I was born horse crazy. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t totally obsessed with them.
I am utterly convinced that such passion is genetic. My parents were both annoyed and at a lost to explain my enthrallment. There wasn’t a horseman in my family any closer than my maternal great grandfather, whom, I was told, had been permanently scarred when a shod horse kicked him in the face.
While my sister and my feminine peers were swooning over the latest television heart throb or the pop singer, I was devouring every horse book the library had. I watched the Triple Crown races, the television westerns, anything that had a horse on the screen. I sat through the interminable “Ben Hur” solely for the chariot race scene. I even knew the names of Hur’s horses: Aldebaran, Altair, Antares, and Rigel.
I talked of horses, wrote horse stories, drew horses, played at being a horse, dreamed of horses. I made long lists of the many horses I planned to own, complete with their breeds, names, colors, and personalities. I planned to ride a horse from the Mid West to the West Coast. I designed my barn and white fenced lined pastures, complete with regal oak trees and cool creeks. I longed for a horse as passionately as Romeo longed for his Juliet. Every Christmas wish list was headed by “a horse”. Every birthday wish was for “a horse”. I abhorred the typical things normal girls wanted: dolls, makeup, dresses, popularity.
I wanted nothing but a horse.
The problem was, I lived in Detroit.
Being a horse crazy city kid poses problems when one’s parents are poor and the backyard is so small a Chihuahua would feel crowded.
My parents couldn’t afford to give me a horse. Even worse, they vociferously disparaged my passion and tried to exorcise it. Disastrous attempts to feminize me by sending me to dancing classes and forcing me to wear dresses merely solidified my determination to leave home and be with horses as soon as and in any way possible.
Upon emancipation, I was finally able to begin pursuing my passion. I sought out every opportunity to be with horses.
My haphazard equine education took off. I learned many things, among them skills such as foaling out a mare, handling a breeding stallion, walking a colicking horse, cleaning stalls, putting up hay, cleaning tack, feeding, worming, grooming, bathing, clipping, (there’s an awful lot of cleaning involved with horses), halter training a foal, loading and pulling a horse trailer.
I’ve fallen off of, been bucked off, bitten by, stepped on, been left afoot by, run away with, and just missed being kicked by horses. I am a licensed equine massage therapist, can ride bareback, english and western, have owned, bought and housed horses here at home.
Despite this vast (and now, empirical) store of knowledge and experience, I still felt I was nothing but the wistful wannabe, watching from the spectator’s side of the railing. I didn’t feel legitimate.
The horsemen I admired and learned from all had been raised with horses. They’d come to their wealth of knowledge through their mother’s colostrum.
Some of my friends were riding while still in the womb. Their parents considered horses to be as essential to a child’s upbringing as school books. They had reins instead of jump ropes. They joined the Pony Club, not the Girl Scouts. Most of them were riding horses from the day they could sit atop one. Many of them had ponies/horses from the age of seven. For whatever reason, to me, people like that were the real horsemen.
I’d pushed everything I knew into my brain by hard work, long study, and on the job experience. Despite this, I didn’t think real horsemen saw me as anything but an amateur.
Even when I’m riding my horse, when a far more experienced rider approaches, I half expect to be asked with a sneer, ‘Do you have a freaking clue what you’re doing?”
But not anymore.
Last week, I stopped by the barn to indulge in a little horse time. My horse, Soldier, was out in the pasture with Spinner and Dollar.
I had no intentions on riding as it was raining and very cold. I didn’t have a lot of time to play with horses. I don’t need to ride to enjoy horses.
Nor was I sure if anyone was home. I’m too old to ride alone anymore. If I fall off and break something, I want a human around to help me. Talented as he is, Soldier has no idea how to call 911.
Entering the barn, I saw that Larry hadn’t cleaned stalls yet. I’m not sure how it works out that the self-avowed non-horsey Larry is the stall cleaner for Patrisha’s horses. I am absolutely certain that I don’t want to know.
I took a muck rake and the wheelbarrow, and proceeded to clean stalls.
Larry entered the barn, having seen my pickup parked in front.
“Thank you!” he said when he saw what I was doing, “I really appreciate you cleaning the stalls. I have a co-worker coming here any minute, I’ve run out of time, and Patrisha wanted the stalls done before she gets home.”
“Are you here to ride? Because, like I said, I’m going to be busy with my co-worker.”
“No, I’m just here to give Soldier some carrots and I saw the stalls needed cleaning. So I’m cleaning them.”
We heard the sound of a Larry’s co-workers’ car coming up the gravel drive.
“So you just came here to clean stalls?” Larry asked, still disbelieving.
“Uh huh” I said.
He shook his head. As he walked out, he made what he considered a sarcastic remark.
To my ears, it was a heavenly ovation of trumpets, a ringing compliment I’d spent my entire life yearning to hear.
With that remark, Larry had unwittingly validated my many years of work, study, learning, handling horses. His comment included me in the same society as Olympic dressage riders, Triple Crown horse breeders, ranked me with people born to the sound of horses hooves.
Larry finally ordained me as an authentic, true, dung booted HORSEMAN.
He said, “You horse people are WEIRD.”