I was one of those little girls who was mad for horses. And ponies. And equine creatures generally. On my fifth birthday, I blew out the candles on my cake and ran to see if my pony was standing in the snow. My father couldn’t get me a pony, of course, but that didn’t stop me from wanting and dreaming and loving, and it didn’t stop him from trying every way he knew how to make it up to me. When he built a house for himself and my two brothers and me, the wall paper in my room had horses, the lamp on my dresser was a black knight on a black horse, pictures of horses cut from magazines and traced from books covered the wall by my bed. When we went to the Kansas City Zoo, I always got to ride the ponies, a slow plod up and down a narrow track, once when we first arrived and once just before we left to go home. I must have been a strange figure, sitting completely still, holding on to the little bar on the saddle, solemn in the moment of bliss that had to last me until the next trip to Kansas City.
Fifty years after blowing out those candles, I finally got a horse. She was slender and delicate, a lady’s horse, copper colored like a bright new penny. I loved her more than I can say. When, after years of great adventures together, she developed severe laminitis, a terrible and painful affliction, she had to be put down. My heart was broken.
My husband still has a horse, and we ride her one or two times a week. I no longer fox hunt or go over jumps or even really gallop. But the little girl I once was needs to ride a horse sometimes. To have wanted something so much for so long, it would be wrong to deprive myself of that. On a cold day when it would have been easier to stay home and read than to go out to the stable and brush all the mud off of the horse and clean her feet and tack her up, I realized that the little girl I had been would have done nearly anything for the opportunity to brush that horse and ride her. That made me wonder what other things she had longed for, prompted me to try to remember what that the girl I once was longed dreamed about. I’m a grownup now and can fulfill her wishes. I can see an ocean, walk on a mountain, write a book, visit friends late into the evening. I can have a pet who sleeps in the bed with me. I can paint and learn to play the piano and write poetry. No one says I have to do any of it well. But she can. I can do that for her. For me.
Image: Amish Honey and me, by Jonathan Hutchins.