apples, beauty, Books, buck, buckskin, children's books, courage, CW Anderson, drawings, farm, freedom, gelding, greenhorn, Harry de Leyer, Holland, horse shows, horse stories, horsemanship, horses, illustrations, immigrant, manes, mare, Marguerite Henry, saddle, show jumping, Snowman, stable, storytelling, symbol, tails, The Eighty Dollar Champion, Wesley Dennis
Horses have always been (for me) a symbol of freedom, courage, and beauty. As a child I put on my black rubber boots and galloped out in the rain, neighing as I crested the green grassy hill on the playground. Trips to the library included as many of C. W. Anderson’s books as I could carry, and for hours I would read them and look at the exquisite drawings. As I grew older, Marguerite Henry’s beautiful books (illustrated by Wesley Dennis) about the Chincoteague ponies captured my imagination. I found a large drawing of a horse in the attic, left by some other horse lover. Delighted, I traced over the lines that my unknown benefactor had drawn and tacked the picture up over my bed. Horses were a great escape, and I dreamed of learning to ride and someday owning a horse.
Eventually my next-oldest sister and I ended up on a farm. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I discovered that our foster sister owned three horses: two unbroken mares with dusky coats and long, wavy manes and tails, and a gelding named Buck. He was a buckskin with black legs, a spiky mane and a long, black tail. We begged, pleaded, and cajoled until finally, D agreed to let us ride Buck.
My first clue to reality should have been when Buck laid back his ears and snorted at us. “Go on, climb up there,” D told us. Buck was an awful height. I hadn’t realized how tall horses were, or how wide. Somehow I got up there and put my feet in the stirrups. I grabbed the reins and kicked Buck. “Giddy-up.” Buck lived up to his name, and I found myself sailing through the air. The landing was painful. “Get back on,” D yelled. “Show him who’s boss.” I was no quitter. I swallowed my tears and climbed back on. This time Buck walked a few yards before he began to rub me against the fence and dislodge me. After a few choice words from his master, Buck and I set out across the pasture. The sun blazed down on me, and flies buzzed around my head. We hadn’t gone far when Buck decided he’d had enough. He seized the bit and galloped back to the stable. I yelled, grabbed the saddle horn, and hung on. Buck did his best to make sure my head hit the top of the doorway when we went through. Buck stopped in his stall and gave me the evil eye. I got the message. I shakily clambered down, my thighs aching, my heart pounding. “Let me try,” my sister said. She took Buck out with about the same results. No matter what we did, Buck was not going to allow some strange girl on his back. I swore that horse was laughing at us greenhorns when he turned, laid back his ears, and showed us all his teeth. “I don’t understand it,” D told us. “He obeys me.” After a few more days of being bit, kicked, and bucked off, we gave up and began to play with the barn cats (a much safer and more entertaining occupation). I still went out and fed the mares apples and stroked their manes, but I stayed as far away from Buck as I could get. Somewhere out there may have been gentle, willing horses, but Buck was not willing to fit into that category. After six months we were back living in town, our chance to learn to ride was gone, and we were sadder and wiser about the ways of real, live horses.
I still enjoy a good horse story. The Eighty-Dollar Champion, by Elizabeth Letts, tells about Harry de Leyer, an immigrant from Holland who saved a big, gray, plow horse from the slaughterhouse because he saw something great in his eyes. He named him Snowman. Together they went on to amaze and inspire the nation as they climbed to the top of the show jumping world. The sight of horses galloping with their manes and tails flowing still thrills me, but I’ll leave the riding to someone who knows how to be the boss.