Thorny was an old cowboy my parents knew, and the first person who introduced me to horses. I was still in diapers, holding on to the lead rope of a gray speckled pony that wasn’t much taller than I was. I can still see the ghost of a smile on that toddler’s face.
Thorny seemed like he had a million horses. On another visit, not long after I was out of diapers, my parents remember putting me up on a big red horse, where I sat smiling and clutching his copper mane until they had to lift me down. That’s when the screaming started. Other kids cried when they were lifted up on the horse’s back.
This was a portent of things to come. That day with the pony I met magic that walks the earth on four hooves; it was my version of getting a letter to Hogwarts. For years I did what many other “horse crazy” kids would do; pretend my bike was a horse or gallop around our backyard neighing. Collecting Breyer models and making up pedigrees for them (and voices). Feeding grass to horses through a fence and trying not to get caught.
Really, who could have designed a more perfect animal? They smell good when they sweat, they smell good when they breathe, when their hooves strike the earth in three time it’s an invitation to heaven. They are fuzzy and soft and when they look at you with those eyes! When their ears flick back to catch your voice! A nicker makes my heart burst.
I’m living with and teaching about the mystery that is the horse. While I still enjoy riding, I am discovering that the gifts that horses offer us go beyond sitting on their backs. In my own evolution with horses, there are many things that have captured my interest and many horses who have given themselves so that I might, for a little while, enter their world. So that I might, for a moment, feel the twin freedom of speeding across the ground while being free from gravity.
I’m no longer that little girl in diapers. This year I hit a milestone birthday and though I’ve not usually been one to count years or label myself by them, I’ve also noticed that growing older is challenging. Our bodies change (I now revel in cold weather and dread the heat), grief finds us more frequently, we listen as our doctor tells us about the invasive health screenings we must endure. Health insurance goes up and our energy goes down.
But along with all of that, I also notice the frost on a horse’s whiskers in the winter. How on a chilly morning the wind catches the mist of their breath. How standing beside them allows me to calm down and experience a grounded sense of peace. The sound of horses chewing hay. Watching their muzzles gather hay into their mouths (I often wonder if horses saw elephants, would they have nose envy?). How their whuffing breath on my hands or face feels like the best self-care of all.
Is this obsession? If so, it’s one I’ll gladly claim. Is it the growing knowledge that my time is limited? Definitely.
All the times I’ve struggled, all the horrible things I’ve said to myself about my horsemanship, all the questions, agonizing, and striving and bringing horses into my life and letting them go again: all of it! And yet I can stand beside a horse and become mesmerized when the light shines through their manes. They’re deep oceans encased in soft coats. Whether I am riding or not, the feeling of being in a glorious nickering, neighing freefall around a horse has become downright mystical.
It all started with a dappled pony. Inside somewhere is that girl who still sneaks grass to horses through a fence. Though I don’t know how or when my journey will end, I do know I will always love and be thankful for horses.