4″ x 6″
Mixed media, vintage ephemera, acrylic paint, charcoal, graphite, molding paste on watercolor paper
At 40 years of age a few decades ago, reeling from a cancer diagnosis out of the blue, I decided to learn to ride a horse. A dream I’d had since childhood, but never having the time or money, and uncertain how much longer I’d be alive, I decided to take the plunge.
Although I was like the “Baby Huey” of my riding class – older, bigger than my fellow students (average age was 10), and probably a big embarrassment to my family and friends (“Where on earth did THIS come from, Carol?” or “Really, at YOUR age?!”), I was intoxicated by it all. Humbled in the presence of these giant, intelligent and uncomplicated beasts who’s response was flight (yep, they run away) and fight (translates: YOU), I began to clumsily navigate the most frightening journey of my life. Every moment with my ‘leased’ 1200 lb. thoroughbred jumper was a moment in the present. Every breath she took was matched to mine. So many common truths between learning to ride a horse and dealing with a diagnosis that could end my life sooner than planned. I was scared, sometimes to tears – in my riding lessons after a runaway moment or my first canter lesson and during visits to my oncologist.
After my second surgery January 2, 1996 – the one that literally brought me to my knees in weeping gratitude for having survived it – 10 days hospitalized, blind and unable to walk, my husband brought me a gift I will never forget. I believe it was the pivotal moment that I knew I would live. He took my grooming gloves (brown hardware style one-size-fits-all jersey gloves) to the barn and stroked my horse (my own by then, A.J. – Almond Joy) and then brought them to my bedside. I pressed them to my face, inhaling the sweet smell of leather, sweat, hay, dust – the smell of my beloved A.J., crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. It was like a dam of fear broke inside of me, allowing the flood of hope into every cell of my being. Throughout my recovery, those gloves became my connection to survival. This horse saved my life. I believe she knew it because well, we had that kind of understanding between us. I’d never call her a sweet horse, or a lazy horse, or a dispirited horse, huggy or clingy – in fact, many of my trainers told me she was more horse than I could handle at my skill level. But, we had this understanding, see, I respected her like the beautiful (and arrogant) queen she was and she never, ever dirty dumped me, bucked me off or rubbed me into a wire fence. Nope. We simply cared for and about each other.
She’s no longer on this earthly plane but I never feel her far from me. She’s a frequent visitor in my dreams to assure me she is well, happy and as they say in the old “Fury” theme song, ‘mane and tail a-flying’. And waiting. She is waiting for me. Because that’s my version of heaven.
There’s a special bond between a rider and her horse – impossible to explain to someone who’s never had a horse friend. I was fortunate to have crossed paths with this lovely horse and honored to be included in her “circle of trust”. And it was a small circle! I rode dressage for 8 years; dressage similar to ice skating compulsories – a quiet, athletic, precise, trusted partnership and difficult dance between horse and rider. She was a hugely ribboned jumper in her former life and I don’t think she much cared for dressage because given the chance, if there was a jump set up somewhere, free from my weight on her back, she’d jump it like Free Willy. Pretty incredible, actually, considering jumping without a rider takes incredible confidence, bravery, skill…the horse must be fearless.