I’ve become obsessed with horses lately—or, more accurately, the obsession that has been latent for decades has resurfaced, suddenly and intensely. I blame it on an article I read about nurse mare foals, which sent my imagination spinning in several directions. It also made me want to ride again.
I rode as a kid, but only in the summers, in Vermont, and at a farm with an ever-changing roster of trail horses. It was “get on the horse and stay on the horse” riding: sneakers and jeans instead of boots and jodhpurs, no helmets. I learned to post, to stand in the stirrups to pick apples from trailside trees. I rode a cranky pony, a 30-year-old shuffling sweetheart, and a big chestnut fellow who wouldn’t take a bit. Then there was the horse who, when he spied the barn and decided it was quitting time, would beeline it to his stall, oblivious to any suggestions to the contrary. I learned to jump off before he got to the barn—a far superior alternative to being wiped off his back when he zoomed through the door.
I loved those horses, that barn. I still think the smell of horse dung is heavenly. As a child, I thrilled at telling about the time—I was probably about 8—when the towering horse I was riding suddenly stopped and ducked his head and off I went, over withers, neck, and head, landing in front of my apathetic steed. For an elementary school kid in suburban D.C., this dramatic (to me) moment was the stuff of stories. I drew pictures of that horse, me sliding down his neck headfirst. As you see, the memory is a potent one.
I wanted a horse then, and I want one now. But it’s a different kind of want. Back then, I didn’t understand the potential for a relationship between human and horse. I had my favorite horses, and sometimes my love affairs with them lasted two or three summers—but there were three long seasons between those summers and never enough time for a bond to form.
Now, though, I want to experience riding a horse that knows me, trusts me, and is eager to find out what we can create together. I have a sense of what that could be, from training my dog. There’s such pleasure in watching her run off when I unhook her leash and say, “Free,” in seeing her circle back when I call, “Come!” and drop into place at my side, still off leash, when told to heel. We’re a team, working together. For her, the commands are a game, the discipline a challenge she loves. “Stick around,” I say, and she knows she can leave my side but not take off. When she runs to me it’s at full tilt, and when she pulls up, panting, her nose grazes my hand.
I think about that, our work together, how satisfying it is; then I imagine what that kind of bond would be like with a horse. I know what moving with a 1,000-pound animal feels like, the physicality of it. But to ride a horse that loves me, is eager to experience the world as part of a bonded pair—now that’s the stuff of girlhood dreams.