Horses are my home. The dusty inside of a barn will always be the mooring where I tie up my boat. My anchor. Before I understood life, I understood my connectedness to horses, the way dreams of them lived in my marrow. Before I learned that I was uncool, and small, and uninteresting, I learned how to run my hand down a cannon bone, how to pinch and lift a hoof. I learned how to wrap legs and hold reins and curry slick coats. I taught myself to French braid, not on a doll or a friend, but on Skip's red-black-brown tail, fretting slender strands together and together into an intricate pattern of intersecting lines. I did not wander the mall; I sat on stepstools and listened to the adults tell stories of their equine triumphs and tragedies. My hands learned the shape of wheelbarrow handles. My skinny arms learned to flick manure off the end of the fork and send it lightly into the muck bucket from ten paces away. I learned how to fall; how to get back up. I learned the magic of standing in the middle of a pen and having a wordless dialogue with a frightened, twelve-hundred pound animal, and being rewarded with his trust. I learned to dance in the center of a longe line circle. My wardrobe was one of baseball caps, muddy boots, and busted jeans. The symphony of my life was the clop of steel shoes on concrete aisle, the soft chewing of hay, the deep bellows breathing of a perfect dressage test. My childhood smelled of sun and hide and fly spray.
I was told that I would outgrow horses one of these days. I'd "grow up." I'd leave that childish life behind and get married, have babies. But I didn't outgrow it, and I learned a long time ago that I never will. Because it was never a stage. It's woven into my DNA. I'm not married, and I don't have babies, but that's because all these years of horses have taught me that I am an incurable tomboy, and I haven't yet found the mythical man who might find me interesting. And in the meantime, when the world mandates a different form of femininity from me, it is to sun-shot afternoons of waving grass and swishing horse tails that I retreat. I am in love with board fence, the sound of a tractor starting, with the gentle softening of big brown eyes as I am contemplated and accepted as part of the herd. It is to books that I race, when the need hits. I love the taste of words, the rustle of pages, the smell of ink, the vast, rich worlds that live between glossy covers.
I have entered a season of life in which I feel the need to defend my loves to others. Never let anyone tell you that their goals should be yours. When something gets in your blood, it becomes a part of you, and the ones who love you will have to learn that there is no erasing something as strong as the hoofprints on our hearts.
Ready? Make a wish.