I was one of “those girls”.
I was born with the horse crazy gene. We can’t help it. It’s some kind of genetic anomaly. It is NOT, by the way, a good genetic anomaly to have when growing up on the south side of Chicago.
There was a contest when I was about five.
At that time, there was a candy bar called a “Charleston Chew”. It was invented in 1922 and named for the dance not the city which the dance was, in fact, named for. But the Charleston Chew was yet another candy bar amongst the myriad that I spent my allowance on at the local dime store. (Sad that there are very few, if any, dime stores left. Now it’s all box stores.) This particular candy bar still exists today with many morphings and leveraged buyouts and corporate shufflings into it’s current existence and owned by Warner Lambert. These are the same people who merged with Listerine, and Nicoret. Candy, mouthwash, and an end to nicotine. Hmmm.
In 1963, however, the Charleston Chew sponsored a contest to win a pony. If memory serves, you had to eat as many Charleston Chews as possible and send in the wrappers with your name and address.
Because of this, from this day to that day, I cannot look at a Charleston Chew.
I WANTED THAT PONY!!! NO!!! I HAD to have that pony…
It would free me from driving with the old man on “errands” on Saturdays. Riley’s Meat Market for the week’s worth of meat. Then to the Sinclair gas station where the guy with the weird thumbnail would clean the windows. The home stretch was in sight when he took me to the bar to stop for a beer and gave me a couple of dimes for the juke box. (If anyone is reading this who is too young to remember, think GIANT ipod filled with vinyl things called records or LPS.)
Finally, we would be heading home along Western Avenue, and past the Evergreen Park Plaza. It was one of the prototypes for the malls of today.
WAIT!!! They were having PONY RIDES!!
STOP THE CAR!!!!
No one, and I do mean no one, can pitch a hissy fit like a horse crazy red head with a captive audience like a five year old girl in danger of missing an opportunity to get in the saddle. The car stopped. My father was the Neville Chamberlain of Evergreen Park. He was very big on peace at any price. The price here was fifty cents. That was two weeks allowance in my world. I negotiated down to a fifty fifty split.
I then spent my three turns around the wheel of ponies trying to convince the teenage boy to untie the pony and let me have the reins to take him for a spin.
There is nothing, NOTHING, more unreasonable and stubborn than a Shetland pony. They are amongst the orneriest creatures God forgot to leave off the ark with the unicorns. The number of little horse nut girls in braids who have been tossed by deceptively cute little shetland ponies are beyond legionnaires at Beau Geste. It is an unspoken rite of passage. Fortunately, from the back of a Shetland pony, it is a short way to the turf. These ponies were bred to be short, go into Welsh coal mines and pull carts of coal. Tough doesn’t begin to describe their particular personality disorder. Welsh does. (Kidding.) Damn good thing they are largely and perpetually cute. Think Bonnie Butler in “Gone With the Wind”.
So when the Charleston Chew contest came along, I had it all figured out. I would eat the entire production line of “Chews” if I needed to. The pony would be stabled in the detached garage that was accessed by the typical alleys of city life. I would ride “Thunder” up and down my alley and brush him and love him and go in and watch reruns of “My Friend Flicka” or “Mr. Ed”.
That’s it! I would teach him to speak like “Mr. Ed”….
My father was somehow, and for whatever reason, somewhat resistant to this business plan. God, my childhood was ensconced in, and surrounded by, unreasonable adults.
Needless to say, this campaign went down in flames like McGovern’s, Goldwater’s, or Mondale’s.
Aah, but the horse crazy gene refused to yield.
I did everything, and I mean EVERYTHING I could do to earn money to ride horses. I babysat, for God’s sake! I was an only child and was never going to have kids. This should have been shared with prospective “clients”. But another fifty cents and I could garner another magic hour on a horse. In a rare lapse of business acumen, I agreed to watch THIRTEEN weeks of PBS series (then a neophyte channel) and give a report for TWO hours (straight) of riding. Pointless root canal work sans novocaine would have been a better deal.
For more money, of course.
I think my parents were waiting for this “phase” to end. Everything was a phase during that period of time. It was the narcotic of parenthood. As in “it’s just a phase, it will pass.”
I didn’t get that memo. I continued to to everything and anything I could to get my butt on the back of a horse. I founded a riding club or, excuuuse me, an “Equestrian Club”, at the high school that was built and opened for our part of the baby boom. I argued with my neighbor, Moose, the football player that I was an ATHLETE whilst he was merely a “jock”.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” He was a very wise soul who had the rare male variance of the horse crazy gene. Where I live now, a horse is largely viewed as another method of transportation and utility…. Bulldogging and team roping are varsity sports along with the other rodeo events.
My husband gave me my first horse after we were married. All mine. Finally. He also, God bless him, said “Go for it.”
I went for it. Big time. I trained this barely broke monster whose attitude and stubbornness lined up perfectly with mine. And for two years we showed and competed in the hunter divisions almost every weekend. I got a new saddle for my birthday and donated the forty year old relic I had gotten for free to the school saddle pile.
There were also occasional forays into fox hunting. That’s where forty horses and riders are tearing over hill and dale at top speed and jumping whatever gets in their way. Think extended roller coaster ride.
I won ribbons. Lots of them. And I got pregnant.
Something changed even when I went back to the competitions. Pre-motherhood, I would jump anything you put in front of me. I would love to see just how high we could go; or rather that was when my trusty steed wasn’t slamming on the brakes and having me kiss the turf.
There came a time when I knew that the mommy track and the horse show track would have to part ways. My heart knew that I had to put the time into my children and there would always be another horse. Once I reached that decision, it was okay.
Flash forward eight years. Everyone was in school and I could carve out the time during the day to regain my skills. I found a great trainer out here in the wild west that taught hunt seat equestrian skills and had all the gear to resume what I thought was still my passion.
I was wrong.
In that hiatus I discovered, at least in this venue, that I had grown cautious. It was no longer a thrill to teach a 1500 pound animal with the brain the size of a walnut and a serious flight reflex to hurl the two of us over a large obstacle that it normally viewed as a corral. Fear is too strong a word. It was more of a niggling concern that I just didn’t want to risk pain and rehabilitation.
When you ride horses long enough something, even in pure percentages, is bound to occur. Horseback riding had become a “have to”, not a “want to”.
I had my numerous ribbons made into a quilt that hangs in my office. It sits near the pink hard hat that was given to me by a dear friend when I became the general contractor on this house in which we now reside in the wild west. The next adventure. (Thanks Reg)
I have to say that I don’t really miss my bridle time. I have my “hero” pictures. I have the memory of soaring from the earth, my (un)trusty steed and I. I still enjoy the occasional trail ride. Mostly those are spent with my daughter. But it was time to hang it up. And it was the right time.
Time to fully embrace the next phase of my life and “go for it” in a different way.