Monday, September 27, 2010

For Horse-Crazy Girls Only

"No child ever died yet from not getting a pony." These were the famous last words of the cold-hearted parents in Shel Silverstein's poem "Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony." Little Abigail, of course, did expire, "all because of a pony/that her parents wouldn't buy."

I fell in love with horses sometime in my elementary-school years, and as I was not inclined to waste away due to the lack of a pony, I did what any horse-crazy girl would do and filled in as best I could with everything-but-the-horse. Horse books. Model horses. Horse posters on the wall. Horse magazines. Galloping around the yard with a like-minded friend, neighing loudly and jumping over fence poles. Drawing horses, reading about horses, writing about horses, gazing at horses from the car window. Dreaming about horses.

Well...almost everything :)
Fast-forward many decades, and today, September 28, 2010--well, no, I still don't have a horse, but I am celebrating the publication of the book I started writing, in a way, when I was ten. It's called For Horse-Crazy Girls Only, and it's just been published by Feiwel & Friends.

Writing this book was like landing a job tasting ice cream. What horse-crazy girl-grown-up wouldn't enjoy spending her days reading about, researching, and writing about horses? It was just fun, fun, fun. Hard work, yes, and lots of interlibrary borrowing, and tracking down of obscure titles--but for me that kind of work is, I imagine, just as satisfying as chasing squirrels is for my dog, Luna. (Except that I actually get the books. She never catches a squirrel.)

When you're a kid living in a city or a suburb, and horses are a rare sight, let alone an animal you could possibly own, you make do with what you've got. I vaguely recall making a life-size horse to put on the basement wall, carefully cutting its parts out of construction paper and taping them together. I made a smaller clay horse, too, as well as its barn and paddock, and dutifully filled its hay net with grass every morning and evening. My small Britains horses and the larger Breyer horses got names and bloodlines. I frequently brought carrots to Whiskey, a chestnut horse who lived alone at a camp next door to my junior high school. And I wrote a stirring saga called Diablo, all about a wild black stallion, who thundered across 60 pages in company with just about every stereotype you'll find in the world of horse and pony stories.

Me on a pony for the first time, age 10, near Lake
George in upstate New York. Yes, I know. What grace!
What style! What form! I recall being transfixed with joy.
Which would account for the generally dazed expression.
 I was luckier than many horse-crazy girls, though. My parents indulged my love of horses as best they could in a household that included three other children. Although my father wouldn't buy the neighbor's house and knock it down so as to create a pasture next door (in our adamantly not-zoned-for-horses suburb), he did sign me up for riding lessons at Stonyhill Farms and Riding School.

I can still remember nearly every horse I rode there: big, rawboned, jugheaded Harley, who had scarcely any tail and was surely part Percheron; clever, responsive Charger, a flea-bitten gray who was usually a joy to ride but got the bit in his teeth one day and ran away with me; clueless Snowflake, who reared up one day when I was completely out of control, causing me to tumble off backwards; British Sterling, a beautiful, young, dark gray horse who I don't think spent much time working as a school horse and went on to a more showy career; and beloved High Step, a willing, patient, but skeptical chestnut. High Step trod on my foot once, and I jagged his mouth with the bit once (an action I still regret; but I guess we're even).

On vacations, my parents dutifully sought out opportunities for me to go on trail rides. They also rose early on occasional Saturday mornings in summer to take me to Belmont Racetrack to watch horses work out before the morning mist evaporated. This treat was part of a program called "Breakfast at Belmont," which included marvelous swag such as booklets about racing, buttons featuring Belmont Stakes winners, and the like. I remember seeing the great Forego striding through his workout.

Aboard High Step when I was about 14. I'm wearing hand-me-down
jodhpurs from my mom's friend--the pre-Lycra-days type of jodhs
with the bulgy hips. Once another kid in the lesson persisted in riding
her horse too close to High Step and his tail got caught in her
horse's bit. That could have been an interesting scene. Thanks to
a quick-thinking riding instructor, it wasn't.
 Then came college, and career, and living in New York City, where the only horses were the ones you felt sorry for as they pulled carriages through Central Park. A move to a west coast city didn't bring horses any closer in daily life.

Ahh, but raising another horse-crazy girl--that was the ticket. Now I get to see horses every week just by virtue of driving my daughter to and from riding lessons.

I no longer feel as if I want to ride horses anymore. (Which may be the result of nearly getting bucked off by one a few years ago--I'm just saying.) But since my daughter's planning to own an equestrian center someday, maybe I'll at least have a horse I can groom--she's promised to board it for me. Mostly for free, I think.

Well, even if I have to settle for a Butterscotch Hasbro pony, I'm very pleased to have written this book. I hope it brings a lot of joy to the latest generation of horse-crazy girls.