1971 Fairfax, VA, 7 years old
I didn’t know why ponies were angry. I just knew that they were. I loved them anyway. And they dumped me off almost every week. Jumping was a fancy way of saying ‘falling off’. Until Chipper. He wanted to jump. The gray Connemara pony surged towards the tiny vertical, forgetting the small girl on his back, and sailed over it; a winged creature, taking his place among the gods. I was captured, hooked more completely than the most hopeless addict. This was part of my being. Something I could not now live without.
1974 Fairfax, VA, 10 years old
Light hooves danced to the three beat rhythm of the canter, drumming away all thoughts of school, homework left undone, tests not studied for, and always and forever, not fitting in. Heavy clouds hurried the evening on, but my voice rang out in a tuneless song as I rode, defying the clouds, refusing to become earthbound again, just yet. My legs wrapped around the black pony’s barrel, matching his quick mind and body. We both loved becoming wild things again. Freed from his paddock, this girl was a scant price to pay for the chance to run again. And no one had told me he was unrideable.
1980 Saugerties, NY, 15 years old
Slow hoofbeats echoed along the trailer park road, as I led the trail ride of kids out of the woods, and back through the quiet street to the barn. My horse was light, moving to my legs, as I turned to assess my charges. I don’t know why I turned, but we felt it, before it happened, the brown mare and I. One of the horses bolted. Wild eyed, he ran for the barn. It wasn’t even a fully formed thought; I asked the mare to stop him, and we body blocked the large horse before he’d gone three strides. I grabbed his bridle, and the bridle of the sorrel gelding who followed behind. We pranced all the way back to the stable, one horse on each side of us, as I held their reins. I was part of the brown mare, and she was part of me. We were better together.
1981 Saugerties, NY, 16 years old
Shafts of light sliced the narrow tie stall, leaving the cobwebbed corners darker by contrast. I needed to say goodbye. I was moving away. I’d never see the liver chestnut mare again. I murmured something unintelligible as my hand brushed along her hip. I could feel, more than hear her release of breath, and I slid in beside her, close enough for her to bite, if she chose. With others she often chose. I didn’t care. If that’s what she needed to do, then so be it.
How many hours had we spent riding the mountain trails together? I closed my eyes and we moved as one again. She was the light slicing through these dark years.
My thoughts stilled, narrowing to each single breath. She was no longer ‘horse’, and I was no longer ‘girl’. For a timeless instant, I slipped those bonds. She let me in and I shared a place that was home to her; entirely new to me. We were breath, body, heart, longing… No words, no thoughts; just being. I was lost, and I was home. With no way to describe it, this experience haunted me, nudged at me, and called to me, until decades later, I would find it again.
1988 Raleigh, NC, 23 years old
My hips lightened and swayed to the mare’s trot, my hands softened, feeling for her mouth, inviting a different conversation. And she answered; back lifting to my seat; power and grace, as she danced me round the rail. I can still hear my instructor’s voice, “That’s it! Do you feel it?”
I felt it. And it sung of something more. Something magical, that I’d only just peeked at through the veil. I had no idea yet what this meant for my life. But it called me to follow, no longer content with anything less.
2005 Zebulon, NC 41 years old
Evening chores finished, I joined the circle of mares, standing quietly in the run in shed. The trees on the east side of my farm shone gold with the last sun. A deep breath stilled my thoughts. My energy grated on their quiet. I was the guest here. Another breath… matching them. Each mare filled the space, overlapping with the others as intimately as hands held, fingers entwined. Actual touch would have broken this bond. I joined them, my edges softening. Halley, Willow, Neechee… each different, each unique; they allowed me in. I was the rank beginner, receiving indulgence for my awkwardness. This was their world. Where I thought myself superior, with language, technology, and self absorption; here they were masters. I’d never known such communion. They lived in a world connected. I was the stranger in a strange land.
These are breadcrumb moments, leaving watermarks on my soul. Horses calling me to something deeper, truer. I didn’t understand their importance at the time. That would come later…