Sunday, July 23, 2017


Essay by Kathie
Growing Up With Heidi
     When I was almost a teenager, barely into puberty, I tamed an outlaw horse.  I really did.  There was an article about it in the local paper.  I carried the picture in my wallet for years—long after the car accident, long after I couldn’t walk anymore.
     She was a blood bay mare, small, beautiful, a Morgan.  Her name was Heidi.  Funny how that man, back in her past, who had beaten and neglected her and made her distrust men forever, funny how he could have given her so lovely a name as Heidi.
      For the first year after the accident, I yearned to find a way to ride again.  I invented, in my head, all kinds of contraptions that could keep me up on a horse.  Mostly they looked like high-backed chairs with seatbelts, or something on which a maharaja would sit, riding an elephant.  I read about a paraplegic boy who invented a way to water ski again, so I was sure there must be a way to ride a horse.  Finally I decided it wouldn’t be worth it, just sitting up there, perched on some chair.  It wouldn’t be riding.  Riding was going bareback, warm rippling muscles against taut muscles.
     Once I had tamed my wild horse, way back then, I rode her bareback all the time.  We were one, walking, running.  Once she had stopped bucking and fighting and rolling in puddles, I rode her bareback and used a hackamore bridle with no bit.  No iron bit for my little lady with the gentling mouth.
      Barely into puberty, I tamed her just in time.  Then she tamed me.  On the days or nights when I was raging against my mother, or my father, or my sister, or my brothers, or some no good boyfriend, or some rotten girlfriend—all those many times I would sit in the corner of her box stall.  It was heaven.  I loved the feel of it and the smell of it.  I sat in the corner and felt wood chips through the seat of my jeans and the rough splintery wood of the side of her stall at my back.
     Heidi would watch me, chewing her hay.  Finally she’d come over and snuffle.  What a sweet, wet sound on my face, in my ear.  I’d cry a lot.  It’s sad when the only person in the whole world who understands you is a horse named Heidi.  But she helped cool the rages and I would trundle back to civilization.
     When I was 13, 14, 15, I’d spend almost all my free time with Heidi.  In the summer, we’d go into the woods to pick blueberries or raspberries.  She’d stop at the sound of my voice, move on again with the press of my knees.  We’d ride along the beach, we’d swim, she’d roll in the sand.  I’d brush her and brush her, sometimes take her to horse shows.  I still have most of our trophies. We were very proud of each other. 
      When I started high school, some of our youthful and innocent freedom was lost.  It was college prep all the way, which meant about six hour of homework a night.  Later, when I was away at college, my father used to write and tell me not to work so hard, to relax, to go out with boys.  But in high school pressure to get good grades overshadowed everything else.  Still, Heidi and I raced the beach together on weekends, and conversed evenings while I cleaned out her stall.  And of course there were the early mornings!  I, who am such a night person now, used to get up at 5:45 a.m. so I could have a quick ride and feed her before I showered, gobbled breakfast, and went to wait for the school bus.  My classmates all thought I was crazy.  What a way for a girl to behave!  I was given a lot of lectures.
     Even before I started high school, I knew I was going to have to impose a new regimen on my life.  With more time devoted to studying and less to riding, I worried about Heidi.  After all the hours we were used to spending together, wouldn’t she be lonesome and depressed?  So we bought a goat, Heidi and I.  I had read that race horses often  had goats as stall mates, so why not my own prize filly?
     Our goat’s name was Pocahantas.  When she first arrived,  she wasn’t tall enough to see out over the sides of the box stall, and she’d bleat and scramble and complain about not being able to watch what was going on beyond the stall walls.  Heidi, ever helpful, not to mention brilliant, chewed a hole in the door of the stall just at the level of Pokie’s head.  It was the first and last time Heidi ever chewed wood, so I know the hole wasn’t accidental.  I can still picture the scene that awaited me whenever I walked into the barn—Heidi with her head hanging over the stall door, and Pokie with her face sticking through the hole below.
     Pokie turned out to be good company but rather bad-mannered.  At feeding time, she would gobble up her own little pan of grain, then butt Heidi’s head away from her horse-sized bucket of oats.  Heidi, sweet thing, was infinitely patient and always gave up her supper gracefully.  Afterwards, when they were both loose in the barn while I cleaned out the stall, Pokie would go jumping up on the old boat that was dry-docked for the winter,  then leap onto Heidi’s back and go bounding off, laughing a goat-type of laugh.  A little hellion, she was.
     But a loyal companion.  Pokie came with us on almost all our rides.  She, too, loved to ride along the beach, past all the summer houses that lined the cove.  If she was left behind while Heidi and I road along the road to town, she’d bleat and holler and carry on terribly.  It used to upset Heidi, who’d keep turning her head back to look for her friend.

     I have such joyful memories of those two.  They were the light and saving grace of my adolescence.  I don’t know where Pokie is now.  When I went off to college, Heidi went to stay with friends who had a horse of their own.  We bred Pokie and gave her to a family with a little girl who was allergic to cow’s milk but thrived on goat’s milk.  I suppose poor old Pokie could be dead now.  I worry about the day that Heidi will die.  Even though I see her only a couple of times a year, and she fails to recognize me, I will be sad when she is gone.
     I wonder what she thinks about when she’s grazing in her field.  She’s a fat and spoiled old pony now, as all ponies should be when they’ve spent the best years of their lives taming their outlaw mistress.  I’m sure she must have some sort of thoughts.  Does she remember bad days turning into good days as she found a human who could be a friend?  Does she remember cold,  frosty mornings on the cliff overlooking the beach, her breath fogging the air around us?  Does she remember rolling back and forth, again and again in the sand, when we had been for a swim on a steamy summer day?  Does she remember me giving her her head as we tore along a dirt trail through the woods, both exulting at our wings?  Those were peak experiences for me.  Ah, Heidi, I hope you remember, too.
Circa 1976
     Heidi is still alive.  I’m 36 and she’s 32.  I always figured I’d have children of my own who’d grown into puberty with her warm snuffles for support.  But at 12, 13, 14 and 15, you don’t know what directions your life will take.  Maybe it’s just as well you have no idea how much you don’t know.
     I go visit her every once in awhile.  She’s always out in a field, not far from the road.  I call her name, hoping it will kindle some spark of memory, take her back to our old stall, warm her heart with gladness that I saved her from being an outlaw forever.  But horses don’t seem to remember much through their ears.  I imagine they recognize friends and lovers mostly through their noses and maybe through touch.
    But I sit in my car where she can’t catch my scent or feel my caress.   And I know it won’t do any good to get out.  She was always afraid of cars.  I’m sure she’d be afraid of a wheelchair.  What do horses know about wheelchairs?

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