For most of my youth I lived in newer stretch of suburbs, strewn along a hill that rose out of a flat green valley filled with dairy farms and berry fields. A block from my house was a large park with a clear grass lined creek running through it that was just warm enough to swim in the few hot month of the year we get in Canada. In the winter their was a steep hill, perfect for sledding that lay between three pristinely groomed soccer fields. In the spring it wouldn't get quite warm enough to dry the dew but we didn't mind. Right after school a friend and I would run to a knee deep patch of meadow and play horse in the wet grass. I had a white horse with black socks and mane. I could have any color horse I wanted but this pudgy 11 year old girl wanted only one thing, to own her very own real horse.
My mom found a stable that would let me clean stalls in exchange for riding time. They ran a trail riding business so had the usual string of horses that ran the gamete from the nearly dead to the wranglers barely broke colts. My best friend, Melissa and I cleaned 12 stalls in exchange for a half hour riding each. We would force ourselves to bank the time so that on the weekends we could go for a long enough ride to get to the sand beach where we could really let the horses rip. We we only allowed to ride a specific horse. I was allotted Bolt. He was about 15.2 but in my young eyes he was HUGE. A Clydesdale/Morgan cross with a little white on each of his hind feet and a small star on his forehead that appeared to glow outward from the pitch black of his coat. He had this huge arched Clyde neck and a slim body that was all power. I don't know what joker thought to name him bolt...he never did bolt, not once...but boy could that gelding buck.
I took me a while to figure out that no amount of 12 year old muscle could tighten the girth well enough to hold when he'd let loose. I was told that a horse couldn't buck at a gallop so I tried to keep him in that gear as much as possible. I was blazing along a hard backed dirt trail, topped with fine pebble gravel when he let one rip. I figure I rode him for a sold minute while dangling from a saddle that positioned me such that I was able to get a clear view of his lower jaw and lip- while looking up. I finally let go but I was hung up in the sturrup. I was drug for about a hundred feet or so with my shit up around my neck and my back peeling off on the ground. I didn't have a square inch of skin, from hip to shoulder, that didn't sport a scratch or half embedded pebble. From then on I rode bareback and to this day still feel safer riding where there is nothing to get hung up on.
I am not a well co-ordinated person, nor was I as a child. I have lived in the same house for seven years and currently sport a bruise the size of a walnut on my hip from failing to clear the corner coming out of my living room. I have countless other bruises I cant account for. I have no business on a horse or any other object that places me more than a foot off the ground. Falling off was and continues to be an inevitable conclusion for me. I learned to do so gracefully. I fell off of and was run over by Bolt countless times. I loved him to death.
A friend of mine had developed an interest in horses. Not a full on horse crazed obsession like mine, but enough that when she found herself with some inheritance money, with no small amount of encouragement from me, she choose to buy a horse. Alphy was a tall and black pacing Standardbred that left little to question as to why they call them Jugheads. He was fresh off the track. Having coveted my own horse for so many years, I had cultivated a special brand of hate for spoiled kids that found owning a horse a chore but I didn't mind when my new best friend, with her very own horse, soon lost interest.I was able to free lease Alphy off of her for about a year until she sold him to buy some other fleeting interest.
I was left on the hunt for a new free lease. I found a gelding for sale in the paper that sounded perfect but was unfortunately for sale, not lease. I contact the owner and asked if he would consider free leasing him. He said that we could go out for a trail ride and if I handled him alright he'd think about it. We set a time and date and I held my breath.
I was 14 and and as heavy in extra weight as I was short on self confidence. I had pimples and new lumps in places I hadn't get grown accustomed. When we finally met Hanns, the 40 something year old man that owned the gelding we had come to see, I was tight lipped and shy but Hanns had a gentle manner that tempered his size and the strength so that by the time my Mom left, I felt at ease in his presence. He had the grooviest blue eyes and treated me like a young lady.
We had to walk up a long steep hill to get to the pasture where his gelding was. I was trying not to let him hear me gasp for air as we neared the top. He pointed to the far corner and said, "that there is Rocky." Sitting here, typing this now, I am choked up thinking of that moment. He was simply beautiful. A strawberry roan Arabian with a square Quarter horse style head and body, 4 perfectly even socks and a perfect blaze. Did I mention the flaxen mane and tail? He had a big soft eye and tiny pricked ears. I was in love. We walked him and his herd mate Chocolate down to the barn to saddle up for the ride. I had butterflies in my stomach but I wanted to impress Hanns so badly. We talked about Rocky's history and what I could expect from the ride. He warned me that Rocky was a lot of horse and that we would take it slow and see how things went. We mounted up and headed out to a near by trail.
I had the world between my legs. I had never felt a horse so alive. He was all this harnessed raw energy, a bundle of power that could be set loose in a flash. I tried to make my seat and legs as light as possible. I felt like a feather riding the wind. My knuckles were white, I gripped the reins so hard. When I so much as breathed, he would prick an ear. Now? Now can we go? I was terrified and thrilled in equal measure.
The trails started out wide and easy but slowly narrowed. We picked up the pace. We were deep in the bush before Hanns pushed us up to a lope. As I child I had always dreamed of walking on a cloud. I was riding one. A slow rolling , tumbling cloud with wind in my hair and the sun on my face. I couldnt feel his feet touch the ground. My whole being was alight with joy. I didn't notice Hanns' occasional smirk in my direction or that the trail seemed to have given way to narrow tracks of dirt, barely vi sable through the ferns growing along side a very deep ravine. I was unaware that I was being challenged even when Hanns told me that we were going to be heading down into the this gully, and up the other side. It was straight down...as in...straight... without the benefit of an angle. Before I could protest he was gone.
Rocky was ready and willing. He decided we were going, I had little say in the matter. I had watch Man From Snowy River at least a hundred times, rewinding and playing over and over again the scene where Tom and Denny, in persuit of a mob of brumbies, run through and past the group of riders stopped at the top of the cliff, and jump over the edge, running down the rugged and steep hillside on the heels of the wild horses. In slow motion of course. I was Tom. Rocky was Denny. I leaned back in the saddle as Rocky plunged down the hillside, sitting down on his hocks and sliding in the mud to the creek below. Before I could catch my breath he had lunged across the narrow bed of water and was charging up the other side. I grabbed some mane as tears or joy streamed down my cheeks. When I cleared the top and found Hanns with a huge smile on his face. He said, "Good job." and we headed home.
I doubt I will ever have a ride like that again. I don't believe I spoke for at least a day afterwards. I was on cloud nine and was paralyzed with fear that Hanns would not let me lease Rocky. A few days later my Mom said that we were all going to head out to the see Rocky and sign a lease agreement. I didn't stop to consider why it was that my grandfather, aunt, sister, stepfather and mother all were joining me to sign an lease agreement. I was going to lease Rocky, that was all I heard or saw. Brad Pitt could have come along for the ride, I wouldn't have noticed. We all walked down to the barn to find Hanns with Rocky, all tacked up with a pretty green bow on his bridle. I barely noticed- to overwhelmed to question why. My mom handed me and envelope she said contained the lease agreement, I needed to sign it. In a blurr I pulled the sheet of paper out and read the bold title across the top of the page, "Certificate of Ownership". That was the single greatest moment of my life. My amazing mother and my dear grandfather had bought me my first horse. Not just any horse...my dream horse, my Rocky.
To be continued.