Friday, April 28, 2017

Long in the Tooth

Anniversaries are nostalgic at 10, worrisome at 20 and bonechilling at 50. I remember my dad’s response to the various anniversaries of D-Day (he was there in ’44) as the number crept upward. The 50th made him just shake his head in disbelief. I find myself shaking my own head these days, though none of my anniversaries are as noteworthy as that one. I was reminded of one today when a bit of clumsiness dislodged my one and only blue ribbon from a horse show. I see that it has been 50 (!) years. It was won in a hackney category on a 15 hand (1 hand = 4 inches) white and tan paint gelding named Goblin. I don’t have any pics of that show, but I do have one of me on Goblin a year earlier; he is the fourth horse from the left. I suppose my philosophy (though it wasn’t conscious) was “quit while you’re ahead.” That was the last formal show I ever entered, though I’ve continued to ride informally ever since, some years more than others.
On Goblin (4th horse) 1966

Horses never have been central to my life. I don’t live for them the way so many equestrians do – not just professionals but a great many pleasure horse owners also. I do not own any.  There have been entire years when I have not gotten on a horse at all. Yet, they often were in the background and more than once tipped the balance in key life decisions. Late in the summer of 1964 (again: !) when I was 11 years old my mom gave me the options of prep school or public school for the upcoming September. I picked prep (St. Bernard’s, nowadays called Gill/St. Bernard’s) for no other reason than that horseback riding was offered as part of the sports program. (My sister picked public school for no other reason than boys – most private schools weren’t coed back then.) That decision had lasting consequences in ways large and small. [See Horse Sense for the tale of my most dramatic spill off a horse in ’66.] They have been a factor in romance as well. At least half the dates in my life involved horses – including the one that led to my brief ill-fated marriage, which in turn had major financial consequences. Right up through the 2000s, “Let’s go horseback riding” was a surprisingly effective pick-up line.
On the trails with friends 1997

I know NJ does not have a reputation as horse country, but much of it is. The US Equestrian Team is HQ’d here and there are lots of stables, facilities, and trails. There are also lots of horse shows, but since ’67 I’ve never been of a mind to compete in any of them – nor am I really well schooled enough to do so if I were. For me, the appeal is mental relaxation. There is something about a horse on a wooded trail that eases the mind better than Xanax ever can. Deserts too. My most pleasant ride, for which I needed a compass to get back, was in the desert near Fallon NV out of sight of anything but scrub, hills, and sand. (I’m sure the horse had a name, but I didn’t know what it was.) I decided it was time to turn back toward the direction of Fallon when I came upon a sign seemingly in the middle of nowhere that said, “US Naval Bombing Range.”

America – A Horse with No Name

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