I grew up in suburban New Jersey, a land of small tidy mown lawns and clipped hedges. From the first that I can remember, I looked around and knew that something was missing. Our neighbor had one of those concrete lawn statues of a donkey. I recall how, when I was a very small girl of four years, that donkey called to me. I’d cross, what seemed like a vast stretch of grass, to sit on it. The summer before kindergarten, I went to day camp. There was a large swimming pool, which I was terrified of. There were horses, which I was told I was only to ride once a week. So I stood in the poison ivy patch in the woods and gave myself a weeping, itchy rash. I wasn’t allowed to swim with the poison ivy oozing, and so I was sent to the barn daily.
My parents had no interest in horses. They did not want me to ride. Horses, to them, meant that I’d have to join the country club set. I didn’t understand that. Horses to me, meant earthy smells, barn work and the physical challenge of riding. Riding was like being Dr. Doolittle without saying a word out loud. You talked to the horse and the horse talked back.
My parents let me ride once a week at a lesson stable. I’m sure it was expensive and an extravagance, but for me it was never enough. When I was fourteen I asked to go to sleep-away riding camp. They sent me. They didn’t understand my connection to horses, but they respected it. When I was sixteen I went to riding school in England for the summer. Still, my parents hoped that their friends were right when they said, she’ll find boys. I did, but I also went to UNH and got a BS degree in Animal Science, with a focus on horses.
I worked for awhile at barns; I rode dressage and trained with an FEI judge. I had a fancy young horse that I was schooling. But, she went lame and at the same time, I changed course and got into the food world, first cooking in restaurants, and then working as a food writer. Over the years, my riding life was sporadic. I didn’t, couldn’t, own another. There were times that I could lease a horse, but always there was an end to it. I stopped riding during pregnancies. I stopped riding because it’s too expensive. I stopped riding because I thought that my life was so full, and so good in other ways that I could live without the horses. The last time I stopped was six years ago when I had some physical issues that made riding painful. I thought my riding days were over.
Last year I was invited for a trail ride on a friend’s very steady and comfortable Tennessee Walker. It felt good. It didn’t hurt. I thought, Maybe I can ride again.
A friend here in town has a older horse with a myriad of soundness problems. He needs to get out and walk to keep from getting too stiff. I offered to help, and so I’ve been riding Mica, slowly at a walk, since July. Doing this gave me an excuse to talk with the horses. Oh, how I’ve missed those conversations.
I’ve also missed watching the horses talk to each other. Here is Mica and his buddy, Oliver.
I was feeling pretty good, up there on Mica’s back. The owner of another horse at the barn asked if I’d like to ride her gelding, Dune. He’s a good-natured dun. Look at that nice face.
Of course, I said yes. I’ve been riding him a couple of times a week now for the last two months. I do some ring work with him. How I’ve missed schooling a horse, getting to that relaxed, forward flowing movement! Dune and I went on a long trail ride. My body felt just fine. I could ride.
I love my dogs, my chickens, my rabbit, and oh, how the goats make me happy. But this is where I belong, the world framed by the ears of a horse.
I’ve put my name on the wait list at the wonderful barn where Mica and Dune live. I don’t know when a stall will open up. Meanwhile, I’m going to start looking for a horse of my own.