Among the family photos there was one that fascinated me. It was a black and white picture, taken in my dad’s home village. It was of a magnificent looking horse, with my dad sitting very straight on it, my sister sitting in front of him and me behind. My sister must have been around three at the time, I was two years older.
I used to look at that photo, wanting to remember being there and wanting to ride a horse again. Finally, one summer when I was about fourteen and we were visiting the village, I persuaded dad to ask one of his relatives to let me ride one of their horses. He duly obliged, so did the relative and someone went off to get a horse.
I waited for this horse with barely disguised excitement. When it arrived my heart sank – my head barely reached the horse’s shoulder. It was ENORMOUS and I became too scared to ride it.
I was too proud to tell them I was afraid and after all my insistence and the trouble everyone had gone to, I couldn’t very well say I didn’t want to ride anymore. I remember that I was wearing a strapped light summer dress and that I gave some ridiculous excuse about it not being possible for me to sit on such a big horse wearing a dress! Dad was not impressed with my change of heart.
After that I wasn’t interested in horses anymore. I eventually rode a couple of times while on vacation. I don’t recollect much about the first ride but the second time I remember being pretty scared, especially when we started going down to a beach following a narrow path on the edge of a cliff. I had absolutely no control over the horse, it just did what it always did, no matter whether I kicked it with my feet or pulled the reins. Once it got on the beach it started galloping. That was terrifying as well as extremely uncomfortable!
My feelings weren’t helped when a friend bought a horse that turned out not to like being ridden by women. He threw her off once and then someone else.
These are not terribly dramatic experiences but they were enough to put me off horses. I can admire their beauty but I think of them as untrustworthy and try to keep as far away from them as possible… until my recent visit to Rome, that is.
I know this sounds crazy, but as I passed this horse (in picture), it seemed to look right at me, following me with his sad gaze as I walked towards it. My friend waited for me, as I pathetically froze in front of the horse. It just kept looking right back at me and I felt compelled to pat its head. I eventually left wondering what had happened there. It was as if there had been some sort of connection and I felt an overwhelming compassion for this creature.
I am not sure if my impressions of horses will ever really change but after this, I might just be a bit more relaxed the next time I come across one.
These memories were triggered by reading ‘Horse Feather Boa‘, a short humorous story by Russell Gayer.