After the loss of her equine best friend of 20 years, Honeycomb, Jessica Fox didn’t think she’d ever ride again. In the coming months she’ll be sharing with us the story of her physical and metaphorical climb back into the saddle.
“I’ll never ride again!”
Muffled under grief’s weight after the death of my beloved pony, Honeycomb, these words felt as final and true as Scarlett O’Hara’s. Honey had been a part of my life since I was 10. Together, we’d gone to Pony Club, survived my parents’ (hideous) divorce, careened around show rings, endured high school, galloped in fields, graduated college, hacked far and wide, opened a business. She’d even come to my wedding, her flaxen mane and tail adorned with purple and pink bows. Now, I was 30 and without my best friend.
Over the next three years, that pony-shaped hole gradually became overgrown by the rest of my life. Though every time I smelled anything remotely horsey (leather, hay, that dew-laden, bursting with life smell of a morning meadow), it would be revealed to be just as deep as before. Still, despite offers from one of my mother’s friends who fox hunted to ride any of her mounts or those gently presented by Susan, the woman who sold me Honeycomb and taught me to ride, I couldn’t bear the thought. Instead, I shook my head and tucked away the memory of what it had been like to be with horses.
Until one brisk November morning when I woke up, turned to my husband and said, “I want to go for a ride.” A few days later, I was back at Susan’s barn (Potomac Glen Riding School), ankle deep in a muddy field, excited, a little teary, and a lot nervous. What if I’d forgotten how? What if I fell off? What if I couldn’t stop crying? What if I made a fool of myself? Afflicted with Cushing’s disease for the last two of her 27 years, Honey and I had not done much of anything that included a saddle.
“Which horse,” I wondered aloud, “will I ride?” Susan, a wise woman and experienced horse person, looked at me, blue eyes serene, and replied, “We’ll just let one pick you.”
Moments later, a chocolate and cream paint detached herself from the herd of mares watching us agreeably, coats damp and breath steaming in the morning air. Morningstar approached, ears alert, eyes gentle and nuzzled my outstretched hand. My knees went weak. Susan handed me the halter and lead rope she’d been carrying and we made our way back to the barn.
As I carefully curried Morningstar and reacquainted myself with the planes of a horse’s body, an ache, like the abscesses Honey was prone to, sought release. And so, with a sob, I leaned against Morningstar, who stood quietly munching her hay. Grateful that I was the only one in the barn–what would people think of a grown woman weeping in a stall? Honey had died three years ago, shouldn’t I have gotten over it by now?–I took a deep breath. I smelled sweet-earthy horse smells, listened to the quiet sound of hooves shifting and tails swishing.
It had begun to rain, but now that I was finally at the stable, Susan was determined to get me riding. So bareback it was. The three of us walked out to the ring, me wearing a borrowed helmet and vest, Susan an anorak, Morningstar her bridle. Emotions swinging wildly between excitement and grief, I wound my fingers though Morningstar’s mane and let her lead the way.
Then I was on, leather reins soft and slightly tacky in my hands, Morningstar’s back strong and warm. We walked, circling the ring tentatively as my body slowly remembered what it was to ride a horse and my heart adjusted. Susan watched us curlicue aimlessly for a while and said, her voice gentle but unmistakably delivering a command, “Why don’t you trot?” So we did. Morningstar’s smooth gait emboldened me. I knew how to do this. I loved doing this! As we trotted, I hardly felt the rain as I tried to find my balance. By the end of the ride, I’d been reunited with a vital part of me. We tearfully said hello and resolved not to lose touch again.
Now, four years later, my horse fever is in full swing. I’ve managed to stay in the saddle and have recently (after over 15 years!?) begun taking lessons again. Which has been an entirely different and harrowing adventure. But I’ve learned that, like many of us horse crazed fools, riding has been, and always will be, a part of me.
About the Author: Jessica Fox is a freelance writer and novelist-in-training who dreams of the day she can sit a trot without flailing about. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she writes as much as possible to feed her increasingly voracious horse-habit and almost rides Dressage. www.foxywrites.com