We were hooked and it was written all over us. The first weird looks passed between our parents. We were too young to know anyone else. It didn’t matter if there were horses close by; some of us were in the country but just as many of us were in city apartments. We squealed at horsies! from car windows or stared at pictures in books we were too little to read. We cantered in the house when horses only lived inside our TV.
Eventually we turned into old women with squint-wrinkles around our eyes and some sort of chronic lameness. Through decades of life, we might have changed homes and changed jobs and changed spouses… but feelings about horses never changed. Some would say that we’re past our riding prime, but I’m confident that the residue of those crazy young rides has made us better with horses now. Probably better with our own species as well.
Horses are like a beautiful water-color rinse washed over top of the ink drawing of our lives. It’s the water we swim in while living on dry land. It’s the herd we belong to before and through and beyond our other connections. It isn’t just that we were born this horse-crazy way. Much to the chagrin of those around us, we stay that way. I think we take it with us when we walk on from this world.
What is this hook that horses have in us? It’s the question I’ve asked for as long as I’ve known horses. Unless I was busy actually grooming or riding or training at the moment. Then it was only in the back of my mind.
Of course we love animals but horses are different. We play favorites. It isn’t the same the mess of complex and contradictory feelings we have for people. Horses feel more honest and true.
When philosophers consider the nature of God and the metaphysics of the universe, surely they must consider the central position that horses hold. If they don’t, we know they’ve fallen short of the thing artists have known since the time of cave paintings; it was always about humans and horses.
Is love even the right word? It feels a bit shallow. We began this journey before there was choice or reason; before we knew the word for how we would feel. We rode when there were no horses. It was a prehistoric promise, sealed with horse dander and spit. Or things that would evolve into that eventually.
Maybe back then some DNA got mixed up in the primordial mush and we’re actually a slightly different species. That would explain a lot over the centuries –and eventually at our kitchen tables.
But somewhere in the middle of our lives, life happened. Plans went sideways. Some of us gave up horses for a while and some of us gave up everything but horses. Some of us finally got our first pony fifty years later. All of us stayed true to that prehistoric promise with horses; we always circle back.
Now that I’m older, there are some rides I make myself refuse. There are days that it breaks my heart to cautious, but I have a herd that depends on me. It’s lead mare logic; I wasn’t born knowing it. I do all the barn work my body allows and then remember the kindness that all past-prime horses deserve. I try to practice that same kindness on myself but never quite feel deserving.
Perhaps younger riders look at me like I’m a crazy old nag. I smile and wave, stubborn as a pony, working to show them the patience that my first horse had for me, back when I fell short of my horse’s withers and wisdom.
We’re the sort who never quite settle the struggle to find our balance, drunk with horses and gasping with rude want. We’ve been loud, crying or pouting if we can’t ride. There is nothing polite about passion. Other times, while making the tough choices, we felt as old as sticks and dirt with the bitter maturity of our decisions. Still horses never change for us.
We have a secret that others don’t know. While other women dream of romance book lovers or foreign shores, we dream of a horse who comes to us with an invitation. Personally, I think it’s a white horse –like my Grandfather Horse. He was perfectly ordinary. We all had one just like him. The one that we knew before we were born. The one who never leaves us.
You come for me, behind my eyelids now, but you come. I’m selfish, I fear, to call you to me but I hold no respect for rainbow bridges or fairy tales.
With closed eyes, I climb up the mounting block. That left hip pinches; it’s how I know this is only partly a dream. With one last grounded breath, my leg slides over and I ease onto his back. My shoulders go broad and my spine straightens as it all comes flooding back.
My breath is deep. I was born to sit right here. I feel his ribs expand as he breathes with me and some jagged pieces begin to mend. One more breath and my busy mind settles deep into my heart with a sigh. He’s taught me that oneness means the parts of the rider become united. Horses are that way already.
It doesn’t matter where we go now, sauntering through the water-color wash. The ride stays real long after the horse who shared it has walked on. We are the lucky ones.
Hold tight. They always circle back.
[Dedicated to the friend-readers who are “between” horses and longing, on the seventh anniversary of this Relaxed and Forward blog. Thank you; I’m so grateful to all who share their long ride here.]
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm