Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Riding Horses vs Writing Horses

I covered reams of paper with scenes like this...
When I was a girl, all I could think about was horses.

Like many horse-crazy girls, I plastered my room with horse posters, lined the shelves with horse statues, read and reread every horse book in the library, and galloped around the back yard tossing my hair ("flowing mane") and neighing (much to the irritation of the people next door).

I took riding lessons for two years, fell off once (my fault, Snowball), but managed to stick on going over jumps up to three feet high.

I also spent countless hours drawing pictures of my dream horse, a palomino Arabian stallion called Golden Stardust, who was going to found a dynasty of palomino Arabians, and writing stories about such noble steeds. Plus I was going to be a jockey.

Never mind that palominos don't necessarily breed true, meaning you won't always get golden foals with white manes and tails. Never mind that Arabians technically do not possess the "cream dilution gene" that produces a palomino and that palomino Arabians are actually genetically chestnut horses with blond manes and tails.

And never mind that I now weigh about two jockeys.

I think this blur is a horse called Udam, who finished in third place.
I thought about all this as we attended a glorious equine event the other night: the 2014 Spring National Jumper competition at the Evergreen Equestrian Park in Monroe. It was the last night of the show and featured the Grand Prix.

In Grand Prix events, horse and rider bound over (hopefully) from 10 to 16 jumps, some of which may be more than 5 feet high or more than 6 feet wide.

Most of the horses flew over the jumps. Some gave a jaunty kick in midair as they sailed over the top. One particularly flashy gray flagged his dramatic white tail as he galloped and leaped; another bore down on each jump like a terrier going after a rat.

A few riders lost stirrups and looked as if they'd fall off any second while others seemed like a natural extension of the horse. A few horses threw their heads around as if they had bees up their nostrils while others were dead serious about their jobs.

The Resident Teen's trainer, Katherine Wade-Easley, aboard
Smooth Criminal (a.k.a. Toby), who finished 6th in the event.
It was terrifying to watch the ones who seemed out of control, inspiring to watch the ones who literally took it all in stride, even if they rapped a pole here or knocked down a pole there.

I thought a lot about who and what I thought I'd be when I grew up, and how my love of horses never translated into being dead-set on acquiring one and mastering the fundamentals of horsemanship.

No doubt fear and lack of confidence had a role to play; the last time I was on a horse and it bucked, it scared the bejesus out of me and I had no "emergency drill" in place to respond. (The bucking felt like crowhopping to the sky, to me; the Resident Teen, who was watching, noted that the mare's hind feet were actually barely two inches off the ground.) Certainly lack of opportunity was a factor, too.

But as I watch the Resident Teen follow her passion for horses, I am happy to realize that I'm content with the way my own fondness for them has developed.

She has long since jettisoned the toy horses and little glass statues for the down-to-earth and practical as she pursues her sport, and shown that despite our shared love of horses, she is certainly no Mini-Me; she has grit and self-preservation skills when it comes to horses that I don't and never did.

I think it's amazing that she's not intimidated by going over huge jumps; she thinks it's amazing that I can manage a budget, a schedule, and a freelance job.

(At least I can still manage to impress in one sphere of life!)

It's been nice to discover that there are as many ways to appreciate horses as there are kinds of horses, just as you can be a train fan without being an engineer, a birder without being an ornithologist, or a patron of the arts without being in an orchestra.

I don't know why it took me half a century to realize this. After all, my dad designed F-14 Tomcats and other fighter aircraft but wasn't a pilot.

So I'm quite enjoying my role as a spectator and handmaiden to a horse and rider. The Resident Teen, when she was the Resident Preschooler, told me that when she had a stable as an adult, I could muck out the stalls. Now she even says that yes, I may even be able to keep some old bombproof horse or pensioner pony of my own.

We've come a long way. As long as my non-palomino, non-Arabian, definitely-not-stallion steed can carry two jockeys, we're good.



  1. Brilliant - and I recognised so much of myself here. No more slender steeds for me: it's an animal they describe as up to weight.

    1. No more prancing, dancing, snorty steeds for me, that's for sure. Some of the bravest people I know (including a sibling who sailed across the Atlantic on a sailboat as part of a crew) say they wouldn't get on a horse for any amount of money, so I guess I shouldn't feel like too much of a failure in that regard. I can't *believe* I ever actually was regularly given a four-year-old fresh horse called British Sterling, a lovely gray, to ride in my lessons...I was flattered when they told me I had "a nice seat" (a compliment that cracked up my mom to no end) and let me ride him...feels like a lifetime ago. Well, I guess it was, actually :)