Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Passion Piece

This is the 1500-2000 word piece I submitted for my sister-in-laws e book. I mentioned last week or so that she requested I write about my "Passion", and since horses have always been my passion that's what I wrote about.

Pretty stinking clever of me, huh?

Anyway, it's an essay (snooze) so it's not chocked full of shits and giggles, sorry. Go back and read about Cleatus urinating on AK-47's Bentley for that. In the mean time, slog on, citizens.


The Object of My Addiction

I have, for as long as I can recall, loved horses. Like many young girls I craved the freedom they represented, the bonding between horse and rider, and their all around natural grace and beauty. With zeal I daydreamed about being able to leap upon the back of a noble steed, flying like the wind in whatever direction we chose. Of course, reality is so much different than fantasy.

We lived in the suburbs, and no matter how much I cajoled and pleaded, my parents could not reconcile themselves to keeping a horse in our tiny back yard. So I settled for the next available thing; absorbing the horse through books by Marguerite Henry and Walter Farley. In my mind I was marooned with The Black Stallion. I lived on Chincoteague Island with the hardy little ponies. In Victorian England I felt the cruel lash of a whip while pulling a Hansom Cab over cobblestone streets as Black Jack, the carriage horse. I collected Breyer models, and Sam Savitt posters. I adorned my room with Arabs, Morgans, and even that ugly old grey milk cart model that wore a straw hat. I never walked anywhere, I trotted, or if in a hurry, I galloped, making snorting noises and pawing at the ground with my sneaker covered hooves. I attached a jump rope to the handlebars of my bike and taught myself, not always successfully, to ride using "reins". Each waking breath was devoted to thinking of, reading of, and dreaming of horses.

As I got older and became a popular sitter for the neighborhood children, at fifty cents an hour, I saved up my earnings and enrolled in riding lessons through the local park district. I was in heaven as I shuttled to and from the stable in the district's van every Thursday evening. Learning to ride was empowering; the feeling of all that muscle under you, controlled by your commands, a delicate dance of balance and forward impulsion. The knowledge that such an enormous animal is responding to cues given by you builds courage, confidence and self esteem. It made me realize that as I controlled the animal I could also control my life.
At 13 I attended a company picnic with my family and found, to my delight, pony rides. By then I was too old and equitationally advanced to do something so infantile, but the man who ran the business offered me a job working for him. At the princely sum of $1.00 an hour, I jumped at the opportunity.

My goal was never to be at the pinnacle of the horsemanship world. I only knew that I wanted to be involved with them. The details never mattered; boarding, training, riding, driving, as long as I had contact and was able to inhale their intoxicating warm scent, combined with the smell of sweat and leather. The exultation I felt while watching their powerful muscles ripple under sleek fur groomed to perfection. I enjoyed learning the difference in their vocalizations: the "I'm hungry" whinny so different from the "It's scary" snorty inhale, so far removed from the "Where is everybody?" call.

Although it was a rewarding job because of my proximity to the ponies, it became clear that ponies are not like horses, at least the ones in this little string. They were sneaky, conniving little buggers who would just as soon stomp on your foot as look at you. I quit that job, not because of the rotten little Shetlands, but because the owner reneged on his $1 an hour and changed it to $5 a day.
Obsessed or not, I knew the value of my time.

Eventually, life overrode my horse habit, the constant "Oh grow up. Having horses is a little girl's dream," grinding into my psyche. I settled into being a passive observer, going on the occasional trail ride, or watching the Thoroughbreds race at the track.

Eventually I married a man who was a closet cowboy, born in the wrong time and geographic location, who shared my love for horses. We took riding lessons together, ironically offered through the park district, and often discussed how we would both like to own a horse someday.

It was during this time in my life that I had an epiphany; my husband and I were in the car, driving past a field in Wisconsin. I could see across the light brown wheat to the edge of the plowed land. There were riders on horseback, trotting together in a group, kicking up dust. A small tribe out for an evening ride. The sun was setting; the rays filtering through the atmosphere giving everything it touched an ethereal quality. Filmmakers and photographers call this "the golden hour", and I knew that, where those people where, riding their horses through that field, in the company of one another, with the companionship of their horses; I knew that was where I wanted to be. That was where I had always wanted to be, but somehow I had allowed myself to be sidetracked. My envy was palatable. I had become a victim of the dream smashers, the "Be practical" shouters. I had become a hostage of the reason-pirates; the connivers who conspire to steal your heart's desire and replace it with a 9-5 job, expecting that in the frenzy of daily living you'll never notice the difference.

With double income and no kids, my husband and I settled into our jobs and a house of our own. One June evening after a particularly enjoyable lesson, we looked at each other and one of us said, "I think 'someday' has come."

We shopped around, and eventually purchased an Appaloosa, L.P. Prairie Dreamer, and began our new life as horse owners. Once again I became absorbed into the culture of horses. The riding, grooming, equipment and vocabulary were my drug of choice, an addiction I threw my entire soul into. I had finally come home, and reveled in the feeling of satisfaction, in knowing that after my daily grind at the 9 to 5'er, I could once again drive out to the stable and get my horse fix.

A year after the purchase, we had a daughter. Now the stable became my escape, my "me" time. After work my husband would return home and care for our child and I would race to the barn, allowing myself the luxury of relaxing with my equine obsessed friends. Not long after that my husband was offered a job transfer to Missouri. Although not born in Illinois, I always considered myself a native, and the move to Missouri would take me far from friends and family. I agreed to go, on one condition: I wanted horse property. Not content with keeping my best non-human friend at a stable, I wanted to be able to look out my kitchen window and watch him grazing contently.

Of course after we moved, horse mathematics came into play; three people and one horse equals two people who are horseless, so we purchased a large pony that could be ridden by adults as well as the daughter who I knew would be genetically horse-obsessed. And of course if you own a mare, you are required to breed her. Then when another pony was offered for free we had to take her in too…

It was then I realized that besides merely loving horses, I was passionate about them. I started reading about horses again, this time not novels but non-fiction. I wanted to absorb everything I could about them; learn how horses thought, how they moved, how breed form followed function. I immersed myself in my Appaloosa's pedigree, trying to figure out how his genetics factored into his development as a saddle horse. As she grew, our daughter got into 4-H, and I learned even more, absorbing all the Hippology workbooks and information they presented to the children at the meetings.

Eventually our time on the farm in Missouri came to a close and we moved even further west, landing in Utah. We chose a home in the suburbs, victims of the huge difference in real estate prices, and soured on the work involved in maintaining a hobby farm. Only able to afford board for one horse, we found homes for the others and brought Dreamer along. And so I still had him, my first horse, that animal I had craved to know for so long.

After less than a year in Salt Lake I was hired as a carriage driver. The job involved maneuvering the big draft horses through the streets downtown, giving romantic rides and historic tours. Once again I was a student, learning the art of driving, the harness tack, and the finesse necessary to negotiate in traffic; understanding what the horses see as a danger, and what they ignore. I enjoyed teaching passersby, some of whom have never encountered a real horse in their lives, what this magnificent animal with such a noble past is capable of doing. It is a job I still hold today, and I always tell people that it is the best, the most fun, intriguing and rewarding job I have ever had, something which few people can honestly say about their professions.

Several years ago I finally found a way to balance my passion for horses with another love. Having always been a voracious reader, I became a writer, blogging about my carriage driving life, along with creating fictional characters and scenes. I've found through the years my horse experience has transferred over into my writing, and that’s my genre — writing about characters that live and work with horses on a daily basis. I hope that I, too, as those wonderful novelists before me, may someday fan that spark in a person who loves horses as much as I have. Encourage them to take that passion and turn it into something they can do for a living, whether it be as a breeder, trainer, writer, or a person who gives pony rides.

Combine that obsession which burns within you, and turn it into something you can incorporate into the rest of your life.


Ddusty said...

Excellent personal essay, SD. (might want to change palatable to palpable and then erase this comment)

Ddusty said...

Excellent personal essay, SD. While it can't be said that I have a passion of my own, I'm engaged and pleased to know people who do. Have a passion of their own.

When you describe riding, knowing that a powerful animal is under your control, you almost sound like a pilot. Or a sailor. I understand your horse-love better now, which means I also understand most of my cousins better. Thanks.

Amber said...

Absolutely beautiful. And many parts could have been written by me. Right down to putting reins on my bike :)