Horse Stories (from Writing Contest, 2nd prize)
Winner of the 24" Equi-Spirit Ball from
If Your Horse Could Talk
The Model Horse that Came to Life
Princess, the model horse
“Princess” had always been my favorite toy. Little did I know that she would come to life one day through my Quarter horse mare, “Dixie”.
Even missing a hind leg, Princess is still regal and beautiful, the favorite of all my childhood toys. Long retired from play, she now stands on top of my office desk as a silent reminder of the fantasy I’d had of someday owning a real horse … one that was just like her.
Princess arrived the Christmas that I was six, and even after accumulating
a hundred more models over the years she was the one that I reached for most
often. With Barbies on her back, she pretend-galloped over the couch, the
coffee tables, and along the living room carpet. When her leg finally snapped,
I ran with her to the garage where Dad patiently glued it back on with epoxy.
Eventually, it came off again and was lost.
Almost ALL of my statues ended up with broken legs back then. I used them hard nearly every day. Their colors faded where my hands gripped their bodies and their ears and tails got chipped as we carried on with our imaginary adventures. I loved horses so much that I practically became one myself, often cantering around the back yard with a rope in my mouth.
My parents bought me my first real one when I was eleven, an Appaloosa mix named Cheyenne Tee J. I had her for nearly twenty years, even hauling her to Idaho in 1983 where I'd gotten a job as a wilderness guide. Living on an isolated guest ranch, I had my choice of over thirty animals to ride at any given time. The herd was always being updated, with new horses arriving every spring, and I got a ton of experience through them. Then one day when I was 27, Dixie arrived.
She was ten months old and wild as a March hare, culled by a neighboring outfitter and given to the ranch because he thought she was too ugly. Her head was huge, and her legs were crooked because she’d already foundered twice. None of the crew thought she’d ever amount to anything, but rather than shoot her they gave her to me.
The author at age six, the year Princess came along
There was something about the frightened filly that got into my heart and wouldn’t let go. 1 spent every spare moment I had with her, speaking softly and moving slowly. The first time I rode her at three, she responded like she’d been under saddle her entire life. She never bucked, bit, or kicked, and she was smart, sure-footed, and agile.
When I eventually moved, I took her with me, finding a farrier who understood corrective shoeing. Over time we fixed her hooves and even managed to straighten her legs. When I wasn’t trail riding her with my new friends, she gave local children riding lessons and impressed everyone with her sweet nature. I even hired us out, during summers, to help herd cattle. Nothing we tried was out of her range of abilities. Dixie was one-of-a-kind, and today at 19 remains the best horse I ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Two years ago I drove back to Ohio with my new husband to visit my mother. Dad was gone by then, and she'd been clearing out the house. My horse collection had been boxed up and shelved in the garage and I dragged them back indoors and excitedly dug each one out. Newspapers floated all around me as I searched for Princess: when I found her, I held her to my heart and fought back the tears. She truly was my first love.
Here in Colorado, I ride a few times a week with my neighbor, Cynthia. We live right next to the Adobe hills, where soft dirt roads go on forever. Even in my forties, I love being in the saddle and especially love it that my Dixie is as dependable as ever.
One recent afternoon I pulled the saddle off, groomed her, and then gave her the customary hug and kiss before turning her back out to pasture. As she always does, she leaned her now-beautiful head into my chest, closed her eyes, and hugged me right back. Suddenly it dawned on me: THERE STOOD PRINCESS! I took a step backwards in total amazement. They had the same dark manes, tails, and legs, and the same rich, glossy color. They had the same calm looks and soft, liquid eyes. They even had the same thick necks and chiseled bodies! I couldn’t believe it! She’d been there all the time, but I’d not made the connection until that moment!
Carolyn and Dixie
Photo by Cynthia Hines
A soft wind blew around us and ruffled Dixie's hair. She looked at me, puzzled, as I took her head into my arms yet again and stroked her over and over. In that moment, I became a little girl all over again. I know now that I'll always become child-like once more… every time I swing my leg back over the saddle.