The Near Side: Farewell to the Horsemobile


Earlier this year, I bought a new car. Well, new to me, but only slightly used. I didn’t really want a new car, but it was time. I’d always said that I was going to drive my old Corolla into the ground, and certain events were indicating that I had done just that.

Take, for example, the incident this winter when I was leaving the barn and suddenly heard a scraping noise behind me. I stopped the car and looked underneath to find that my muffler was now sitting on the ground, though still attached to the exhaust system. The barn driveway was soft and muddy from the melting snow, so I couldn’t jack the car up to get a better look. I ended up kneeling in the mud and blindly reaching underneath to tie up the fallen metal strap underneath the muffler with bailing twine until I got home and fixed it with a more permanent solution.*

When you car is literally held together with bailing twine, you are:

a.) a true horseperson, and

b.) in need of a new car.

I wasn’t excited about upgrading. Besides the dread of dealing with car salespeople, I had a (probably misguided) sense of pride in my old Corolla. I’d had it for 14 years and logged all but some 20,000 of its 265,000 miles over those years. It did the 1,400-mile journey to college and back again a few times. I even once drove it from my home in southern Maine to the beach in Malibu, California, one winter when I was 22 and suffering some combination of a quarter life crisis and non-clinical seasonal affective disorder. A few years later, that car took me the 1,000 miles from Maine to Lexington, Kentucky, for this gig at Horse Illustrated.

Hay Bale
You do the best with what you have.

I racked up most of the miles in many shorter trips, of course. Commuting to work. Going to the barn. If cars had memories, I think mine would have been able to give you directions to the Skowhegan fairgrounds, where most of our state’s horse shows took place in the early and mid-2000s. You can’t haul your horse with an economy sedan, but you can fit pretty much everything else you’ll need for a weekend at the show: garment bag, saddle, bridle, grooming gear, a cooler filled with bottled water and grapes (my horse, Snoopy, loves grapes.) The back seat was just the right size for a bale of hay, much to the chagrin of anyone who later had to sit in that back seat.

Outwardly, the Corolla didn’t look too much like a horsemobile, but it had subtle signs. The Cookie’s window art Morgan was one of the first personal touches I added to the car, and it stayed there for the duration even as it did, eventually, deteriorate. In 2002, I put a USA Equestrian member decal in one window, and it remained for more than a decade after that organization changed its name to USEF.

Other rotating equestrian indicators included: the ribbon braid from the mane of a Saddlebred I showed that hung on the rearview; the “My horse bucked off your honor roll student” bumper sticker that resided in the back window until it wrinkled in the heat; and a rainbow of Kentucky Horse Park seasonal parking passes over the years.

USA Equestrian
An important historical artifact, now lost.

I will admit that the car was not pretty. Born about as plain as a car can be, my indifference to body damage didn’t do it any favors. It picked up a long dent in the parking lot of a big horse show one year, but it wasn’t really a big deal compared with the fender I crunched when I turned too soon backing out of a parking space next to a support beam. The rust in the resulting dimple grew more prominent every year. It picked up a few more minor scratches on the fender when it was stolen and taken for a joyride last year. Scars from its last great adventure.

Of course, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but in my car’s case, that wasn’t doing much better than its weathered exterior. It could barely accelerate for the first several minutes of any trip. One of the four cylinders simply stopped being a team player. The transmission was about to go. It didn’t even reliably start. My automotively inclined boyfriend, who had kept the poor thing running through years of my neglect, fought the good fight but couldn’t solve all of these latter challenges. By that point, I was already searching for a new car. It was as if the old Corolla knew I was moving on, so it did the same.

I’m not a car person. If I wasn’t into horses I would probably do my best to not have to own one (believe me, I’ve looked for stables accessible by public transportation. There aren’t a lot of options.) But when it came time to leave the Corolla at the dealer’s lot and drive off with a younger model, I felt terrible. This car had been with me through the entirety of my 20s and into my 30s, almost as long as Snoopy has been in my life.

I caught myself dreaming up what my car’s “forever home” could be. Maybe a mechanic will buy it at auction and bring it home to his teenage kid, and she’ll learn important skills by fixing it up herself and will really appreciate the freedom it gives her. This fantasy would then be smacked down by the realization that the car was worth more as scrap metal than as a car. Believing the Corolla had any other fate in store was as naïve as leaving an old horse at a low-end auction and expecting it to end up in a loving home.

But cars aren’t horses. Complicated, expensive and very nearly necessary—at least in this country—but ultimately they are just things. So I tell myself, anyway.

My new car is another practical choice. It’s an economy hatchback whose seats fold down so that I can move multiple bales of hay without compromising the comfort of any future backseat passengers. It can’t haul a horse trailer, but it’s reliable gets great gas mileage so I don’t feel restricted about going to watch horse shows in other parts of the state. It’ll never have a USA Equestrian decal on its window and it will probably never go to Malibu on a whim, but it takes me to my job and it takes me to my horse and that’s all I really need it to do.

*That more permanent solution was a section of wire coat hanger.

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Leslie Potter is Sr. Associate Web Editor of Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex.



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