Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Bad Influence or Why You Shouldn't Hang Out With Your Mother

I’m such a bad mother. When Kelly came home from school yesterday, even though she had a lot of homework, I made her come riding with me. Well, I really didn’t have to make her. I just said, “I’m going riding after we eat. You’re welcome to come with me if you want...” Knowing full well she couldn’t pass up riding. I rinsed out my coffee cup and watched her out of the corner of my eye, nonchalant. Of course she wanted to go riding! She’s horse crazy just like me. I brainwashed her good. See! I am bad. What kind of mother brainwashes her kid to do something? I’m about as bad as those stage mothers who put fake eyelashes and red lipstick on their daughters and would stuff toilet paper in their bras if they were big enough to wear them because they want to catch the judge’s eye. Or a pedophile’s. I don’t know.

But horseback riding is different. I don’t just think that because it’s my thing to do. It really is different. One time I combined the two. When I was sixteen, my mother talked me into entering a beauty contest—the Miss Middletown Pageant. I did it because I was flattered she wanted me to enter. But when I was already signed up, I realized there was a category called talent. And since I didn’t play the flute or tap dance, I didn’t have any. Oh why did she make me enter?!—I wailed. What was I going to do?! The girls in the contest took lessons and had voice coaches and one of them even entertained the governor by playing Chopin on the piano at the governor’s ball. All I did was write stories and ride my pony. Now I knew I was halfway pretty even though I didn’t know how to walk in high heels or fix my hair, being a tomboy. But how was I going to compete with rich girls (those were the ones who got the lessons and the voice coaches) crooning Somewhere Over the Rainbow and playing the violin and the piccolo in fancy ballroom gowns? (What is a piccolo anyway? Isn’t there a Jenny Piccolo on Happy Days?) I didn’t have any talent per se. I was freaking. So I did the only thing I knew how to do. I wrote a story about my pony.

“Does your motorcycle nicker to you in the morning? Do your roller skates run up to you at the pasture gate for a pat on the neck?” Never mind. Hopefully I’ve improved since then.

But I won it! I won the talent award! I couldn’t stop crying up there. (Interesting since the ones who won the contest, didn’t even shed a tear.)

Anyway, even though I didn’t place in the beauty part of the contest, I never felt bad about it because the irony of winning the talent award outshined anything else. I sure showed them! Ha! Turned out I’m pretty talented after all! Forget that trombone I was thinking about taking up! Who needs it? Plus, I had some fierce competition. The winner later went on to become first runner-up in the Miss America Pageant. Besides, I already knew at sixteen-years-old that talent and what was inside a person was more important than outer beauty. Otherwise I would have known how to walk in those high heels.

I would enter Kelly in a beauty contest in a minute, she’s so pretty.

But I’d much rather her come out riding with me. Even if it means she’s up late trying to get her homework done. At least I’m not making her wear false eyelashes and red lipstick. And I can always write the teacher a note…

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Favorite Horse and Spaghetti

The wind is whipping like a mother today; otherwise I was going to ride. That’s why I left Oklahoma. Because of the wind. It makes me feel uneasy. It makes me feel like a storm is coming, even when it’s not. Every time I feel sorry for myself for getting rid of my hundred-and-ten acres out there, a windy day happens and I feel better.

You’d think the horses wouldn’t mind the wind because they’re used to it, having spent time in Oklahoma. But they don’t like it either. I’m sure they feel uneasy as well, and perhaps they expect a storm. Or at least some branches to fall down and clonk them on the heads. The last time we had real bad wind, a storm did come and it knocked down three trees. They fell on the roof that goes around the tobacco shed, where I’d just thrown down some hay and where Bullet and Minnie had hurried over to get out of the rain and start eating. I walked into the barn and as quick as it took me to walk out the other side, the trees were down and the horses were all up by the barn looking in the same direction. They were staring at the tobacco shed, huddled together like crowds huddle on curbs and stare at accident scenes. The three trees were down, and the tobacco shed roof, two minutes ago above my head, was sprawled out beneath them like a bug beneath a shoe.

I could ride those horses out there if I really wanted to but it’s no fun in the wind. I’m a fair weather girl. I don’t like rain either. Or cold. Or snow after the first day. Any sort of precipitation or conditions that require me to put on anything more than a sweatshirt jacket. But it turns out I’m going to be riding in the cold this year whether I like it or not. Normally I take a break from riding from Thanksgiving until March and concentrate on family stuff. Do all the extras. Cook using actual recipes, play Scrabble, put up new curtains, go ice skating. Well, not really the ice skating since I tried that once when I was a kid and I’m not willing to try it again. I fell a hundred and twenty-three times. Of course I fell a hundred and twenty-three times when I was learning to ride too but that’s different. Anyway, you get the picture. In the winter, I do all those things that are fun or good to do but can’t shine riding’s shoes.

Not many things can. Kurt wants to get a boat someday and I agreed I would go out on it with him and in fact it sounds like a good time driving it across the lake and getting some lunch on the other side. But I’d really rather ride one of the horses up the mountain, even if I’d just done it yesterday, and look at the lake from up there. Because horses are like spaghetti. I can never get enough. I could eat it every day. I live for my spaghetti. I mean my horses.

One of my horses I can only ride in the winter. He has headshaking syndrome. Harley jerks his head up and down uncontrollably during exercise like he just got stung by a bee. It’s impossible to ride him. The first time he did it, while we were riding out in the field in Oklahoma, I thought bugs or seeds popping up from the grass were bothering him. I urged him on. He was so irritated that he tried to wipe his nose with his forefoot and he fell down with me on top of him! Luckily, he’s very athletic and he scrambled right back up before I even knew what happened. But it could have been bad.

Right away I knew what it was because I read a lot. I have a vast supply of bits and pieces of knowledge in my head, a little about everything, especially horse stuff. Though I never went to college. I’m a big reader. I like books about as much as horses and spaghetti. When I was a kid, I took out every single book in the library that they had about horses. Even if it was about English riding. I mean real English riding, from the actual England, where their horses wore rugs instead of blankets and I had to decipher the jargon before I could even understand the discipline. If there was a horse in it, I took it out.

They only let you take out a certain number of books on the same subject and I thought that was terribly unfair especially since nobody else was reading them. Back in those days, they stamped the card in the back of the book so I could tell that The Fundamentals of Horsemanship hadn’t been taken out in eight months. So I borrowed a couple of extras without checking them out and snuck them back in when I returned the others.

Some of this reading must have stuck because whenever there is something going on with a horse, nine times out of ten, I know what it is, and know what to do, though I usually call the vet because I don’t trust myself. Sometimes I get the vet out so I can diagnose it for him. But it makes me feel better to have someone out who actually went to school for this.

So right away I knew Harley had headshaking syndrome. And I called the vet anyway. He suggested a few different things. Nah, that doesn’t work. Yep, I did that. Nope, they tried that and studies show no improvement. No, I won’t give that drug because some horses colic on it. Etc.

Nothing works consistently or regularly with these horses. There is no cure and they don’t know what it’s from. It seems like all they know for sure is the trigeminal nerve in the nose gets triggered and your horse is basically shot. Not literally. Well, I guess sometimes, some mean owner would shoot his horse if he couldn’t ride him. But I was talking figuratively.

Some of these horses are seasonal and so I’ve been waiting for the right time, hoping and praying that Harley wouldn’t do it when summer was over and I could at least get some use out of him in the winter. Even though I am a fair weather girl, I would put on my ski mask, the kind that burglars wear, my thermal gloves and goose-down coat that you can’t move in and be happy that at least I can ride this horse sometime. I love to ride Harley. He’s my favorite. He thinks I’m his mommy and will jump off a bridge if I ask him to. He’s light and fast and he loves to run. It’s like flying, when you’re riding Harley. I would do anything to ride Harley. I would even ride him in the wind.