If you could choose to pass on the “horse gene” to your daughter, would you?
My maternal grandmother is practically perfect in every way, and one of my personal heroes. She is not however, a horse person. I recall going with my mom to visit her on one occasion, about an hour north of the working horse ranch where I grew up, and when she saw us, she declared, “You look like you just came from feeding the horses!” I am positive not only that we looked it, but also that it was true. I wore my hair down that day, and I recall reflexively checking my curls for dry alfalfa leaves that always seemed to find their way there and stick.
Somehow, this glamorous, graceful fashion icon who is my grandmother produced not one but two absolutely horse crazy daughters. I asked my mother and aunt about this recently- where could this chemical addiction to horses have come from at so young an age when they were growing up in bustling Los Angeles in the 1950s? Neither has a specific early memory, but both recall watching the black and white western variety shows that comprised much of Saturday afternoon TV at the time and romanticizing the likes of Lone Ranger’s Silver and Roy Roger’s Trigger. This quickly turned to begging to be taken to the nearby Griffith Park where for a few shiny coins you could ride the slow, medium, or fast ponies around the “track”. (Naturally, my mother and Aunt always chose the “fast” ponies). That early, inexplicable chemical addiction never subsided for either woman, and both own horses now and have for most of their adult lives.
One of my very earliest memories is of my mother bathing her beloved Egyptian Arabian gelding whom she competed in endurance, his muscly white body radiating against the green grass that surrounded him, and being absolutely spellbound. I was no older than two. My older sisters perhaps never experienced such a sight in their impressionable years, and this alone explains why neither of them got “the bug”. I don’t know. But as I approach my due date, these questions tingle at my bones every single day. Will my filly be a filly, or a regular girl? And would I choose this life for her, if I could?
It’s hard. It’s a major lifestyle commitment to be in the horse world. There are very dark sides to it, like the wasteful overspending on egregiously fancy push-button horses, obsessions with winning that are encouraged by rail-parents as often as not, and depressing show politics. And of course, that inevitable moment where you discover that at any given moment, these strong and beautiful animals that you’ve ferociously loved and bonded with are not immortal. They are painfully fragile sometimes, and they are going to break your heart. I remember my mother’s guilt and anguish when my eventing OTTB suffered a career-injury, and my mom’s fear that she had scarred me for life.
I guess she was right; I was scarred for life, just like every other horsemen I know. We all bear those scars. If my daughter gets the bug, she’ll have them, too. And only now do I appreciate the vexing position this puts a mother in. But I also know that as the daughter, I wouldn’t trade a single memory that I got to make with my mother trailering all over the west for horse shows, riding our mustangs into the mountains, or even the hard days of saying thank you and good-bye to our horses at the end of their mortal road.
The deep and irreplaceable beauty of the horse world is something that’s alive even on Horse Nation every day: an extraordinary network across states and nations of passionate, educated, powerful people, and the amazing animals they’re raising that enrich and literally elevate our souls to a higher plane. From the hilarious and empathetic comments from strangers that have accompanied this series to the showering of horsey gifts upon me and my belly by the women in my barn from ALL walks of life, these are the greatest people you could ever hope to meet. How could you not crave that same community for your daughter? One where women are strong, covered in dirt, adaptable, receptive, and generous. Where deep silence is appreciated as much as uproarious laughter around a cooler of cold ones after a hot dusty horse show. Where you will never have to bury a horse alone, unless you want to. I want all those things for her, and yet, I’m at peace that the horse gene is such a crapshoot.
To my darling unborn daughter, when you get here, I grant you the right to come and be whoever it is you want to be. If you decide the barn is for you, I eagerly await the adventures that will befall us together. And if you decide it’s not for you, then I only hope and pray that your heart leads you to people as good, strong, empowered, and dirty as the horse people.
Go Riding. (In my honor, since I can’t.)
Lorraine has been a regular contributor to Horse Nation since its inception in 2012. Her non-horsey but awesome husband Dan, her 5-year-old BLM mare Itxa, Australian Shepherd Rev, and stupid cat Jeoffrey live in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Utah. They are stoked to invite another human into the Zoo in July, 2015. And because she gets this a lot, her horse’s name is pronounced EEE-chah, and yes, horse show announcers and organizers can and should hate her for her terrible horse name choices. See more of the family’s equine adventures and beyond on Instagram, @lorraine.jackson