Monday, January 7, 2019

Gateway drug redux

Contrary to popular belief, horses weren't my first great love. That honor goes to elephants. This was, no doubt, inspired by an early childhood viewing of Dumbo. I don't actually remember the elephant days. They were so long ago.
Jennifer with two stuffed elephants, 1973
What I do remember is always - always! - being obsessed with animals.
Jennifer, Erin and Colleen with our first dog Jock, 1972
It didn't matter what kind they were. I loved them all!
Jennifer and a deer, 1974
As a young child, I spent a lot of time watching wildlife programs like Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and Wild, Wild World of Animals, and I dreamed of growing up and working with lions like Joy Adamson in Born Free.
Cats - especially big cats - may have been my favorites, but horses were always in the mix.
Christmas 1975
They were also in the neighborhood. We lived half a mile from a big boarding stable, and every now and then, my mom would take us there and let us watch the horses go around the ring. Occasionally, one the riders would stop and let us pet her horse. That was the best.
the big ring at Eaton Canyon Riding Club
When I was in second grade, my Brownie troop went on a trail ride at a local rental stable.
Jennifer in her Brownie uniform, 1976
I was assigned to a flea bitten grey gelding. I asked the horse's and was told that he didn't have one. I found that completely unacceptable, so I decided his name was Speckles. 
The wrangler boosted me up into the saddle, tucked my feet into the stirrups and handed me the reins. "Hold these," she said, and that was extent of the riding instruction. Fortunately, Speckles knew what was expected of him. He fell into line without any guidance from me, and I spent most of the ride lost in my only little dream world, holding the reins in one hand and petting his shoulder with the other.
Eventually, I looked up and noticed that some of my fellow Brownies were actually steering their horses. I asked how them how to do that, and received a very basic lesson in neck reining. I tried it and was absolutely delighted when Speckles responded to my direction.
One girl showed me how to hold the horse back and then kick forward into a trot. I wanted to do that, so I followed her example and pulled on the reins. Speckles shook his head in annoyance, but I was determined. I pulled again, and then again and again until there was a space between my horse and the one in front of him. 
Then I leaned back, grabbed the horn and kicked him as hard as I could. Speckles broke into a few steps of trot. A big grin spread across my face as I bounced happily in the saddle, and just like that, everything changed.
Jennifer and Ahab, 1977
From that point on, I was a horse girl. Life would never be the same again.


  1. Adorable story! I felt like I was in your place as I read it. You are a really excellent writer.