MISS MOOX + time


Yesterday I was working at a friend's farm. As I cleaned the horse stalls, I started thinking about my relationship to horses, about the enormous part they played in my childhood.

Growing up, I was a horse fanatic. It began when I was about two or three, when my mother told me about the horses she'd had as a child. From that moment, my passion for horses was ignited.

My first actual exposure to horses came when I was about five years old. My father took my brothers and me to the pony ride at the carnival. When I was asked which one I wanted to ride, I pointed. Not to the one standing directly in front of me, but to the very tallest horse standing just behind him. As I rode around the ring at a walk, I felt like the king of the world.

Unfortunately, for most of my growing-up years, my parents did not have the money for lessons. My longing for horses had to be confined to the realm of imagination. I checked out all the horse books in the library: Misty, Flicka, John Steinbeck's red pony, and the illustrated factual books about horses were my friends. I collected Breyer model horses and dreamed of a real stable full of such beauties as my friend and I acted out imaginary scenarios with our plastic steeds. I cut thousands of pictures of horses out of magazines and taped them all over my walls. I subscribed to Horse Illustrated. I read about riding techniques till I knew everything about how to handle a horse except the feel of one beneath me.

Finally when I was nearly twelve, a friend of my mother's mentioned a friend of hers who had a pony. He was rather old, but she thought the owner would be willing to let me ride. The answer came back: Sarah was glad to let me come over and give me a few pointers.

That was one of the most exciting days of my life. Finally! My mother's friend brought me and took along her camera: there are pictures of me, looking stiff and awkward, holding the horse's head and looking back over my shoulder as I ride him.

Sarah's pony was a good first taste, but ended up being unsatisfactory. It was a distance, I couldn't travel there myself, Sarah didn't have a lot of time to spend with me, and the pony was rather elderly and stiff. I never got beyond a trot and my legs swung wildly as I tried to post, far off the beat.

But it was a kind gesture and an opening to the world of horses.

For my twelfth birthday, my grandmother gave me the most priceless gift she could: a series of eight riding lessons at a local stable. My then-best friend Kathleen and I went together. Somewhere, I have pictures of us standing mounted in the middle of the ring, smiling triumphantly beneath our helmets as the rest of the class cantered around us. We were never deemed advanced enough to go faster than a trot.

That taste of riding was sweet but all-too-short. I begged for lessons but my parents couldn't afford either the money or the time. I contented myself again with reading, collecting, and dreaming. One day, I'd have my own horse. One day, I'd be able to ride as much as I wanted. I read tack catalogues obsessively and mentally outfitted my future horse in all his gear.

When I was fifteen, my younger sister began taking lessons with a friend who had a horse. That was the last straw. My younger sister, who had no real interest in horses except copying me, got to ride and I didn't! This time, I succeeded in being persuasive. I started lessons at Toraj Stables, the same place I'd gone when my best friend and I were twelve.

For four years, I rode at least once a week. When I got my own car, I was completely independent. I began working at the stable for a couple of hours early each morning before my "regular" job, mucking out stalls and feeding and watering to pay for lessons. In addition, it gave me a bit of extra income each month and meant that I could ride whenever I wanted.

I was a barn brat. I rode a lesson at least once a week; but at the end of the week, I'd take my favourite horse, Lucky, a big red chestnut Quarter Horse gelding, out on the trails for a wander. During lessons, I rode English. For trail rides, I slapped a big Western saddle on Lucky and took off. We'd roam the extensive acres of fields and orchards and watch wildlife and feel the sun on our backs. We'd ford streams and push through treelines and rocks. We'd climb hills, Lucky's back working hard. We'd pass migrant fruit pickers and wave hello.

And at the end of the ride, the biggest treat: a long, smooth, grassy stretch running along a field of apple trees. Lucky knew what this meant and became fidgety as soon as we reached it. I'd give him his head, kick his sides, and kiss. Off he'd tear, his Quarter Horse hindquarters working like pistons to thrust and drive, legs flashing, head down, mane and tail flying. I'd stand up in my saddle and lean forward as he sprinted at his fastest gallop, hooves thundering, grass whispering as we passed, again, feeling like king of the world. Finally at the end I'd slow him down gradually to a gentler canter, break him down to a trot, and as we reached the edge of the stable property, a slow walk to cool down. He loved it and so did I. I was free.

I groomed horses. I was the first to discover our broodmare's tiny chestnut baby standing in her stall the morning after she was born. I got kicked, bit, and stepped on. I fell in love and had my heart broken. I learned to communicate with horses and rode a mare named Suzy better than her owner did. I longed to buy King and was deeply saddened when he went away. I cried when a beautiful two-year-old that I'd been working, the first horse to ever buck me off, had such bad leg problems that she couldn't be ridden anymore. I loved my horses. They were the best part of my life, the ones who accepted me as I was, the ones who gave me a feeling of power and relationship.

When I went away to college, it spelled the end of my riding adventures. Toronto, like any big city, is not extraordinarily amenable to riding. I had no spare time as I threw myself into curricular and extra-curricular activities. Riding became something that happened, at best, once or twice a year. Something that had been an enormous part of my life passed away, just like that.

It's been seven years now since I left home, seven years since I have ridden regularly. The horse-bug has subsided. I doubt now I will ever own one of my own. Despite living with a horse-owning family for six months, I saddled up only a few times. Horses have become something I love but do not feel compelled to spend time with. When I visit the farm now, I nuzzle and pet and talk to them. They are my friends. But I don't need them anymore.

I still love to ride. One of my greatest pleasures is a leisurely trail ride through woods and fields. I love the beauty of horses. I still collect lovely photographs of horses, this time as desktop wallpapers or Flickr favourites, not tattered cutouts on my wall. Horses will always be a part of my past and a big element of who I was growing up. I will always appreciate them. But the horse-craziness has gone away. Maybe that's sad. Maybe, it's just part of growing up.

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