At some point riding horses became all-consuming. I’d been taking riding lessons for five or six years, and I had been riding other people’s horses in shows. My parents spent a lot of time driving me to various horse-related events and meetings. It was somehow decided that it was time for me to own my own horse. My mother was very involved, and I suspect that she wanted me to own a horse just as much as I wanted to. She’d been taken riding lessons off and on, too.
We bought a chestnut gelding from a farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I don’t remember how we settled on him, though I do think the relatively low price had something to do with it. He was a nice-looking animal, with a white blaze down his nose, a muscled chest, and a thick mane and tail. My mom, who worked for the state archives, suggested naming him after an early Maryland legislator: Jeremiah Townley Chase. Such was the geekery that pervaded my childhood. The only child of two history buffs, I didn’t have a chance against it. But we thought the name had good nickname potential — for the horse, that is. We could call him J.T. for short, or Chase. He was Chase from then on, except in shows, when we bestowed upon him his full, unwieldy moniker for all to see in the program.
I was afraid of him. It was partly physical: he was a tall, solid horse, and I was a slender waif of a ten-year-old girl. I knew that I didn’t have the strength or riding ability to control him, a fact that soon became obvious to my riding instructors and parents. But there was something else. Chase was part Morgan horse, a breed known for its intelligence. And Chase was very, very clever.
Not long after we bought him, the owner of the barn where we boarded him came home one day to find the water pump on and the entire pasture a flooded, muddy mess. All of the horses had rolled in the mud and were in need of baths. The barn owner couldn’t track down who might have left the pump handle up, but not long afterward she caught the culprit. It was Chase, pulling the handle up with his teeth.
The barn underwent security measures to combat him. The feed can lids had to be held in place with bungee cords, and the feed room itself locked with extra care. Water buckets couldn’t be left on the ground, or Chase would kick them over and play in the resulting mess. The lift-and-slide stall door latches did not stop Chase, he easily lifted the metal mechanism with his teeth –from either side of the door – and pulled it across, then kicked the door open. He let injured horses out of the barn when they were supposed to be resting, spilled bags of grain, and playfully nipped anything that moved.
I delighted in my horse’s mischievous personality. I found him funny and intelligent and loved telling the latest guess-what-he-did-this-time story. And then.
And then, during a riding lesson he bolted across the ring, tried to scrape me off on the fence, and when that didn’t work, he bucked me off. I landed flat on my back. Bruises of yellow, purple and green bloomed all over my back for the next week. It hurt to climb the stairs at school.
It wasn’t the first time Chase had bolted with me. He knew exactly what time the horses in the barn got their dinners, and if I was still riding him then – he took off for his stall. He was smart enough to know that dinner was being served, and he did not appreciate my delaying his enjoyment of a scoop of fresh grain.
I refused to ride Chase after he bucked me off. I’d had enough of out-of-control, unstoppable gallops across the pasture, the riding ring, or on a trail. Once I became frightened of the possibility that Chase would bolt, there was little point in continuing to ride him anyway. He could (as many horses can) sense my fear, and was smart enough to take advantage of it.
So my mom, in an effort to prove that the purchasing of Chase had not been for naught, began riding him herself. She is a petite woman, and weighed little more than 100 pounds. He bolted with her, too, and threw her off on more than one occasion. The last time, on the way home from a trail ride, Chase decided it was dinnertime again and bolted for home. My mom fell off, but her foot caught in the stirrup and Chase dragged her some distance on asphalt and gravel before she was able to free herself.
That was the last straw. We sold him to a teenage girl who wanted to gallop him bareback across open fields. It was a perfect match. She renamed him Shadow.
Joining other bloggers in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.
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