good horse or a car,” Jenny said. “I chose the horse.”
With a better horse, Jenny began to rack up wins in local and state rodeos, as did her sister. In 1991, Jenny was the Alabama High School Rodeo Association Barrel Racing Champion and competed two years at the National High School Rodeo Finals representing Alabama in Gillette, Wyoming.
Conversely, Mitch grew up in Dothan and wasn’t a fan of horses until he and Jenny met while students at Troy University. Spending time with Jenny meant Mitch spent time with her horses.
“When we were dating, we’d go to the barn and see about the horses before we went anywhere,“ said Mitch, 45, a project manager for Stephens Construction and Concrete in Luverne. “I like horses, but I don’t love them like Jenny does. But I do love how horses keep our family close. I’m typically the person behind the scenes getting the trailer ready or cooking dinner at the campground.”
There’s plenty for Mitch to do preparing for upcoming horse trail rides, camping trips, horse shows or rodeos. He’s also an accomplished leathersmith and Dutch oven chef.
The Foster children, Emma, 15; Anna Kate, 14; Spencer, 11; and Zachary, 9, are involved in lots of activities at Highland Home School. Their recreational activities have included football, basketball, volleyball, softball and gymnastics. The children also are members of the Crenshaw County 4-H Trailblazer Club, where Jenny serves as club leader.
Ribbons, trophies, belt buckles and saddles decorate the Fosters’ home — proof of the family’s success in rodeos and horse shows. Any given weekend, it’s common to see the family of six loaded up in their double-cab pickup towing a living-quarters horse trailer headed for an adventure.
“I love watching Jenny and the kids,” Mitch said. “A lot of other kids don’t understand the work our kids do, but they’re learning a lot while they’re doing it. They are learning what it’s like to be responsible for another life. Their horses depend on them for food, water and shelter. They’re also learning about hard work — cleaning tack, exercising their horses and mucking stalls. All that can be a lot of work.”
It barely seems like work as the crew leaves the house headed to the barn to saddle up for a practice ride in the family’s arena next to their home in the Panola community. Like most siblings, there are jokes and teasing, but the Foster foursome are always eager to lend a hand to help one another.
“I can’t explain what it is about horses that makes me love them so much,” said Jenny, 46. “I’ve been crazy about them for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, I couldn’t get enough of them. I read every book about horses I could find and watched every western TV show just so I could see horses.”
That horse-loving gene was passed on to each of the Foster children. On a late summer day when it seemed too hot to do anything outside, the Foster children managed to combine two of the things they love best — swimming and horses.
“We love camping with the horses at the Heart of Dixie Trail Ride near Troy,” Jenny said. “It’s fun to watch them ride out into the pond and play. If it has to do with horses, we’re pretty much going to give it a try, and we’re going to do it as a family.”