My first experience with horses came when I was seven or eight years old. I don’t remember exactly—it was a long time ago. But I’ll never forget Silver.
She was a big red and white paint, calm and gentle, perfect to learn on. Which is the first lesson of horse ownership: buy your kid (or yourself) a quiet, gentle, responsible, OLD horse, not a young one "they can grow up with.”
Horses are not dogs. They don’t bond with you, love you, and take care of you like it shows in the books and movies. (There are exceptions and you will read of them in different stories.) Books and movies are fantasy, wishful thinking, playing on the love of animals that every girl seems to be born with—boys too sometimes.
And, to my lasting regret, they are not exactly like my fantasy reeth in the Lillith Chronicles.
Horses in real life are prey. In the wild, they are hunted for their meat and their instincts tell them one thing: self-preservation—the flight or fight reflex. Which means that if they are frightened, they don’t care what happens to their rider; they take care of themselves and if the rider comes along for the ride, fine. Or if a human is in the way of the horse's safety, too bad.
To me, Silver was, of course, the answer to begging and pleading, although I had it better than most horse-crazy girls of seven. We lived in a small town in Colorado. “400 happy people and a few sore heads” it said on the welcome sign. And my father was a cattleman. Back in those days, cattlemen had to also be horsemen and he believed his children should learn about horses. He bought a horse for each of us five kids, never dreaming what he was starting for me.
The picture attached is not really Silver. We had no digital cameras back then. But she looked similar to this.
My most memorable experience with Silver came when I was eight. To understand the story fully, you need a smidgen of background on my family. My older sister was born in the back seat of Uncle John’s Ford when they couldn’t contact my dad (no cell phones, you know. Actually no phones at all, but that’s another story) and Uncle John couldn’t get to the hospital in time. This was not good for my mother, although both she and my sister came home healthy. A few years later, mom had a miscarriage and the doctor said she’d never have another child.
Which meant that in 1947, my forty-four year old mother was diagnosed with a tumor—me! I was born having already accumulated two married half- brothers, one twelve-year old half brother, a nine-year old sister, a two-year old niece, and a one-year old nephew.
It’s the nephew who becomes part of my story about Silver. Perry was the torment of my young life, but also one of my best buddies. He stuck me with my hated full name, Carol Sue. He always sang the Sue part and I cringed every time I heard it. To this day, I hate being called Carol Sue. No matter how the person says “Sue,” I hear Perry’s voice.
So he was nine, I was eight, and my other niece Peggy was six when my dad let us three kids ride our horses all the way out to the farm, eight miles away on country roads, by ourselves! I think about that sometimes to this day. We were alone! But then we weren’t.
Everyone in the area knew who we were.
My nephew Perry’s horse was a fire-breather as far as I was concerned. He was always trying to buck or run away. In retrospect, however, perhaps it was Perry who was the fire-breather. Anyway, on our way back to town from the farm, we had to stop for something. I don’t remember what. Perry had dismounted and his horse took off.
He made me get off Silver, and to my shock, ran down his horse with my old plug. He disappeared from sight around a corner. I’m sure I was crying having been abandoned in the middle of nowhere with my younger niece and her horse. When he came trotting back with both horses, I was flabbergasted. I worshipped Perry that day. Don’t tell him I said that.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned Lesson Two.
Horses are herd animals. As soon as Perry’s horse got out of sight of the other two, I now know he stopped, probably came trotting right up to Perry. He wasn’t about to be alone in strange territory when he knew perfectly well his two buddies were right down the road.
I’ll never know for sure, but, with all I’ve learned over the years, I can’t picture Silver running down and catching that other horse.
Horse Ownership Lesson 1: Get a horse that knows what it’s supposed to do, does it well, and then learn from it. Young horses are like young children–unpredictable.
Horse Lesson 1: Horses are not dogs. Do not think they will take care of you because they love you. They do not bond with humans except over years and years of association. And they don’t behave because they love you, but because they are trained to behave like humans want them to behave.
Horse Lesson 2: Horses are herd animals. They don’t like being out by themselves without other horses to help fend off the wild animals.