There are two very vivid days that I can recall.
The day that a fear of horses sank into my heart, and the day that fear was purged from it. I'm not going to jerk you around here—we're all here because we love horses, and while the start was rocky, the finish is a happy one. This isn't a sad story, but one that opened my heart to an amazing animal.
When I was eight I went to a sleepover at a friend's house, and we'd often play in her horse pastures. We'd just finished watching a movie about unicorns (and then we'd grabbed some magazines and had cut out the pictures of horses in them to admire later) and were out getting rid of our energy. I was stricken with what I thought was a brilliant plan.
I shouted "I know that you're UNICORNS!" at her horses. Maybe in my mind, I thought they'd ignore me and go on with their Horse Knock Life. Maybe I really thought they'd give up their double lives and sprout elegant horns and would prance over to me to bestow upon me a pure wish.
Neither happened. Instead, they turned and charged. I'm still not sure what had happened that day; did I perhaps insult them by calling them out on being mythological creatures? Were they jealous, and I had hit a sore spot? More likely, they were just tripping up over a sudden, loud noise. They sprang for me, and all I remember was the flash of a snowy white belly as I ducked for my young life. Later, I was told that the horse had run over me, clipping me in the shoulder just enough to knock me over, but the only lasting damage was in my heart.
I was afraid. For over ten years, I could barely step near a horse in fear that any sudden movement would set them off. I fed one an apple and had to look away from the group I was with so that they wouldn't see my fearful tears. No matter how much I had wanted to love them, even when my family bought some horses of our own, it was seemingly impossible. One spook and I was a mess.
Still, I wanted to try. I'd be given the job of feeding them, cleaning out the buckets for water; inane jobs that I had hoped would let me get used to them, and they used to me. It barely worked, and at best I could only be near them when there was a fence between us. In the end, a fence didn't matter.
Here's the happy ending you've been waiting for. One night, I had been sick and realized that I had forgotten to do my chores. There was nobody home to fill in for me, so I shuffled out of the house in the dark, filled up the pails of grain, and had begun dumping it into the containers for their feed on the outside of the fence when I heard a low growl from behind me. One of the dogs, I had prayed silently as I turned around. It was not a dog, and I could barely make out the shape of a bear before it began growling again. A black bear, native to Canada, and normally not entirely dangerous to someone like me. If anything, it should have been the horses in danger more than me.
I had thought to crawl into the pasture, to try and put some form of barrier between me and the angered bear; I can't be certain, but by the sounds in the grass behind it, I thought it could have been a mother with her cubs. I didn't get quite that far when suddenly there was a loud shriek from within the pasture.
Blitzen, named humorously by my sister, was warning the bear to stay away. The bear, unfortunately not perturbed by the horse at all, ignored it... until Blitzen decided that fences were no match for him, and leaped over it next to me. The second time that I've seen the white belly of a horse, and this time it was to save me, or so I'd like to believe. Honestly, he was just rowdy and hated smaller creatures, but it was enough to break the dam inside of me. He chased off the bear, and then I chased after him to try and get him back into the pasture, and not once did I feel an ounce of fear when I had to deal with him.
After that, it was like I was a new horsewoman. An unreasonable fear turned into an everlasting love. I was able to ride a horse just weeks later, and you could not break the smile from my face.
Photo by axelhartmann.