Daugh­ters and horses

I thought my girls would be horse crazy like me but soon re­al­ized that they would choose dif­fer­ent paths. Now I’m ready to play the long game.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Jen­nifer Gra­ham

I thought my girls would be horse crazy like me but soon re­al­ized that they would choose dif­fer­ent paths. Now I’m ready to play the long game.

On my book­shelf are trea­sured relics of child­hood: The Black Stal­lion, by Wal­ter Far­ley; Misty of Chin­coteague and King of the Wind, by Mar­guerite Henry; Read-Aloud Horse Sto­ries, by an au­thor de­servedly un­known.

They are the ear­li­est ev­i­dence of a horse crush that has lasted half a cen­tury. The quarters I used to stash un­der my mat­tress in an ill-ad­vised horse fund are long gone, as is the once-vast col­lec­tion of Breyer horse stat­ues. But I saved all the horse books for my fu­ture daugh­ters, girls who I just knew would be as horse crazy as their mom.

Sure enough, I had the daugh­ters--two of them, spaced seven years apart ---and I waited ea­gerly for their lit­tle legs to grow long enough to reach the stir­rups. But alarm­ingly, it seems they didn’t get the memo, the one about how horses and girls go to­gether like bran and mash.

“Do I have to?” my el­dest daugh­ter asked when I wanted to en­roll her for a sec­ond year of rid­ing lessons. She’d tod­dled off will­ingly at first, and I bought the hel­met, the boots, the breeches and was so proud when she got

a blue rib­bon at her first horse show. (Well, yes, every­body got a blue rib­bon. on The They were sec­ond sec­ond­graders. No­body needs to know.)

She learned how to groom, and to mount, and how to hold the reins just so; how to post, how to nudge a trot­ting school horse over a cav­al­letti. But that was it.

She never got to the thrill. The part where you’re so scared go­ing around the turn, and ev­ery­one is watch­ing you. You’re ter­ri­fied you’re go­ing to fall off, but then you’re can­ter­ing, and your horse ap­proaches the jump calmly and lands on the right lead, and it is all so lovely and

nat­u­ral, it’s as if you were born fused to his withers.

That was my ex­pe­ri­ence with horses. That, and long, lazy trail rides over paths spongy with pine straw, and long, lazy af­ter­noons just hang­ing out at the barn---soap­ing the sad­dles, smelling the leather, scrub­bing buck­ets that were al­ready clean, per­form­ing any kind of work that would al­low me to be near my love, to be near horses, even though none were my own.

I so much wanted that for my daugh­ters, but I also didn’t want to be one of “those” moms, the kind who push and hover, parenting not for the child, but for them­selves. So, no. “No, honey, you don’t have to. How about pi­ano in­stead?”

I let go, be­cause I’m laid back like that. And also be­cause I had another daugh­ter wait­ing in the wings. When it was her time, we went shop­ping again: more boots, more breeches, another ASTM/SEI-cer­ti­fied hat. And she, un­like her sis­ter, was so ex­cited. We had two don­keys in a lit­tle back­yard pad­dock, and she’d rid­den bare­back on their backs, which wasn’t real rid­ing but gave her a taste. And she had friends who had horses and lived at their barns, as I had.

Fi­nally, I was go­ing to get my rider. She was the one. Un­til she fell off. Two days into a week­long horse camp, she was asked (too soon) to go into a trot and, in her en­thu­si­asm, kicked the horse en­er­get­i­cally. A rough can­ter en­sued, then a hard fall. When the call came, I could hear her in the back­ground, cry­ing so hard she could barely breathe. I rec­og­nized the sound. It was the howl­ing of yet another daugh­ter who would not be a rider.

I my­self am a mod­estly ex­pe­ri­enced horse­woman and know well the adage: You have to get right back on again. But when your arm is bro­ken, and your back

I saved all my horse books for my fu­ture daugh­ters, girls who I just knew would be as horse crazy as their mom.

is scraped raw, and they put you in a neck brace in the ER for two hours, you can’t get right back on. Es­pe­cially not when you’re 11.

By the time the cast came off, any en­thu­si­asm she had for rid­ing had van­ished, blown away like the brown foam on the shore of As­sateague Is­land, where Misty’s dam lived.

“Mom, I don’t think I want to do it again,” Kather­ine said the evening the cast was re­moved. She said this cau­tiously, hav­ing grasped that rid­ing ---that her rid­ing---was some­thing im­por­tant to me. I stud­ied her face. Should I make her? Should I in­sist? Should horses be like re­li­gion and mu­sic, some­thing that ev­ery­one should have a base­line knowl­edge of, whether they want it or not?

Did she need to do this, to con­quer a fear, even though many peo­ple live up­stand­ing, mean­ing­ful lives with­out ever com­ing within 10 miles of a horse?

Or was it that I needed her to do this, be­cause I am a horseper­son, and I want to live among my tribe?

Th­ese are ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions for which there is no right an­swer. Only the right an­swer for me.

I took a deep breath. “OK,” I said bravely. “You don’t have to. How do you feel about Rollerblad­es?”

There are horsepeo­ple, and there are no-horse peo­ple. And I’m pretty sure that you’re born one way or the other. If you’re a horseper­son, there’s noth­ing that can keep you off a horse. If you’re not, there’s no­body who can put you on one. Not even your mother.

“Ma­mas, don’t let your ba­bies grow up to be cow­boys.” Strains of Wil­lie

There are horsepeo­ple, and there are no-horse peo­ple. And I’m pretty sure that you’re born one way or

the other.

Nel­son floated mourn­fully through my head. But then came a new thought. My mother didn’t ride. She dis­likes horses. Maybe horse love is like a ge­netic trait and skips a gen­er­a­tion, like blue eyes or red hair.

I’m keep­ing the boots and the hel­mets. With luck---and I have plenty of horse­shoes around ---grand­daugh­ters are only a cou­ple of fur­longs away.

Jen­nifer Gra­ham is a writer based in Bos­ton.

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