My friend Monica kindly agreed to do a guest post for me. If you have never visited her blog I would suggest that you check it out. She is a great writer and I always enjoy my visits there.
Thanks to Maryann for selecting me as a guest-poster. I'm sincerely honored! Having had a recent experience with an errant mini pony that turned into a minor fiasco, I'd like to share this remembrance of a horse I encountered in my childhood, almost twenty years ago.
For my tenth birthday, my parents gave me an unlikely gift. Horseback riding lessons. I say this was unusual since it wasn't anything I had asked for, and I did not have any great interest in horses. I liked horses in the way that all animals intrigued me, but hadn't shown much equine interest beyond petting a horse. Besides, in the public school I attended girls talked of dance lessons and Girl Scout memberships, both things that I had asked to be part of to no avail. My parents would tell me that we didn't have the money, but more likely the truth lay closer to those things not being in sync with who we were as "a separate people". To say that my parents valued the practical would be a colossal understatement. But I didn't push for those things either, as there were more important things to lobby for such as not having to wear knee socks every day to school.
Every Saturday morning I would pull on a pair of blue jeans under my long dress and be dropped off a few miles away at some stables where a young woman named Cheryl taught me to ride horses. Actually, we started with a pony named Copper. Cheryl taught me how to saddle Copper, how to hold the reins, and how to hold my hand out flat when feeding the pony an apple so he didn't bite my fingers off. Sometimes, after the morning's lesson after my hair had become undone, Cheryl would braid my hair while I stood behind Copper braiding his tail, as he quietly slept while standing up in his stall. Yes, I came to love Copper.
During my final lessons, I graduated to riding tall, beautiful, glossy horses that appeared enormous to me in size and impossibly powerful. Cheryl and I would trot our horses through the woods on the edge of the pasture while I wondered whether horses would become a permanent part of my life. When my lessons ended, I was sad though my mother told me we could always visit Copper and bring him an apple.
Not long after my lessons, my father and I were visiting his cousin whose neighbor had some riding horses. It was a sunny, Saturday afternoon and dad thought it would be nice for us to spend the afternoon riding horses together. The neighbor's daughter saddled the horses for us and helped me on to a lovely dark Quarter horse. Things were good at first, but after only a few minutes, something in the horse's temperament changed drastically. It would not respond to my "gee" and "haw" commands and instead broke into a straight gallop. Suddenly, the horse worked up to a full run as I held tight and leaned in closer. I knew the horse was out of control, and remember looking down at the ground trying to weigh my choice of jumping off and possibly getting hurt, or staying on, and possibly getting hurt. At the back pasture, my cousin Elam (working as a hired man at the neighbor's) was kneeling on the ground mending some fence. The horse charged for him, and I looked down to see his surprised face as the horse leaped over Elam and the fence in a graceful and unexpected jump. And then, just as suddenly as my runaway horse started, he slowed to a trot and circled back stopping not far from a group of adults who had helplessly witnessed the spectacle. There is little doubt that they let out a collective exhale as I dismounted the temperamental horse. Later, dad said that I had looked like a racehorse jockey on the back of that horse, and commended me on the decision to not jump off when the horse bolted.
I did not do much horseback riding after that, finding activities such as swimming and helping the boys to build tree forts in the woods behind our house much more interesting. But years later, I was grateful that my parents had arranged for those lessons. When I went to live with my Old Order aunt and uncle, I was not in the least intimidated by the driving horses, and could confront a team of Belgian drafts with ease. Now, interaction with horses is rare for me, but I'm still fond of horses and remain vigilant for their surprise appearances in my life. They seem to remain on the periphery and then pop up at unexpected moments, the very definition of a "dark horse".