During an annual summer trip to England to visit my mother’s family, I sat on a horse called Misty in the yard of a Felixstowe stable. Misty, a Welsh Cob mare with a barrel and attitude of a very, very naughty Thelwell pony, belonged to my mother’s nursing school roommate. Annual excursions to England by my mother and I always included a trip to Felixstowe, but until the summer I turned ten had not included a visit to a stable.
True, sitting on the back of a horse was not a strange event for me, but when Misty’s owner started to lead the bored mare across the yard my entire world changed for good. Acclimated to a stationary horse, the experience of an animal moving beneath me frightened me, so much so that my mother believed that any faint interest in horses evaporated on the spot.
A memory of Misty and movement seeded in my brain, however, and when an article about a local riding stable surreptitiously appeared in the local newspaper after our return to South Dakota I begged my parents for riding lessons. My own horse history began. Diligently, my mother drove me to the stable navigating gravel potholes in summer or an ice-packed steep downhill in winter. A lesson cancellation because of the weather an emotional pall over me only to be lifted the following Saturday. Comet, a gentle Quarter Horse lesson horse, first carried me away in the canter. With a kiss on my chapped lips and a gentle press of my outside leg, we were away.
By the time I turned eleven, I had convinced my befuddled parents to allow me to lease a horse named Brandy. Owned by my riding instructor, our relationship was halted in the beginning. Brandy, a seasoned lesson horse, did not embrace his role as my teacher. Bossy and occasionally aggressive, I did not appreciate, let alone understand that a relationship with a horse begins with a developing a bond rather than an argument won.
In time, I competed with Brandy at local shows and gymkhanas in classes ranging from hunter seat equitation to hunter over fences, from costume classes to bareback equitation with another rider. I won my first trophy with Brandy, but my true success was building an unshakable connection with the first horse that felt like my own.