In my new book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, Valeria comes face-to-face with one of her biggest fears, a creature she hopes never to have to approach, but one that might give her a hope of completing her task. What could this menacing object be, this bugaboo of tremors? Of course, it’s a horse.
I know that 50 percent of my readers will laugh at this, scoff at the idea. They just don’t understand us, the non-horsey people. We look at the towering beasts and see feet that could squash our toes like grapes, teeth that could bite off our lower lip, bony heads that could break our noses, and heels that could send us into a coma. The other 50 percent will be nodding their heads in agreement with me. Where do I get my statistics from? Mostly my family.
(Okay, now you want to know where I get my maiming list. I had a friend who had a Standardbred stomp on her foot, and the word came back to me that he “squashed her toe like a grape.” A friend of my husband was riding when her horse threw his head back and broke her nose. For the coma, I am positive I have heard of someone getting kicked like that before, but thankfully, I must have blocked it out of my memory, And the lip thing, my mother would tell us the story of the girl who liked to kiss her horse on the mouth, and one day the horse reached up and bit her lip off. It is possible my mom was just trying to keep my sisters from kissing their horses, or maybe this particular urban legend really was true. She wasn’t a horse person, so I admit that challenges her believability.)
Yes, it is a small study, but I stand by it. Of my parents, my dad fancied himself somewhat of a horse-rider. And if he wasn’t one, at least he had a horse, and he rode it on occasion. My mom? Never! My two sisters took riding lessons, had horses, read horse books, played at horses, and went for long horse rides. My brother and me? Not interested. I had one point of attraction, a new book my older sister had, The Black Stallion. It sounded so interesting that I was able to overlook the fact that it starred a horse, and I asked to read it. Sensing her advantage, she made a deal with me. It was always important for her to have other people like and participate in the things she enjoyed, so she struck a bargain. Let her give me basic horse lessons, and she would let me read it. I dutifully obeyed her, and to this day I still remember that those round leather thingys on the saddle with strings coming out of them are called “buttons,” that the warty flat spots inside the legs are called “chestnuts,” and you keep your heels down and never drop your reins.
When I married my husband, I didn’t have any idea that he was a horse person. He never told me. Just one of those surprises that people will drop on you after years of marriage. If he had, maybe I wouldn’t have been so surprised when two of my children turned out to be horse people. My other two, of course were non-horsey people.
I rode my sister’s horse maybe three times, I think behind another rider. I can’t imagine that I would have gotten on all by myself, but maybe I was braver than I remember. Not too long ago I rode a horse in a tour of Garden of the Gods. They asked who was a novice, and my hand shot up as fast as I could jerk it out of my pocket. If they were going to give the easy horse to anyone, it needed to be me.
When the time came for Valeria and Theo to consider a more efficient way to get along in their journey, the time period was correct for using a horse. And right away, I knew how she would react to that—with mixed feelings. She would accept the need, but “don’t expect me to touch that lead rope!” I enjoyed working her through the process of her acceptance and perhaps even affection for the old horse, just like I could try to imagine that happening to me in her situation. I really don’t know how well I really would have adapted, but I am proud to say Valeria got outside her comfort zone. And who knows, maybe she will discover she really is a horse person after all!