A Horse! A Horse

'A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!' - Shakespeare's Richard III

If I had a kingdom at my disposal, I think I'd be willing to work a swap right about now. In other words, a horsey person should never watch 'Hidalgo' unless they have a horse of their own to ride. I have been horse-less for about a year and a half now, and it's beginning to tell on me.

I have loved horses ever since I can remember. I prayed every single night for a horse of my own, and then went to sleep and dreamed about the day when I'd finally have one. Eventually, the dream came true. My parents bought me a small, round, black horse when I was eight. I remember sitting on the floor, literally shaking with excitement while they decided whether or not to buy her. We crammed her into a friend's goat trailer (good thing she was small) and brought her home. I, with all of an eight-year-old's flair for wildly flamboyant names, decided to call her Midnight Rose. Luckily, my mother possesses both common sense and tact, and was able to shorten Midnight Rose to the much more sensible Rosa.

If Rosa'd had a few more white spots, she probably could have been registered as a Pony of the Americas. As it was, she was simply a round-barreled black horse with a bit of roaning and a stubby mane that always stuck up.

She was the best first horse anyone could have. She was perfectly safe, yet had enough grumpy attitude and bad habits to push me into being a fairly confident rider. I taught her a thing or two, and she taught me almost everything I know about horses.

She had a stiff, bouncy trot that spelled disaster to anyone without good balance and strong legs. I think she would have lost a great many more riders than she did if she hadn't the convenient habit of slowing down whenever she felt her rider begin to go. Without a saddle, things became even more complicated. Her round barrel made gripping difficult, and if a person wasn't careful, they would either be bounced off to one side or forward on to Rosa's very pointy withers. At one point, my saddle was sent away for some alterations, and did not return for a year or more. I had to master the art of barebacking if I wanted to ride at all. I barebacked. My leg muscles and balance were probably quite exceptional during that period of my life.

Eventually, I made the decision to give Rosa away. She went to Camp David of the Ozarks, a Christian summer camp for prisoners' children. Quite naturally, I came along with my horse as a member of the wrangler team. So in a way, Rosa is responsible for an important stage of my life. Camp David is the place where I met some very dear friends, and even more importantly, drew much closer to God. That little black horse was an answer to prayer...in more ways than one!


O'Henri came during another horse-less period. He had been offered to an acquaintance and the acquaintance had no place to keep him. So I popped out of the woodwork with a helpful, "I can keep him for you... can't I, Mom and Dad?"
O'Henri was an equine mountain. An Appaloosa/Thoroughbred cross, he was beautiful, long-legged, and TALL. My head was barely higher than his back (and I'm not short). Mounting him was always a bit of a scramble.                                                                                                          

Henri was sweet-tempered and arthritic. Getting him out of the barn was frequently a challenge, as he was reluctant to exercise his painful legs. Once out, he was generally good, though his arthritis made him clumsy. His frequent stumbles over rough ground were a bit harrowing, especially since he was the first horse I was genuinely worried about falling off of. The ground look very far away and about as hard as iron when viewed from Henri's saddle. 

The real trouble with Henri was his equipment. It was very old, and frequently broke at inopportune moments. His saddle lost one stirrup, then the other, while his owner was riding him. But the real treat was reserved for me. I was riding peacefully through a field one day when Henri was suddenly seized with a strong desire to go home. He bucked, and took off running. 

One of my feet had come out of the stirrup, but I wasn't really worried. 'Oh, so you want to play this game, do you?' I muttered to him as I applied pressure on the reins. My confidence shattered when there was a sudden jerk, and one of the reins broke. I lurched in the saddle, and lost contact with the other stirrup. Vivid mental pictures of Henri stumbling into a hole, and of me flying over his head flashed through my mind. I hung on tight with both knees, and hoped desperately that the other rein would hold as I used it to halt our wild pace. Our flight only lasted a few more yards before Henri succumbed to my efforts, but my legs shook a little as I slid out of the saddle. It took awhile to get all the adrenaline out of my system, and every muscle in my body, from shoulders to knees, ached terribly for days afterward.

But for all that, I liked Henri. When I rode him, I was truly on top of the world. 


Another horse I boarded was a sorrel mare named Strawberry. She was smart, and she also worried about things. Those two characteristics made for some interesting times in our relationship. 

One of Strawberry's more annoying habits was her propensity to run from anyone who tried to catch her. I was bound and determined to break her of that habit. I started hanging out with her in the pasture every time she was fed, in the hope that she would eventually begin to associate my presence with something pleasant. I also discovered that she hated being touched on the neck. Eventually, she would stand still to be haltered, as long as I didn't put a rope on her neck. She wouldn't always stand for everyone, though. I gleaned some smugly fiendish amusement from this fact. No, I'm not a very nice person.

Since Strawberry was a worrier, she frequently decided to spook at things. The spooking didn't bother me so much, but her saddle sometimes slipped when she shied or tried to run. She was a fairly round horse, and also quite fat when she first came to the barn. The saddle just didn't stay put very well. If I'd had a little extra cash, I would have invested in a higher-quality saddle blanket which would have helped the saddle stay on. But I didn't, so I just had to deal with what I had.

Between Strawberry and Henri (I had both of them at the same time), I rarely came back from a ride without some minor injury or strained muscles. I particularly remember one afternoon when I had just gotten back to pain-free movement after my last horse-related mishap. I went for a ride on Strawberry, and she behaved angelically. She was a model of perfection. I forgot that she wasn't mine, and took a very proprietary pride in her good behavior. I was bursting with satisfaction. I got back to the barn, and was sitting in the saddle for a minute, to relish the fact that I had just taken a completely painless ride, when one of our cows snorted loudly. Strawberry panicked and bolted at full speed. I was completely unprepared, and almost fell off over her tail. To this day, I think that my muscles might have complained less if I'd just let myself fall.

One of my favorite things about Strawberry was her response to verbal reproof. I discovered that a stern "Strawberry! Cut that out!" would usually cause an instant return to good behavior. The only time this tactic failed was when Strawberry ran from whomever tried to catch her. Then she had the upper hand...and she knew it. Like I said, she was smart.


At the end of the Strawberry and Henri era, I decided that I wanted to give up horses in exchange for the freedom to globe-trot. 

I'd gladly trade a kingdom for another horse, but I won't trade the freedom to go wherever I want whenever I choose. But, if you ever think of a practical way to reconcile horses with globally nomadic lifestyle, please let me know. I'll be the first to adopt your plan. 

What animals have impacted your life?
Would you trade your freedom for the sake of your pets?