Chapter One – Hooked on Horses
I don’t mean I was glued, like a rug, to the back of a horse. No, it all started when I was five years old. In 1950 I was sitting in the back seat of the family Packard, my Dad driving North to a Wisconsin resort, Lake Lawn, situated on Delavan Lake with acres of lawn. We had recently moved from a slum to a posh hotel apartment with Dad’s promotion, managing a metal stamping plant, Jiffy Metal. We had escaped “The Depression,” which I don’t remember.
Lake Lawn’s attractions, a golf course, for Dad, fine dining and swimming, favored by Mom, and, I was to learn, riding stables. I don’t remember how I got lured to the stables. Was it was Mom shooing me out of the cabin so she could unpack, or whether on a walkabout I caught the faint aroma of manure, but find it I did! Armed with quarters I paid for a half hour ride, and not on a pony, PLEASE! No! I wanted a big horse. Being a rather demanding child they shut me up by hoisting me above a roan named Kennedy, placing my feet in the leathers as they didn’t reach the stirrups. So round, and round I went inside the paddock, a pig-tailed midget on Kennedy, feeling like a queen. I was hooked!
Over subsequent trips to Lake Lawn I thrilled to learn that not only could I ride horses, I could hang out with them, grooming them, just watching them. It was empowering for a small child that this huge creature would not only tolerate but sometimes enjoy my company. You can always tell by their greeting how a horse, like a dog, feels about you. They don’t wag their tails, but If they turn their head toward you, without pinning their ears back, and maybe whinny, they want your company. I remember one horse I bought, years after, practically waved me in with her head at our first greeting.
What do I like about horses? Their heads are above mine. Ponies, burros look to me like big mice. I love their large round unblinking eyes, seeming intelligent even if they aren’t I love the sound of their nickers, and when they are waiting for you to feed them, their gentle murmuring. I love to see them run so gracefully. Now, in my seventies, while washing the dishes I see them outside the window and glory in their beauty.
Just like learning to enjoy the particular character of a person, so it is with horses. The first horse I kept on my own property was a quarter horse, a red dun named Dixie, from Tennessee. Her dark mane, tail and dorsal stripe indicated primitive markings. She was the horse our ancient ancestors drew on the walls in caves. She also may have harbored a genetic memory of cave days and fires. It was as predictable as taxes that whenever
I would start to burn wood trash Dixie would come running to stand by and breath in the smoke. She liked to run. There was a straight stretch on a lonely state road where I would let her out, knowing if I needed to slow or stop her I could carefully pull on one rein bringing her head around.
Years later, when I suffered a near-crippling fall in the house I listened to my doctor’s wisdom. She told me if I had another fall my body won’t recover again. So I had to accept that 50 years of riding horses was my experience. But that didn’t mean I could keep them. I was living on a farm with a barn when a local rider offered me his mare in foal. I jumped at the opportunity. Hite was a logger who recently had been almost killed when a tree he cut snapped into him and he couldn’t move aside in time. He had bred Trixie, a 16-year-old Tennessee Walker to his brother’s stud but now couldn’t take care of her. She was older, with a bad leg, and he only wanted to be paid for the foal when it arrived.
In the next two months, Trixie and I began to warm up to each other, becoming friends. She was close to foaling time and I started to massage this big black mare, rubbing my hands all along her spine. She must have liked it because as I was finishing she turned her head around and spoke with her eyes. Her look shot straight to my heart and I knew we had bonded. Also, I knew she would foal the next day. At seven the next morning, when I walked up to the barn, I heard a new sound. Nicker, nicker, this was the first Dixie had called out to me. Then I saw the sight I had been waiting for. On the ground, was a wet dark heap struggling with all its might to stand on spindly legs. It would attempt to straighten up, fall, and then try again, gaining several inches each time until it was finally, wobbly upright. Now I could see – she was a filly! My dream to have a foal born had been realized!
I named her April Violet for the flowers in bloom at the time of her birth and have two horses to watch, enjoy with their slick, short coats in the summer when it is easiest to care for them. As hay feeding starts they bulk up with lustrous winter coats like mink. So here I am sliding towards my 75th year with two big black Tennessee Walkers, 16 hands high, each weighing 1100 pounds.
Summer feeding is easy. they are eating from the surrounding pastures. Winter care can be a drag, chipping the ice creekside if their water is frozen. Suiting up for the four feedings a day in winter means long johns, knee-high boots, a ski bib, hoodie, and balaclava, jacket and gloves. The cold doesn’t bother me, I am a walking insulated house.
Summer or winter the evening’s last bonus is after feeding, after walking the dog, Happy, up the mountain, while coming down to the house, looking over at the forest range across Beaver Dams watching as the last sunlight paints the tops of the trees orange. Like my dog, I’m Happy.