Essay by Kathie, 1976When 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 neglected and beaten 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 maharajah 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 thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, 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.
Heidi is still alive. I’m thirty-six and she’s thirty-two. I always figured I’d have children of my own who’d grow into puberty with her warm snuffles for support. But at thirteen, fourteen and fifteen, 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?