As a child, I devoured every book I could find that featured horses. My favorites were The Summer Pony and The Winter Pony, along with Sea Star of Chincoteague. I imagined myself as the heroine of these stories, having adventures with my own horse.
My family and I lived in the country, surrounded by glorious woods and streams. In my fantasies, I pictured taking my very own horse riding over tree-covered hills and grassy pastures; this horse would be my best friend.
One day, Daddy came home from work and gave me some news that made me think my dreams had come true. A co-worker of his had a Shetland pony that he wanted to sell for only one hundred dollars, saddle and bridle included. Even as a young girl, I knew this was a cheap price for a horse. That should have been my first clue.
We bought the horse, Ginger, and Daddy’s colleague brought her to our place. We bought food for her, and I dutifully fed her each morning before school. I relished the responsibility that came with finally owning a horse.
We quickly learned that Ginger had not been ridden in months, evidenced by her reticence to let us ride her. Daddy undertook the task of essentially re-breaking her.
Horse lover that I was, I had little experience actually riding horses. Daddy had only a little more. As I think back on the situation now—Daddy getting frustrated with Ginger and with my brother and me—I just have to laugh. At the time, I felt anxious and disappointed. I had wanted to begin riding her right away, but here we were fighting with Ginger to let us on her back. Michael, my younger brother, got his foot caught in the stirrups during one of these riding “lessons,” and he fell off while Ginger stood still. Daddy really lost his temper with Ginger when she then started walking in an attempt to drag Michael completely off her.
The nadir in my friendship with Ginger—the point when I knew my expectations had not been met—came later the same day Michael got dragged around the pasture.
Daddy had coaxed Ginger into letting me sit atop her. He took the bridle and led us around for a while then stepped away to allow me to control her myself.
I used the reins to turn her, intending to walk her around the perimeter of the field, hoping to move up to a trot. At this moment, Ginger spied the open gate on the other side of the pasture. I imagine her horse thoughts mirrored William Wallace’s in Braveheart: “Freedom!”
Ginger skipped the canter and the trot and went right into gallop, speeding with her head down toward the open gate and the open fields beyond. I had left the reins too loose, and now she had taken back the little control I had managed to wield.
“Daddy! Daddy!” I hollered, my long hair flying behind me.
Daddy yelled, “Pull back on the reins!” Even if I could have done so physically, my mental capacity at that point was too impaired to accomplish this.
Ginger left the adjoining field and made toward the sloping hill leading to our long driveway, never slowing down. I felt the saddle start to slip and had a lucid thought amidst my terrified screams: She won’t stop until I’m off her back.
As she began running down the hill, she seemed to slow a bit, perhaps to get her footing. I decided to let myself fall in order to end this ordeal. As Ginger veered to go around a pine tree, I let myself slide off, grazing my arm on the tree. Otherwise, I came away physically unharmed.
I started walking back up the hill, sobbing, and saw my family standing waiting for me. Ginger had stopped running immediately after I’d fallen off and was now placidly munching grass.
After that day, I rode Ginger only a few more times—not because I feared her or another fall. I just felt that my hopes of a best friend had been dashed. After the way she’d treated me, I didn’t see Ginger as a friend at all.
Several years later, we met a family who wanted a horse. We gave Ginger to them for free, saddle and bridle included. That should have been their first clue.
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