When Amber Hidde met Judah's Flashy Cash in March 2014, she looked into the horse's two different colored eyes and fell in love immediately.
"It's because of how she looked," said Hidde, 12, of Pequot Lakes. "I could just see it. I felt like it was right the first day I met her. She's spunky, fast. She can be a brat sometimes but that's also what I call myself. She's kind of just like me except faster."
Flashy, as the paint horse was known, belonged to Hidde's cousin. Her cousin's husband was too tall for the horse, and her cousin was short and, furthermore, pregnant. They didn't want to sell Flashy to just anyone, and that's where Hidde came in.
Hidde had been dreaming of owning a horse since shortly after her mother and a family friend convinced her to join 4-H. For the longest time her parents - Cindy and Tim Hidde - said no, but it turns out there was a 4-H category just for Amber, called "horseless horse." That became her first project with the Black Bear 4-H Club in Nisswa, and she made the project do double duty.
"I did a pros and cons list," the younger Hidde said. "I did more pros than cons to prove to my parents that I really wanted one. It was basically explaining the good and bad things about owning a horse."
Her plan didn't work right away. She had to work her way up to horse ownership and eventually earn the horse itself.
She started with a much smaller, fluffier animal.
"I liked rabbits when I was younger," Hidde said. "They are just so fluffy and I liked fluffy things."
She started by leasing her first rabbit, Maple, from Lynn Fairbanks, the Nisswa woman who introduced the Hidde family to the Black Bear 4-H Club. The result? Hidde took home a blue ribbon from the Crow Wing County Fair as a reserve champion for showmanship.
"I like it because you can enter anything at the county fair as an open class, but with 4-H, it goes one step more in letting the kids explain how they got to the project they are working on," said Cindy Hidde. "It gives them public speaking skills and leadership skills. It gets them out of their comfort zone."
"Definitely, I was really shy when I was younger," Amber said.
Amber went on to buy Maple and another rabbit, Syrup. She has since bred them and showed their offspring as well. For the past five years she has showed her Mini Rex rabbits at the county fair and received many ribbons. All the while, she kept her eye on the prize while working toward upgrading from rabbits to a horse.
With a new home on the way, with extra space, Amber's parents gave her the chance to reach that goal, but they weren't just going to give her a horse. She had to earn it by earning the money to buy a horse. More focused than ever, Amber did not disappoint.
"I am working for my mom right now," she said. "I've also been saving up for years from birthdays and Christmas. I still owe her money, but it's getting there."
Amber worked over 36 hours for her mother in the Stonemark Land Surveying office to make Flashy her own. She is still working for her mother to buy a saddle, tack and other equipment. The experience was empowering for Amber.
"It feels pretty good to think that I don't have to depend on a lot of things if I put my mind to something," she said.
The responsibility of working to buy Flashy not only helped Amber pay for the horse, but also to demonstrate she has the determination needed to train a horse. The Hiddes are finding that Amber will need every ounce of that determination.
"We have a long way to go, but it will be an experience," Cindy said. "We've found you just need a lot of experience."
Flashy was trained for barrel racing, whereas Amber wants to show her horse in Western Pleasure, a slow-paced performance of walking, trotting, loping and cantering on command. She plans to show Flashy at next week's Crow Wing County Fair in Brainerd.
Amber is learning to train Flashy thanks to the owners at Stoney Brook Stables, but there are a lot of lessons for both horse and owner. Amber's mother said she needs to learn confidence, and her horse needs to learn to be patient and to wind down after faster activities.
"Lunging is the biggest challenge," Amber said. "We had her off a lunge line, and she kept turning into me. I don't want that. We tried a lunge line and she started doing it again, so I need help from friends."
She has no shortage of friends to talk to thanks to her 4-H journey.
"(4-H) opens your opportunity for friendship," Cindy said. "Amber has school friends, family friends and then she also has this whole slew of horse friends from different areas of the county. That gives her an opportunity to work on fellowship and learn together. I like that part of it."
Amber is already looking forward to her next horse, a family horse she hopes will have a calmer demeanor. Once the family home is ready, Cindy said there will be room for Flashy and another four-legged friend.