While I was rewriting my bio for this blog the other day I couldn’t help but recall a moment early in my life that tested the depth of my passion for, and commitment to, the horse.
It’s difficult to identify exactly when the clip clop of hoof beats began to echo in my heart. It would be easier to say, perhaps, that this passion was branded irrevocably into my DNA for, try as I might, I have not been able to shake its magical power. (And I have tried. … But that’s a story for another day.)
I grew up loving western stories and movies. And long before I’d even ridden a horse I had pictures pinned to my bedroom walls and horse books stocking my shelves. To me the horse was everything, even though I’d rarely been in contact with one.
The “test” of my obsession came many, many years ago — during my ninth summer, in fact — while visiting my father in Toronto.
Giving in to my relentless pleas for him to take my brother and I horse back riding dad, who fancied himself a cowboy with his sh**kickers and string tie (had he not had some kind of personal interest in this activity I doubt it would have happened) arranged a two-hour trail ride at a stable in the Rouge Valley east of the city.
Thus, one hot, humid day we bundled into the car and drove to the Rouge to spend some time with the horses.
I was so excited. A city girl by default, even at that tender age I knew all I wanted was to be in the country with the ponies. So, the crude timber barn with its plethora of varie-coloured ponies hitched to the post; their snorts and whinnies; the fragrance of dust and horse hair and leather and, yes, manure, all mixed into one great ambient melange, captivated my senses. It was this little girl’s idea of heaven.
A little chestnut mare called Candy was assigned to me and, of course, I was sure she had to be the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen. She definitely had the sweetest name. I learned that she’d had a foal earlier in the spring and was just coming back into work. I probably thought that was sweet too. But none of it really mattered. She was all mine for a two whole hours!
We mounted up.
I felt perfectly comfortable in that western saddle, like I was born to be there. Candy and I fell into order behind the lead horse and soon we, along with about eight other horses and riders, were trekking single-file down the steep, dapple-shaded dirt switchback headed toward the valley floor. I was so happy.
At the bottom of the hill the trail guide led us over to the river’s edge where we would wait for a few minutes as the rest of the horses and riders, caught up. The whole scene was idyllic. Birds chirping, flies buzzing, river gurgling, a light breeze wafting through the trees. I couldn’t have been any closer to heaven in my heart than I was in that moment.
That’s why what happened next was so totally unexpected.
With no apparent explanation Candy was suddenly up on her hind legs, screaming. I clung with both hands to the saddle horn in a desperate bid to hang on. The mare’s front feet fell back to earth but were almost instantly launched upward again, pawing at the air.
Somehow I managed to stay aboard, but this time to a different end. While high upon her hind legs Candy lost her balance and fell over backward, hitting the ground on her left side and pinning my left leg beneath her. She didn’t move. I was trapped.
A flurry of activity ensued around us. The trail guide and my father both jumped from their respective horses and bounded to my rescue. Together they pulled me free before Candy tried to get back on her feet.
Immediately I was rushed to hospital (though I have no idea how we got back to the car).
Fortunately my injuries were not serious — just bruising and muscle strain to my left leg that would confine me to crutches for a few days (though the range of motion in my left leg was affected for quite a while after that.) The doctor told us it could have been much worse. Had the horse tried to get up with me pinned underneath her my leg would have been crushed.
We never did find out why Candy reared, though I’d overheard in the commotion afterwards that it was uncharacteristic of her to do that. Was she stung by a wasp? Did she miss her foal? Did she just not like her job that day? Who knows? With horses you never can tell.
However, needless to say my experience with Candy left me undaunted and only deepened my devotion to the horse. Look what I’d done and survived!
When we returned to my mother in England the begging for riding lessons “so I will know how to manage this sort of thing in the future,” 😉 began. Within months I was back in the saddle.
I guess you could say I passed the test …
Nurture what you love …