Our world turned a little uglier, a little grimmer in September. For a few days the attention of the world was riveted on the impossible: attacks on American soil. Now, life continues on-it’s not the same, but similar. Along with many Americans, I’m looking to the past for a time and place when I felt safe. Like many of you, that time was my childhood and that place was on a horse.
My safest horse memories began with Sugar, the aged Pinto mare that joined our family about the same time I did. Originally a mount for my high school-aged brother, Sugar became my baby-sitter as cars and girls gained Greg’s attention. The patient old mare, already in her 20’s when a family friend declared her my perfect first horse, would snooze under a tree all afternoon as I sat in the saddle, three years old, thrilled with my superior worldview from her swayed, creaking back. No child ever had a safer cradle.
And a few years later, when my parents divorced, it was Sugar who listened to a little girl’s sobs, who tolerated my mom’s attempts at riding and grooming. Befuddled by the cinch, Mom often simply left the black and white mare saddled for days. When we all needed a mental vacation ride-around-the-block, Sugar was ready and waiting. A kindly neighbor finally unsaddled her, and then I’d sit bareback as Sugar grazed-I felt safe enough to face her tail and see where we’d been. Days later, someone replaced the saddle and we’d be back in travel mode.
Over the years, there were many horses that provided my safety zone. In elementary school, there was Bill the Birthday Horse whose long, long back could carry six of us at once. He was called upon to entertain all the kiddies at celebrations. Sometimes the last-in-line would fall off, especially if we convinced Bill to trot. But Bill’s experience (in a former life) as a horse-for-rent made him sensitive to passenger loss: he’d stop and wait for the caboose to climb back on. We were always safe on Bill.
Then there was Dotty. An Appaloosa of sorts, but more like a Jeep. She’d carry my boisterous group of junior high friends as we raced in the orange groves or headed off the local show grounds. At shows, we’d enter every class-changing clothes in the porta-potty and hanging tack from the doors and rear-view mirrors of Mom’s Nova coupe (trucks and trailers were still in the distant future). Unshod, untutored, and sometimes unbelievably lucky, Dotty kept us safe.
In high school, Miss Motivation, a beautiful but neurotic Thoroughbred, saved me from tons of teen trouble. Mom was able, by scrimping, to pay for my lessons with a real trainer. I eventually traveled to our county hunter/jumper shows. The bay mare would never stop, but sometimes she’d go fast enough to leave a stride (or even two) out between jumps. My courageous jumping was much safer than learning about drugs, riding in cars with underage drunk drivers, and loitering at the mall like most of my peers.
And of course, there’s always been Rana. The little white Arabian (whether center stage during my horse show ambitions or waiting for my next attempt at equestrian brilliance) was a safe haven from the time I was 12 years old. She’s very lame now-with arthritic knees-and her coat looks like moth-eaten carpet, but she’s still never hurt me, never scared me, and never made me cry in our 29 years together.
So the circle closes and starts again: I’m now pregnant with my first child-who will also learn to depend on the horses in his life. I bought him a saddle before a crib. He’ll have a wonderful pony: my black and white Paint filly who, though young, is quiet and gentle. I’m certain baby Joe will be as safe on her back as I was on Sugar. I want my son to know the gentle sway of a grazing mare, the squeak of an old saddle, the sound of a horse’s tail rhythmically swatting flies. I want Joe to grow up in a safer time and place than we know right now. The time is his childhood and the place is on a horse.
Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian. Comments? E-mail them to [email protected]