In the midst of our recent decorating binge, I went through our shelves of personal photos last month. On top of the neatly arranged albums I made when I was in my photo-album phase was a plastic grocery bag filled with odds and ends that had gotten left out, somehow -- handfuls of childhood photos, high school embarrassments (remember the Disc camera?), and absolute piles of pictures of my horses. Model horses, that is. Posed realistically in puddles, in leaf piles, next to tiny twig fences, wearing felt horse blankets and pleather bridles. On the back of each picture, in my curly-cued 7th-grade handwriting, were the names of the horse, her "sire" and "dam," and her stable (Autumnbrook Farm, i.e. the Ieronemo residence).
For those of you unfamiliar with the secret world of model horse showing, you aren't alone. I personally have never met anyone in real life who had this same obsession (what else is new, for me), but what you do is take pictures of your model horses, and then send them to another horse-crazed girl across the country who is having a "show." The horses are entered in "classes," where they "perform" against other (often the exact same) Breyer model horses -- meaning, that girl looks at the pictures and decides which picture she likes better, I guess, since like I said the horses are often exactly the same. Then she sends your pictures back to you with some, often homemade, ribbons. I still have a few of my ribbons, which are cross-stitched by hand to say "First Place" alongside a cross-stitched picture of a horse. Amazing. Who made these? Where is she now? We would probably be fast friends, I think.
But this was back in 1981 or so, when I lived in a constant state of horse-craziness (though I didn't have a real horse) and pen pal mania (I did have pen pals -- many pen pals). All day long, in school, I drew pictures of horses and wrote letters, mostly full of made up lies about myself -- I had a twin sister and a puppy, was a ballet dancer, was from the Isle of Man (I have no idea where I got this idea -- I'm sure I barely knew where the Isle of Man was, but I told people this a lot, for some reason). Not one of these was true; in reality, of course, I was only a fantasist, and horses occupied most of my imagination -- and imaginary horses occupied much of my reality. I cantered home from school each day. I was pleased when my parents built a new red and white garage, because it looked like a barn. I knew exactly how much it would cost for us to keep a horse "at grass" and rattled off long catalogs of facts about Pony Club (which of course no one I knew had ever heard of, this being suburban Chicago). My parents stared at me nervously -- where did I get this one, and when was it going to end? I stomped my hooves. I shook my mane in disgust. What was wrong with everyone? Why couldn't we move to the country?
Lots of girls fall in love with horses. I haven't thought about it in a long time, but I'm sure there are dozens of dissertations out there analyzing this special obsession particular to teenage girls, and maybe even to city girls. But I know that part of my own love for the creatures had everything to do with their sweet, soft noses blowing oat dust into your hand, their sad eyes so earnest and willing, their impossibly soft-but-hard ears flicking toward the slightest breeze. I loved the velvet whiskery-ness of their noses the best. I had read somewhere that you should always stroke a horse's face the way you would stroke a bird, and I did this, wandering up and down the aisles of the riding school where I took lessons, softly petting each and every old beast waiting at the gate. The physical reality of horses still makes me cry when I'm around them. I've never gotten to own one; although I rode them in lessons for many years I've always lived in urban areas and I've never been rich. But to this day, whenever I see a police horse on the street downtown, or a pony in paddock on the side of a highway, I get a actual jolt of love and longing that rivals anything I've ever felt.
Well, sniff sniff. All that said, who the hell doesn't love a stuffie. We city dreamers take it where we can get it.