“My kingdom for a horse!” cried Richard III.
Well, I had no kingdom, but I frequently cried for a horse. Cried. Coaxed. Cajoled. I begged Santa for a sorrel pony. I begged my parents for a palomino. Every Christmas. Every birthday. Every year. “Please, puh-leese, could we get a horse?” Answer: “No, the backyard is not zoned for livestock.”
Then I got married…and got my own backyard. From the bedroom window I had an unobstructed view of a barn and, just beyond, the fences of three unused pastures. I could get a horse.
|Ollie, in his prime|
Two months later, I led my new horse, Ollie, out of a rented trailer and introduced him to his new quarters. Ollie, in turn, introduced me to some key facts about horses, things you don’t learn until you actually own one.
Horses aren’t cats. Cats eat tuna (which at that time cost 25¢ a can and still can be prepared in 60 seconds). Cats don’t mind if you go away for five days, as long as you leave behind a big bowl of Gourmet Kitty Crunch. Cats have litter boxes, measuring 14 inches by 24 inches, which you need to clean once a week.
Horses have stalls, measuring 10 feet by 15 feet, which you need to muck out once a day. When Ollie first arrived, I thought it an adventure to rise at 5:00 a.m., pull on old jeans, slip into my L. L. Bean duck shoes, and head off to the barn. I would watch my breath vaporize in the crisp predawn air and relish the pungent smell of hay, oats, and manure as I pitched the old straw into a wheelbarrow. Then I began to notice that not all dawns are crisp. Some are soggy. I started to skip the mucking out a day here, two days there…five days. Finally, I sensed Ollie’s longing for the fresh air of the open pasture. We stopped using a stall.
Horses aren’t avid readers. During my formative years, my shelves bulged with books about horses. Black Beauty. My Friend, Flicka. Misty of Chincoteague. The Black Stallion series. All dwelled on the tender relationship between horse and owner. The horse would greet the owner with an eager whinny and a warm nuzzle against the nape of the neck. The resulting bond transcended time and place. Even after returning to the Arabian desert, separated from his master for several years and by more than 6,000 miles, the Black Stallion responded immediately to Alec Ramsey’s whistle.
Unfortunately, Ollie wasn’t familiar with this literature. He didn’t know that he was to return my care for him with an affection that should know no bounds. In fact, he didn’t seem to take much interest at all in me or my whistling. Each time I appeared with mash bucket or curry brush in hand, those liquid brown eyes would take on a quizzical look: “What, she’s here again?”
Horses aren’t adept at personal grooming. A bird can clean its entire body with its beak. Even a five-year-old boy can brush his own hair. Horses have tails…and that’s it. Occasionally they swish these tails against their withers in a half-hearted attempt at dusting, but the rest is up to you. Bathing. Brushing. Combing. Scraping crud out of hooves. Mixing and spraying thick white fly-repellent spray in the summer. Forcing down a dose of cod-liver oil to keep the coat shiny in winter.
And yet, these activities were only glimpses of a greater truth.
Horses aren’t Boy Scouts; they are never prepared. It takes four seconds (at most) to snap leash to collar when you take a dog for an afternoon’s walk. It takes 40 minutes to saddle and bridle a horse for a 20-minute trot. Guiding the slithery bit into the horse’s foamy mouth, fingers frantically trying to remain three-dimensional, can take 15 minutes alone. Add to that lugging the saddle from the rack, heaving it over an equine back eight inches above your head, and tugging with all your upper body strength to tighten the girth properly. You’re exhausted before you’ve even put a foot in a stirrup.
At one point, I thought I would take a shortcut and ride bareback. Within three minutes I had slid off his other side onto the gravel and was lying on my back. Ollie slowly turned his head to look at me, clearly thinking: “What are you doing down there, you fool?”
Leading me to grasp the final fact.
Horses aren’t compassionate.
I, however, am compassionate. After 18 months of life with Ollie, I read about a local riding school’s therapeutic work with physically disabled children. Compassion welling up inside me, I called the director and offered to donate Ollie to this worthy cause. The director was thrilled and made arrangements to pick up Ollie the following week. As the school’s trailer drove out the lane, I waved good-bye, cheerful in the knowledge that I had done a good deed.
Now, if only Richard the III had been around…