Someday I will once again own a horse. I’ve had three in my life, but when my last horse had to be put down, I wasn’t ready to open my heart again right away. While I took time to heal, life got in the way, and in the blink of an eye, years passed.
All that time, however, shifted my perspective on what I value most from equine companionship. When I was a young girl who dreamed of owning a horse, I read every horse book in the library. In those stories I rode jumpers who soared over the highest fences, galloped on fleet Arabians, and tamed difficult stallions. I fell in love with the fiery and elegant Black Stallion.
Owning a horse only became possible when I was out of college. By then I had discovered that my horsemanship left a lot to be desired: I had no natural skill with horses and was timid around them to boot. So instead of the mettlesome black stallion of my childhood fantasy, I settled for a stocky grade Quarter Horse, red chestnut in color, bombproof in disposition.
Maggie had been a hack horse at the stable where I boarded her, so I knew she was reliable. During those years I formed fast friendships with other women my age who were also boarding their first horses, trusted and trustworthy steeds like my own. We galloped down dirt roads, camped out at a local preserve and braved the cold winds and snow of winter. Some riders looked down on my plain-Jane red mare, but she was sensible, never sick and never lame.
After a few years I “upgraded” to a younger, more refined mare with a pedigree. Jubilee was beautiful, but she lacked the quiet good sense of her predecessor, and she was frequently lame or sick. I loved her, but she drove me crazy with her spooky disposition.
Eventually, I moved on to another horse, an unbroken 8-year-old Morgan gelding. I worked hard training Corey, and the effort paid off. He became my horse-of-a-lifetime. We spent many happy years together, but there were times early on when I wondered how I could have been so disenchanted with Maggie. I’d had so much fun riding her….
Since Corey’s death, a number of frightening and even dangerous experiences with other horses have reminded me again how safe and reliable Maggie was and how much fun it was to just go for a worry-free trail ride. I am forever grateful that I was able to buy Maggie back to live out her final years on a friend’s farm.
Few of the women with whom Maggie and I shared so many wonderful rides kept their first horses. Most acquired “better” animals who were not so placid and who ended up being sold and not replaced. But as I look back, one fact stands out: The horses we started out with were the ones with whom we shared the most fun. Maybe we all tried to progress too quickly from the rank of “beginners” and did not sufficiently consider our reasons for having horses. We weren’t aspiring professionals; we were backyard riders who loved horses and wanted to enjoy them. Perhaps it is the wisdom of maturity. The childhood fantasies of prancing, snorting chargers with arched necks and flying manes no longer appeal to this aging but diehard horse lover.
I still dream of owning a horse. This time I envision myself on a quiet gelding or mare. My horse is on the bit, and we are cantering down a sunny lane. I am relaxed and in perfect balance, a big smile on my face. But this next horse will be chosen more for steadiness of character than elegance of appearance. In short, he will have all of the attributes that made Maggie a truly great horse.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #451, April 2015.