“Which horse is yours?”
“I don’t have a horse,” she said. It was like I had slapped her. She looked away. My face got hot. Awkward silence followed. What was wrong with me? Since when did I assume that everyone leaning on a fence in riding boots owned a horse?
I was a horse owner at that time, but I hadn’t been for long. I had clawed my way out of the horseless state and never looked back. The clawing started when I was in middle school. At 12, I convinced the school bus driver to drop me off at a riding stable two miles from home. I convinced a trainer there to let me ride in exchange for barn chores. The bus driver didn’t care either way.
The trainer had a chunky liver chestnut Quarter horse that could benefit from some free attention and exercise. Over the course of a year or so, Whiskey and I walked, trotted and cantered our hearts out on solo trail rides through the woods. We jumped anything in our path. I sang to him when geese flew overhead and sent him into spasms of jigging. I never thought twice about the long horseless walk home.
In high school, I had a friend with a barn in the backyard, two horses, the full Pony-Club lifestyle and a swimming pool. I considered Staci’s life to be supremely perfect. While I realize now that no one’s life is perfect, I was envious. Her wonderful mom got me involved in Pony Club and always had a horse on the trailer for me. But I stuck out. Those pony clubbers all had families who bought them ponies, wardrobe for every equestrian occasion, horse trailers and trucked them around to clinics, meetings, rallies and horse trials. These days, as a parent, when I think back on what Staci’s mom did for me, it makes me quake a little bit with appreciation and amazement. Once I overheard her tell someone that I had a beautiful touch with horses. It was a compliment that still makes me smile 30 years later.
What a difference a horse makes! This happy picture was taken not long after Windy became mine in 1993.
But back to the horseless girl standing at the side of the arena that day. I still feel bad about that. But the takeaway is clear to me now: Every day I appreciate the fact that I am not horseless. And I am so grateful to the many people who helped me with horses along the way, including that cranky Loudoun County school bus driver who didn’t care where the heck she dropped me off.
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