Unbroken Dreams

When I was a young girl, I was what was referred to as “horse-crazy,” meaning I was obsessed with horses.  As a young child, my favorite outing was a trip to the local pony track, where a dime would buy me five laps around a small corral on the back of a Shetland pony.  When I was older, I would nag my parents into taking me to riding stables where I could go for hour-long trail rides through the woods, and also saved my allowance until I had enough money for a few riding lessons.  Growing up in the city in a barely middle-class family, I understood that I couldn’t have my own horse, but reading horse books, collecting china horses and getting to see a real horse only once in a while just wasn’t enough.

And then, wonder of wonders, my family moved to a small town in rural Kansas when I was eleven-years old, and having a horse of my own suddenly became possible.  A few months after the move, a family friend appeared in our driveway, towing a horse trailer behind his pick-up truck.  He told us that he had found me a horse, which he would keep at his farm until we found a place closer to town to board her, and that we could come out that night to meet her.  And just like that, Gypsy was mine.  My dreams had come true: I finally had a horse!

Sadly, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped.  My first meeting with Gypsy went well, and so did my first ride.  The second time I rode her, she bucked me off and I landed so hard that I was knocked out for a few minutes.  I think we all hoped that was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t.  She threw a fit whenever I didn’t let her have her way when I was riding her, and she had a nasty habit of biting and kicking when I was in her stall.  It wasn’t long before I was both scared of her and ashamed that I couldn’t handle her.  This was not what I had dreamed it would be like to have my very own horse.

Me on TonyThat could easily have been the end of my obsession with horses, but it wasn’t.  The stable owner kindly stepped in, offering to find a more experienced owner for Gypsy and helping me find Tony, a good-natured Welsh pony, to help me regain my confidence.  Later, I got Prince, who was as close to the horse of my dreams as any horse would ever be (you can read his story in A Prince of a Horse), and I was lucky enough to share my life with Prince until he died, almost eighteen years later.

There’s no doubt that I would have been spared a lot of physical and emotional pain if I had never gotten Gypsy, and if either Tony or Prince had been my first horse instead.  But in some ways, I’m glad she was my first horse, because I learned a lot from Gypsy.  I learned that the things we dream of don’t always match reality, and I learned that there are always going to be some situations where my best just isn’t good enough, no matter how hard I try.  I learned that sometimes reaching our goals means being willing to make some necessary adjustments, and that there’s nothing wrong with accepting help when it’s needed.   Most of all, I learned not to give up, even in the face of failure and humiliation, when we’re chasing our dreams.

Life, just like Gypsy, is going to knock me down hard some times.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t get back up and try again.



A Prince Of A Horse

Prince in St. JamesPrince is not a name I would ever have chosen for my horse.  Having grown up watching “Fury” and reading books like “Midnight” and “Black Beauty,” I had always dreamed of having a horse that was spirited and beautiful, and I wanted it to be named accordingly.  But Prince was eight years old when I got him and already knew his name, so I had no choice but to let him keep it.

He was handsome, with a copper-colored coat, a black mane and tail, and a white stripe down the middle of his face.  He was a calm, easy-going horse rather than a spirited one, and since I was fourteen and inexperienced when I got him, that was a good thing.  My first horse, Gypsy, had been very spirited, and after she had bitten, kicked, and bucked me off, I was more than ready to appreciate a horse who actually seemed to like people.

Honestly, Prince liked people more than any horse I have ever known.  I got him a couple years after my family had moved to a small town in Kansas, and kept him at a small stable where he had access to a large pasture.  Everyone else at the stable had to spend some time catching their horses when they wanted to ride them.  I simply called Prince and he came trotting right over, eager to see if I had some food for him, which I always did.  He was easy to ride as long as I made it clear that he wasn’t allowed to stop and graze along the way.  Even when I wasn’t feeding or riding him, Prince always stayed near me when I was at at stable, occasionally  resting his head on my shoulder or nudging me hopefully to see if I would give him a treat.

His only real vice was that he was a pig about food, and the only way he would ever hurt anyone is if they made the mistake of standing between him and something he wanted to eat.  Prince believed that the shortest distance between him and his next meal was a straight line, and if someone was standing in his way, he would not hesitate to plow right into them.  But other than that, he was so calm and friendly that just about anybody could ride him, and I had more than one friend get over their fear of horses just by being around him.

Prince in MarionI admit I spoiled him a little, at least by the standards of some people.  He loved apples, but would only eat one if I “started” it for him.  That meant I had to bite a chunk of it off first, give him the chunk, then hold the apple while he took a bite himself, and then finally he would take what was left of the apple and eat that.  He also expected me to swat away the giant horse flies that sometimes landed on him and bit him when we were riding, even if that meant dismounting to swat one off of his leg.  I would be lying if I said the more experienced horsemen I sometimes rode with were impressed with the way I handled my horse.

Prince came into my life when I was fourteen and he was eight, and he stayed a part of it for seventeen years.  When my family moved to southern Illinois, we took him with us, even though I was heading off to college in  Iowa.  When I married and moved to St. Louis, I moved Prince to a nearby farm in Missouri.  By that time it was sometimes hard to pay all the expenses that come with owning a horse, but I never once considered selling him.

We had been through so much together.  When my teenage years got a bit painful or confusing, I could always find peace by going to the stable and spending time with Prince.  Riding him on my breaks home from college was always something to look forward to, and later, when I moved back to the large city of St. Louis, I treasured my weekend rides on Prince out in the country.  He was a constant in my life during a time when almost everything else was changing so quickly.

I had to say goodbye to Prince when he as twenty five years old and his arthritis made it impossible for him to move around freely anymore.  I knew it was time to let him go when just walking across his stall caused him real pain.  It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, and I still miss him, all these years later.  And even though I didn’t realize it when I first got him, his name fit him perfectly.  He really was a prince of a horse.