• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • August 19, 2016 in Columnists

    The horse of my dreams — Part I


    Sometimes dreams come true when you aren’t even dreaming them. Sometimes dreams become so unrealistic, so impractical, they fade away like the pink sky at sunset… going, going… gone.

    DebraLariSol copy

    This was my favorite show horse, Lari Sol, and this is 14-year-old me riding her in 1973.

    So it was for my dream of having a horse again. Not even a dream. A pipe dream. Sure, I was an excellent rider once upon a time, galloping bareback down the trail or sailing over fences in the show ring. I remember the joy of riding, but I also remember the reality of falling off. I’m gonna make a much bigger dent in the ground now than I did at 16. Stuff that used to just bruise will probably break now. I tore my miniscus a few weeks ago just opening a window. I’ve torn tendons and sprained joints tripping over air. I’m a hazard to myself just walking around. So, hey, let’s get on a horse after 33 years! That seems super sane!

    The real possibility of injury cancelled out any notions of riding again. Not that I don’t lust after it. When I watch show jumping on television, I can feel every stride by kinesthetic memory, right down to that held breath when your horse soars up over the jump… and the callumpf when you land and canter away to the next obstacle, your horse’s ears pricked right toward it. It’s a rush like nothing else, commanding a 1,500 pound animal that has decided to obey you, the two of you moving and communicating as one being.

    Funny thing about horses — they decide to obey you until they don’t. All might be well and good approaching that fence and at the last nanosecond, the horse just says, “Nope,” hits the brakes, and you torpedo into a plywood brick wall, head first. Been there, done that, have the herniated disks in my neck to prove it.

    Sometimes the horse isn’t even acting up. A quiet, calm ride can change in an instant. I was cantering along on my sweet old mare one evening long ago, on a nice safe trail, both relaxed as could be, and she just tipped her hips up a little in a happy little bounce that caught me off guard. I was launched into the air, my heels flipped up over my head and I landed in a pile drive. When I came to, it was dark and I was disoriented. Thankfully, Rosie stayed by my side. I clung hard to the stirrup in a daze, and she walked me slowly back home. (Which illustrates one way horses are better than cats. A cat would have flipped you off, skedaddled, and left you to die.)

    The point is that even an experienced rider on a well-mannered horse under perfect conditions can still get hurt. Sometimes they just stumble and you go somersaulting down their neck. Three decades later and 50 pounds heavier, horseback riding seemed like a bad plan.

    Enter my horse-lovin’ pal Sarah, who once charmed me into adopting a bloodthirsty, homicidal lesbian bunny (truly Monty Python-esque). I had no interest in bunnies either, but Sarah just has this way about her… the old Pringle’s potato chip approach: Just try one. And you do, and then another, and another, and suddenly you’re hooked.

    Sarah knows I love horses, and from time to time would mention she’d found a nice old horse that just needs a friend, but I’d fend that temptation off with a firm, “Nope, no, not possible, can’t do it.” But Sarah is wily and persistent.

    “Just come out to the barn and hang out for a bit.”

    Well, OK. No harm there. Just visiting with some horses would be pretty awesome, much like visiting a smorgasbord when you can only eat through a feeding tube might be. But yeah, I’d love that.

    All it took was walking into the barn.

    The scent of alfalfa hay and oiled leather — and fly spray of all things! I was like an amnesiac suddenly getting my memory back in one big flash: Oh, YES! This is who I am!

    And then we went to see Sarah’s horse and I smelled IT: horsehide.

    I was a goner.

    DebraSkipper copy

    This is me at about 13, and Skipper, my very favorite horse of all time. We rode the trails, rode the show ring, and were soulmates. I still dream about him.

    For a horsey girl, the smell of a horse is pure opium. If you think horses stink, you don’t have the horsey girl gene. If you have the gene, a horse’s scent is an olfactory orgasm, and as with all good orgasms, I was shrieking, “Yes, yes, YES!!!”

    But (and there’s always a but) let’s get real, Sarah — how could I possibly ride again at this age, after all this time? I can’t jump anymore. That would be suicide.

    “You don’t have to ride. You could just groom it and walk it and love it.”

    Which was essentially the same pitch she gave me when she put that evil bunny in my arms and it immediately stole my heart.

    She’s gooooood.

    What an odd thought: it’s not all about riding, is it. There’s the simple, sweet, therapeutic joy of bonding with an animal, spending time with it, developing a relationship. I imagined wandering along a path, horse in tow, discussing all my stresses and worries, stopping to graze on fresh green grass.

    Have you ever smelled fresh grass on a horse’s breath?




    My anxieties drifted right out of my head. I’m in! Let’s do it!

    But then, reality clubbed me: Horses are expensive, and I work at the Winters Express for what could loosely be called a “paycheck,” and that’s pretty much the end of that.

    Sarah, with that matchmaker twinkle in her eye, responded, “It’s possible. I want you to meet someone.” We walked over to a paddock and went inside. A big, dusty, rather shabby chestnut horse shambled sadly over to us, his face covered with a fly mask. Sarah pulled it off, and underneath was the most gorgeous face with a big white star. I looked at him, he looked at me, and it was like getting popped between the eyes with a riding crop: I was in love.

    (To be continued…)

      • Madgew

      • August 19, 2016 at 2:26 pm
      • Reply

      Wow, a horse as a youngster and teenager. My sister longed for a horse but never got one. So she collected all sorts of glass horses, porcelain horses and plastic ones. She played with them everyday. In fact my dad got her a saddle and attached it to an amazing rocking horse she still has in her house. My dad said owning horses (he owned some race horses) was a rich white man’s folly. Along the way she could have afforded a horse but the interest waned. One of her three daughters loves to ride but no horse in her future.
      Glad you got to catch your dreams the second time assuming you owned the first horse pictured. If not, you are fulfilling a lifetime of dreams. Holding you in the saddle and no visits to ER rooms.

      • Maya North

      • August 19, 2016 at 2:59 pm
      • Reply

      I am falling in love right along with you here. A bit teary now.. ♡♡♡♡♡

      • Maya, I think you are the first member of the Pendragon Fan Club! 😀

          • Maya Spier Stiles North

          • August 23, 2016 at 8:13 pm

          I guarantee that!

      • Joe

      • August 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm
      • Reply

      Where is the pic of Pendragon?!!!

    • Next story!

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