Some women have a weakness for cowboys. Some always fall in love with dark, dangerous men. I, on the other hand, have always had a soft spot for misunderstood, high-spirited chestnut horses.
Just the other night the ghost of Jimmy charged through my dreams to say “hi” on his way to the other side. I saw him as he was 30 years ago when first we met…me, a skinny, 14-year-old horse-crazy kid and he a beautiful, seven-year old chestnut quarter horse with a white blaze, four white socks, and a bad reputation.
It didn’t bother me that he arched his neck like an Arabian, trotted sideways, and worked himself into a foam during every ride. Jimmy knew he could do anything he set his mind to. He won my heart forever when he threw himself over a four-foot coop that sprung up on a mock hunt my horse friends and I staged on a snowy Thanksgiving morning. Jimmy had guts, and he taught me to have them, too.
Jimmy was so smart that when he retired and went to live with my friends in Palm Springs, they reported he was the only horse in the barn with a T-shaped tan. He had found the lone telephone pole in the pasture and spent his summers grazing directly underneath it without moving, to minimize his sun exposure during 100-degree days.
PeeWee was another beloved outcast, a pumpkin-colored Thoroughbred with tiny fox ears and a definite gleam in his eye. He was picked up for a song from a beginning polo player due to his tendency to run off the field during games in the middle of a chukker and gallop back to the trailer to see what his buddies were doing.
Much like my son used to do as a toddler whenever I approached with clothing, PeeWee’s greatest delight in life was playing keep-away. He would pretend to nonchalantly graze, furtively watching me out of the corner of his eye, only to dash off out of reach when I was five feet away. You could almost see him chuckling as he ran circles around me. PeeWee knew how to laugh at himself, and he taught me to laugh at myself, too.
Then there was Stop-and-Go, the ancient strawberry-colored school horse who was inseparable from his pinto friend, Dr. Bob. These two were known as Frick and Frack around the barn: they ate together, lived next door to each other, and trotted obligingly in endless circles around the arena together while their 8-year-old riders precariously attempted to learn to post.
Stop-and-Go was so old that his whiskers were white and he eventually turned gray all over, just like my grandpa. And when Dr. Bob died and I stood in Stop-and-Go’s stall with my head buried in his neck, attempting to console us both, I swear I saw a tear trickle down from his eye. Stop-and-Go knew the value of friendship, and he taught me how to value it, too.
There have been many horses in and out of my life since then, just as there have been many people who have come and gone, but only a very special few leave a permanent mark on your heart. And if you’re really, really lucky, they ride on forever in your memories–and your dreams.