Most young girls go through a horse crazy phase. You know the one, where their every waking thought is about horses: favorite breeds, favorite colors, favorite riding styles. Every book read, poster hung, or knickknack obtained must be horse-related.
The second part of the phase is where their thoughts are geared more toward obtaining said favorite breed and color of horse, and/or lessons in preferred riding style. Some girls are fortunate enough to have parents who allow one or both dreams to become reality.
Other girls are not. Those girls are the ones who don’t get a horse of their own, and aren’t able to take riding lessons. I was one of the latter. My family all knew the depths of my obsession, but keeping a horse in the grain bin in my grandma’s garage was not allowed, and riding lessons would have interfered with my piano lessons.
It was possibly this unrequited yearning for equine companionship that meant I wouldn’t grow out of my horse crazy phase like most little girls.
The first two horses I owned were retired racehorse broodmares. Having read every book the library owned on the subject of horsemanship, naturally I knew how to ride. Sort of.
Carousel horses may encourage good posture (head up, heels down), but they really don’t give you the realistic experience. I mean, there’s nothing like two old mares reliving their glory days down a dirt road, and neither one wants to come in second.
Carousel horses do not, in a fit of pique, send their rider flying, only to land in a heap atop the largest rock in a mile radius, then prance just out of reach of said rider all the way home. Without any cheerful music, even.
My next horse taught me about horse traders of the less than honest kind. I had moved to Texas, and therefore needed a cow horse. I found one that seemed to fit the bill—a bay gelding, about five years old, and broke. He was a little on the scrawny side, but he was sort of in my price range.
The owner even let me borrow him for a weekend to see how he did at team penning. Long story short, horses get pretty docile if you don’t feed them enough for a while. Dusty was really laid back until I signed the papers, handed over the money, and fed him on a daily basis.
It turns out he missed his calling as a bucking bronc. The first time he piled me, it was rider error. I neglected to make sure the flank cinch was attached to the front cinch. We took off after a cow, the flank cinch slipped, and both of us became airborne.
I don’t blame him for that one. I do blame him for bucking every time the wind was out of the east, an ant crossed his path, or it rained in South Africa.
My next trial horse was a barrel horse. I climbed aboard the enormous Appaloosa with literal high hopes. I’m a tall person, and I like tall horses, after all. As soon as my rear hit the saddle, that gigantic critter took off like the hounds of hell were after us. We ran flat out for the next county, me hauling as hard as I could on the reins and bellowing “WHOA!”
It finally dawned on both me and the horse that we were eventually going to reach that fence line sooner, rather than later. I switched from pulling back on both reins to yanking one back as far as I could.
With all of the maneuverability of the Titanic, the behemoth began to arc gradually parallel with said barb wire fence. About the time he realized that completing the turn back toward the arena would mean he got to quit, I remembered that you were supposed to stop a runaway horse by turning it in continuous circles.
With renewed fervor, I kept sawing that one rein back until, at last, we completed a full circle, then two, slowing ever so slightly. By the third circle, we were both starting to tire. Finally, after the fourth circle, we started jinking awkwardly back, me cranked down on the reins, ready to haul back at a moment’s notice. I decided not to purchase that one.
After that, I’ve been blessed with some pretty good mares and one nearly perfect stallion. Those are all stories for another day. That Appy is the one that taught me the lesson I’ve been pondering today.
When life seems overwhelming, like it’s running away with you, and you can’t wait for it to slow down, sometimes it’s best to just run with it and try to steer it when you can. The run will be exhilarating, and at the very least, you’ll have a great story to tell later. Just watch out for the fence.