I’m not sure when my love affair with horses began. I know they were the subject of most of my childhood scribblings, as well as role models for my cantering around the school playground, shaking my mane and swishing the tail I thought I had.
Before long, I had consumed every horse book written for children and young adults. I mowed through Marguerite Henry’s books as if they were made of alfalfa–Black Gold, King of the Wind, and Justin Morgan Had a Horse, to name just three.
I attended a children’s horse camp for years. In that time, I grew from a shrimp to a bigger shrimp but my size never stopped me from saddling the biggest horse in the barn, Amigo. Here is an excerpt from my story about Amigo:
“When I was ten and a big blowhard, I told all of the other buckaroos at Shady Lawn Farm ( a horse camp for children, not an insane asylum for the nervous) that I could back any horse into his stall, saddle him, and make him worship me. All the other little slack-jawed kids with oversized cowboy hats, filthy Western boots clumped with manure, and a moistened blade of alfalfa resting on their lower lips took notice of this pint-sized horse whisperer.
To demonstrate my equine acumen, I selected Amigo, a 16-hand old Palomino gelding, to canonize my standing in the Saddle Club.
With his halter over my shoulder and a sugar cube in my pocket, I presented myself in front of this massive horse and introduced myself, “Hey Amigo. I’m Cheri, your friend. Ha, ha.”
The Gang of Eight scuffed back, leaving boot prints in the dusty pathway by the stalls.
Amigo awaited saddling.
As I reflect on that seminal moment with my present knowledge of the challenge of enduring banal repetition (being saddled for twenty years every day) and sharp pain of life (girths pulled too tight by inexperienced hands), often delivered to the gentle and the kind, I should have expected Amigo’s recalcitrant response.
My father told me never to turn my back on the ocean. That same advice might be given when backing horses into their stalls.
I turned my back on Amigo, still with his worn leather halter in my gloved hands. There, in front of his massive chest, I elbowed him in that soft place between that wide chest and his mighty foreleg.
“Back, Amigo, ” I ordered. “Back up boy, that’a boy, Amigo, Back, back, back! I whacked my elbow back and forth as if tenderizing a brisket, hoping to impress the crowd now gathered at Stall Number 11.
Then it happened.
Amigo bit me on my head, right through my straw cowboy hat.
I won’t lie. It was a shock. I screamed. The crowd left. I do not remember adults assembling.
It all got down to Amigo and me.
As it always does in life.”
Life presented me with a new opportunity last fall when I stopped at the bottom of our road to photograph these two old Clydesdale horses, who at the time, were hungry because the hills were dry. I had apples and carrots, so they wandered on over.
And now, they are feeding me.