A Natural Affinity
I grew up in New England: Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. I never rode as a child, although I had my own imaginary horse that I rode around my grandparents' backyard. I obsessively drew horses and wrote poems about them colliding in the sky with brilliant colors around them. Returning to this subject matter as an adult, and subsequently learning how to ride, is like reliving the adolescence I never had and fulfilling a dream deferred.
-- Patricia Cronin, "Pony Tales," from Horse People: Writers and Artists on the Horses They Love
When I was six, I was a horse.
My home was in the heart of central Kentucky on just the sort of white-fenced Thoroughbred horse farm the words "bluegrass" and "Kentucky" suggest. My father managed the breeding farm and crop operations, which gave my family the right to live in the manager's house. While I slept in this house, I lived as much as possible in the barns and pastures where the rest of my herd grazed. That's how I thought of the mares and foals and weanlings and yearlings at Hartland Farm: as my herd.
If you had spied me with my herd, you would have seen a girl small for her age, perched precariously atop the post-and-board fence that bordered the Hartland fields. You might have noticed legs too short to reach the second rail. You would not have known I was a horse and that I felt my legs were long and fluid as young saplings stirring in the wind. Even a foal learning how to use her legs can be elegant.
When I leaped off that rail and into the horses' pastures, as I often did, I galloped with grace and purpose. I could run with the breezes, or stand still and feel them skim over my flesh. I could bounce out a rhythm or roll down a hill. I could swing my hair, and it would wave in my trot like a long, flowing tail. I learned all this -- and more -- from horses. I saw that when a horse moves across the open field, it's as if she's following the call of a voice in the air. Her head rises, her ears prick forward to receive a message in horse frequency, and her nostrils open to catch sensory signals drifting by. She doesn't use her tongue to respond; she pushes out feral answers from the hollow between her ribs. At times, all four of her great limbs leave the ground in a display of perfect suspension -- one hoof coming down, followed by another and another and another until all have touched earth just long enough to renew the effortless cycle. She gains ground but without need for anything more than stirring the air and enjoying a good talk with her universe. When I moved in the way my herd moved, I felt in my legs the same balance and rhythm and coordination I saw in theirs and I strained toward the voices they heeded. I gained fluency in a body language my own small body was not born knowing but which it longed to speak. In the fields, I listened to the way the horses cleared their nostrils when grazing and called to each other in whispered rumbles of affection or squealed with joy or warning. This was the language of my herd, and I studied it as diligently as I studied my other language, the one of my family. I became good at whinnying, snorting, and delivering those sounds, and the horses learned my voice.
Occasionally they included me in their play. They would nibble at my ankles or rub their flanks against my own knobby knees. When I poked my head through the openings between the planks and extended my arm forward, curious foals came to smell my hand. After they got to know me and recognize my scent, they came even closer -- nuzzling my head and trying to take a taste of my pigtails. I giggled at the feel of their busy lips on my head and their warm breath on my neck.
A horse's acceptance remains one of my earliest memories of belonging. While I struggled to find who I was and would be as a person, horses gave me my first intimation of what acceptance and belonging could feel like.
. . . . This baby arrived amid a herd of horses, horses of different colors.
White horses ride in on the breath of the wind. White horses from the east where plants of golden chamisa shimmer in the moonlight.
She arrived amid a herd of horses. Blue horses enter from the south bringing the scent of prairie grasses from the small hills outside.
. . . .
She arrived amid a herd of horses.
Black horses came from the north. They are the lush summers of Montana and still white winters of Idaho.
Chamisa, Chamisa Bah. It is all this that you are. You will grow: laughing, crying, and we will celebrate each change you live.
You will grow strong like the horses of your past. You will grow strong like the horses of your birth.
-- By Luci Tapahonso Blue Horses Rush In
For Chamisa Bah Edmo, Shisoi 'alathathjith 'naaghigii
When I was a girl of six, I thought I was the only girl-horse in the land and the broodmares and offspring of Hartland my only herd. Now I know horses touch the souls of many women.
Horses are giant yet generous with their strength, their power, and their gentle affection. By their very natures, they embody and resolve the contradictions we all struggle with: They are strong and soft, calm and driven, wild and manageable, needy and independent. In the presence of horses, our impulses of nurturing and our urgent needs of support, strength, and confidence come together, live together, and express themselves together without the noise of intellectualism. We see that the horse lives its own life, speaks in its own way, moves where it needs to go. Its directness and simplicity offer a thousand-pound counterpoint to our own complicated and often less-honest human interactions. The horse shows us how to be complete.
Excerpted from She Flies Without Wings by Mary D. Midkiff. Copyright © 2002 by Mary D. Midkiff. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.