I've explained the "D" part of DEF...now it's time to explain the "EF"!
For as long as I can remember, I've loved horses. I think I first sat on one at age three or four...I was in preschool, anyway. I went to a school for the deaf and one of the teachers there had horses in her backyard.
Thinking about it now, I'm astonished that someone living in Libertyville could keep horses in their backyard. But back then, Libertyville was mostly farmland.
We went on a class trip to see the horses. I only remember a couple things about that trip. In my head, the memories are more like snapshots than videos.
In the first memory snapshot, we're looking through my eyes at the horses. They tower tall behind a white plank fence, a brilliant, cloudless blue sky behind them. A bay and a light gray. Their eyes are soft and kind as they watch the ten or so preschool kids mill about on the other side of the fence. Old pine trees tower to my right, casting us kids in shadow. The horses are bathed in sunlight. They glow like angels. Maybe they were angels.
In the second memory snapshot, I am sitting tall on one of the horses in a western saddle. Someone is holding me while someone else leads the horse. I don't know who these people are, maybe my mom is one of them? She's a horsewoman herself so it would make sense for her to volunteer for a job like this. The horse alternates between bay and gray. Maybe I rode both of them? I don't remember. One thing I know is this: I'm happier and more content than I have been in a long time.
Losing my hearing has left me in my own world. I am fascinated by the other deaf children I go to school with. I have a hard time realizing I'm one of them. At the same time, I am confused and a little lost. I may be young but somewhere within my brain, I recognize that my life has been changed forever.
Being on those horses, I found a sense of belonging. It was like I was born to be on the back of a horse. The overwhelmed gears in my brain finally stopped running. I just let myself be. I don't remember the details of the ride, but I can imagine them. The stiff leather of the saddle beneath me. The smooth, organic sensation of the horse's muscles moving. Sitting tall above the adults. Watching strands of the horse's mane flip up in the breeze.
The horse bug had bitten me hard.
I remember visiting the Libertyville Saddle Shop with my mom and aunt. I was probably four or five. It was after I rode the bay and gray horses. The Saddle Shop was across the street from our house. Maybe some of you know the area I am talking about. Across the street is the Gold Eagle liquor store. To the immediate right of that plaza is Cass St. My house was up that street, just past the yellow "Deaf Child" street sign.
My aunt and my mom have been riding since they were young. They are both mad about horses, particularly my aunt. I think my aunt is visiting our house and wants to check out the Saddle Shop. We come across a box of furry hobby horses with acrylic eyes and yarn manes. Someone tells me to pick one out. There are a variety of colors to choose from but I only remember two of them--bay and gray.
I chose a bay.
Is it a coincidence that my favorite horse colors are bay and gray? A coincidence that my own horse is bay? A coincidence that I have always, even as a tiny child, preferred horses over ponies? As I sit here writing about this, I'm realizing the answer is no.
Rockey the Hobby Horse and I had many years of adventures together. If I was outdoors, I was probably galloping him around the yard. If I was indoors, I was probably galloping him around our unfinished basement. Gallop, gallop, gallop.
I bet my parents were scratching their heads as I galloped around on Rockey, wondering what the next step was. Ah ha! Riding lessons. So it began, my life-long career of riding horses. I had just turned six years old.
The pony was Winston, the farm was Windemere Farm. My instructor, Connie, and my mom worked out some riding sign language for me. One sign for walk, one for trot, one for canter, one for stop. I began my lessons on a lunge line. I remember being so in awe of riding a horse! er, pony! that I just gazed around at the walls of the arena and took in the sensation of riding. I don't think I paid much attention to Connie during those first few lessons. It was just me and Winston!
It was like being back on those bay and gray horses again, but better. No one was holding me. I felt free.
The horse bug burrowed even deeper within my heart. All I asked for was horse stuff. Pictures of horses lined my bedroom walls. Horse books filled my bookshelves. For Christmas, I received Breyer and Barbie horses. Summers were spent galloping Rockey outside. Winters were spent galloping Rockey inside and playing with my Breyers. I would streeeetch out Barbie's legs as far as they would go and place her on the back of a Breyer horse. The rubbery grip of her legs allowed her to stay on as I galloped the Breyer horse around on the carpet. Before long, I ditched Barbie and just played with the horses.
The riding lessons continued throughout on a weekly basis. Fall turned to winter and I began wanting to ride an actual horse. As cute and willing as Winston was, I was in awe of the full-sized horses at the barn.
One day when my mom and I arrived for my riding lesson, I saw a young girl of around my age taking a lesson on an actual horse. He was a golden color with a black mane, tail, and legs. His massive bulk humbly trotted around on the lunge line as the little girl clung to the tiny saddle on his back. I remember saying something along the lines of...
"If she can ride a big horse, why can't I?!"
The horse's name was Bonus and I was on him the very next week. I rode him and Winston for the next year. Before long, I was off the lunge line and trotting and cantering around the arena on my own, under the watchful eyes of my mom and Connie.
I have a video of me riding Bonus in a schooling show. I am seven years old and my long blonde hair is in a single braid. I'm wearing a white tank top, jeans, cowboy boots, and a black velvet hunt cap. A number is tied to my back and I look scared to death.
I have always loved riding, but as a kid, shows would scare the living crap out of me. I wanted to either flee or vomit.
Anyway, in the video, Bonus trots and walks around the arena obediently, his dappled buckskin coat gleaming, completely responsive to the tiny, terrified blonde girl on his back. I am amazed at how big Bonus is when I watch this video. He must have been sixteen hands tall. He has a pair of the kindest eyes I've ever seen on a horse.
I began jumping the next year, and from then until 1995, I would ride a long string of school horses. Here's to you guys--thanks for teaching me everything I needed to know before a bay, green-as-grass, hot Thoroughbred filly came into my life.
Thanks for being patient with me when I was frustrated. Thanks for acting up just enough to teach me how to handle difficult situations. Thanks for making me smile and laugh, and thank you for granting me escape from my world of not hearing, a world that could be beyond frustrating, cruel, and ignorant. Thank you for giving me independence.
Holes in my Socks