Sometimes dreams come true when you aren’t even dreaming them. Sometimes dreams become so unrealistic, so impractical, they fade away like the pink sky at sunset… going, going… gone.
So it was for my dream of having a horse again. Not even a dream. A pipe dream. Sure, I was an excellent rider once upon a time, galloping bareback down the trail or sailing over fences in the show ring.
I remember the joy of riding, but I also remember the reality of falling off. I’m gonna make a much bigger dent in the ground now than I did at 16. Stuff that used to just bruise probably will break now. I tore my meniscus a few weeks ago just opening a window. I’ve torn tendons and sprained joints tripping over air. I’m a hazard to myself just walking around. So, hey, let’s get on a horse after 33 years! That seems super-sane!
The real possibility of injury canceled out any notions of riding again. Not that I don’t lust after it. When I watch show jumping on television, I can feel every stride by kinesthetic memory, right down to that held breath when your horse soars up over the jump … and the callumpf when you land and canter away to the next obstacle, your horse’s ears pricked right toward it. It’s a rush like nothing else, commanding a 1,500-pound animal that has decided to obey you, the two of you moving and communicating as one being.
Funny thing about horses — they decide to obey you until they don’t. All might be well and good approaching that fence and at the last nanosecond, the horse just says, “Nope,” hits the brakes, and you torpedo into a plywood brick wall, head first. Been there, done that, have the herniated disks in my neck to prove it.
Sometimes the horse isn’t even acting up. A quiet, calm ride can change in an instant. I was cantering along on my sweet old mare one evening long ago, on a nice safe trail, both relaxed as could be, and she just tipped her hips up a little in a happy little bounce that caught me off guard. I was launched into the air, my heels flipped up over my head and I landed in a pile drive.
When I came to, it was dark and I was disoriented. Thankfully, Rosie stayed by my side. I clung hard to the stirrup in a daze, and she walked me slowly back home. (Which illustrates one way horses are better than cats. A cat would have flipped you off, skedaddled, and left you to die.)
The point is that even an experienced rider on a well-mannered horse under perfect conditions still can get hurt. Sometimes they just stumble and you go somersaulting down their neck.
Three decades later and 50 pounds heavier, horseback riding seemed like a bad plan.
Enter my horse-lovin’ pal Sarah, who once charmed me into adopting a bloodthirsty, homicidal lesbian bunny (truly Monty Python-esque). I had no interest in bunnies either, but Sarah just has this way about her … the old Pringles potato chip approach: Just try one. And you do, and then another, and another, and suddenly you’re hooked.
Sarah knows I love horses, and from time to time would mention she’d found a nice old horse that just needs a friend, but I’d fend that temptation off with a firm, “Nope, no, not possible, can’t do it.”
But Sarah is wily and persistent.
“Just come out to the barn and hang out for a bit.”
Well, OK. No harm there. Just visiting with some horses would be pretty awesome, much like visiting a smorgasbord when you can eat only through a feeding tube might be. But yeah, I’d love that.
All it took was walking into the barn.
The scent of alfalfa hay and oiled leather — and fly spray, of all things! I was like an amnesiac suddenly getting my memory back in one big flash: Oh, yes! This is who I am!
And then we went to see Sarah’s horse and I smelled it: horsehide.
I was a goner.
For a horsey girl, the smell of a horse is pure opium. If you think horses stink, you don’t have the horsey girl gene. If you have the gene, a horse’s scent is an olfactory orgasm, and as with all good orgasms, I was shrieking, “Yes, yes, yes!!!”
But (and there’s always a but) let’s get real, Sarah — how could I possibly ride again at this age, after all this time? I can’t jump anymore. That would be suicide.
“You don’t have to ride. You could just groom it and walk it and love it.”
Which was essentially the same pitch she gave me when she put that evil bunny in my arms and it immediately stole my heart.
What an odd thought: It’s not all about riding, is it? There’s the simple, sweet, therapeutic joy of bonding with an animal, spending time with it, developing a relationship. I imagined wandering along a path, horse in tow, discussing all my stresses and worries, stopping to graze on fresh green grass.
Have you ever smelled fresh grass on a horse’s breath?
My anxieties drifted right out of my head. I’m in! Let’s do it!
But then, reality clubbed me: Horses are expensive, and I work at the Express, and that’s pretty much the end of that.
Sarah, with that matchmaker twinkle in her eye, responded, “It’s possible. I want you to meet someone.” We walked over to a paddock and went inside. A big, dusty, rather shabby chestnut horse shambled sadly over to us, his face covered with a fly mask. Sarah pulled it off, and underneath was the most gorgeous face with a big white star. I looked at him, he looked at me, and it was like getting popped between the eyes with a riding crop: I was in love.
(To be continued …)
— Email Debra DeAngelo at email@example.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com