Two years after sitting atop Misty my parents reluctantly accepted that my equine obsession was not a phase and bought me my first horse named Dino. A full-blooded Arabian hunter, Dino suffered from neglect and sometimes abuse. A refugee from human contact for nearly a year, Dino was both talented and misunderstood. Indeed, during my first year of nascent horse ownership, I spent more time on the ground than in the saddle. A year later my father died. I was fourteen. Grief took over. Only a horse could help me heal.
Indeed, grief brought us together, his over being abandoned and mistreated, mine over my father’s death. In time, our relationship grew past grief, supplanted past wounds. Dino and I spent summer weekends in the show ring and other days forging our path on prairie trails. In the stolid morning heat of many mornings, I lay my forehead against Dino’s face, listening to his gentle exhales. I drew his breath into mine inhaling the sweet taste of dry hay into my lungs. Dino played with my hair, nibbling at the wet, matted strands. Snorting and lowering his head, he pushed me in the chest.
Slowly, I moved to his side, gathered the reins, and hoisted myself onto his back. I feed rein to his mouth until the muscles in his neck strain far ahead of his thundering legs. I push up on the balls of my feet, balancing in the stirrup irons. The ground below me sweeps by like countryside from a train window. A blur of Sienna on either side narrows and comes together to meet the turquoise skyline. I focus my eyes on my horse’s ears pushed flat against his head. I cannot turn away from this sightline, not because I fear to lose my balance, but because this narrow path is all I can manage this morning. If I can find the edge of my grief, mark it, know it, and then quietly turn away from it, maybe one day I will get through it.
Dino spent his retirement years on a small farm in southern Minnesota. He began his second life teaching small children to ride and took his place in holiday pageants as one of the horses carrying one of the three kings in the nativity story.
From refugee to South Dakota state hunter champion, Dino and I blossomed – leading each other through the prairie of our grief.