Recalling the horse-crazy days of youth and beyond

I don’t know what makes some kids wild about horses, but I was definitely obsessed with them while growing up in the suburbs of the Bay Area.

Perhaps it’s in my blood. A late great aunt and her husband ran quarter horse ranches in Texas, New Mexico and California, including a huge operation down in Southern California known for selling to movie stars, including John Wayne. I’ve seen the photos. Several family members here in the North State—where my dad grew up and my grandfather raised a small herd of cattle on his nut farm—are horse people as well.

When I was in middle school, I raided my savings account—birthday and Christmas money, and allowances—to buy my first horse. I’d been leasing Ginger, a blue roan, for about a year when she went up for sale. She was out of my price range, though, and I was devastated.

Unbeknownst to me, however, her owner, Jan—whom I’d never met—had come out to the boarding stables and watched me ride and groom Ginger. The mare had been fairly neglected when I first encountered her—she had a dull coat and basically ran wild in a pasture. She also had a mean streak, and had bitten the last person who attempted to ride her.

Ginger tried to take a chunk out of me in the early days, but I stuck with her. With a lot of love, that cranky mare transformed into a dog-like companion. She muscled out from near-daily riding and her coarse hair turned slick and shiny from a supplement regimen of grain, oil and eggs.

When I met with Jan to offer what I could afford, she noted that she’d sneaked over to the barn to see how I treated the mare. We had a bond, Jan said, and she knew I’d take excellent care of her. Then she basically cut the price in half.

Jan was right. I pampered Ginger until she passed away years later.

Other horses have come and gone since then. Lenny, Cinder, Petey and Cash—named after Johnny, of course. The latter three came with me to this area—to the aforementioned farm where I lived during college.

I let go of my horses when I was pregnant with my son. I was experiencing complications and had little time or energy to devote to them. I still get my equine fix every once in a while, because my mom and her husband have horses, but sometimes I long for my very own.

I miss so much about those amazing animals. The smell of horse hair and leather. Running my hand along the soft crest of the neck. Galloping so fast tears stream from the corner of my eyes. Waking up to quiet nickers just before I walk to the barn to toss flakes of hay.

I hope to take up riding again one day. Right now, I don’t have the time for that kind of commitment. The pressures of an intense job and motherhood do not equate with horse ownership. But in my mind, sometimes I’m still there, saddling up for a ride along the trails or the vineyards in my hometown. For now, those memories will have to do.