An equine longing that's finally fulfilled

Was getting a horse in middle age foolish?

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    GENTLE CREATURE: A white horse on a farm in Warner, N.H., peers out at visitors.
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Some hopes never change. When I was 13, I outgrew my beloved pony but not my love of horses. I longed for a horse all the way into my mid-30s, when I finally did get a lovely chestnut Arabian. For seven years she carried me on wings of joy, adventure, courage, and grace. My legs fairly molded to her elegant form, and when I trotted her through pine-needle-carpeted woods or cantered up a ridge beside my daughter on her pony, I felt like a girl again.

Unfortunately, this dream-come-true was short-lived. A job change took our family across the country, and – sadly – we left the horses behind. Years went by, and for one reason after another, I remained horseless, even after moving back to rural New England. I no longer had a horse-crazy daughter at home, and I couldn't justify building a barn and buying a horse just for myself. Or was there more to it than that?

As I walked our empty pastures this fall, the old yearning stirred again, stronger than ever. Why was I holding back? Would getting a horse be a selfish thing to do, taking me away from family? Or was I afraid of making such a big commitment in my mid-50s? Finally, after some soul-searching, I saw that it could actually be a very positive thing to do – joyfully life-affirming.

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By the next morning I was sure of it, and a few days later we went to look at a large, black pony. The pony took one look at us and decided she didn't want to be sold – at least not to us. When I got on her she balked, and her owners made negative comments about my riding ability.

For the rest of the day I felt deflated and dumb. Who was this overweight, middle-aged woman, anyway, thinking she could ride again? Maybe I should just give it up. But the next morning, it hit me – this kind of doubt was exactly what I was destined to dominate. This was the "horse" I would get back on and ride.

I started taking lessons again, and during one crystal moment of riding well, a lump rose in my throat. I could do this again. Soon my husband and I were back on the road, going to visit a stable that bred Welsh cobs – horses with the same characteristics as the Welsh mountain ponies I'd fallen in love with on a visit to Wales.

We pulled up to the big, red barn. I sprang out of the car, hurried inside, and found the owner, Leslie. She chatted about the history of her barn while I shifted impatiently.

Finally, she led us out the back door into a covered arena. My eyes went straight to the open door at the far end. A young palomino stood peering through the door at me. Noticing nothing else, I made my way toward him, and he began walking straight toward me. The look of intelligence and innocence on his face captivated me, and he was just my size.

When we reached each other, my hands went to either side of his jaw. He sniffed my jacket and studied me from under the blonde eyelashes that edged his dark eyes. He parked himself in front of me and sweetly soaked up all my caresses.

"I think you'd better go get the checkbook," I said to my husband, only half-joking. I was vaguely aware of other horses nearby, but they were out of focus. Leslie was only a voice.

"You should see his gaits," she said of Aari. "He's a beautiful mover." She put a halter on him to bring him into the center of the arena. I took the lead rope from her hands and turned to him. "Come on," I said with a smile in my voice. "You're mine now."

After we'd put him through his paces and it was time for us to leave, I took off his bridle, expecting him to go back to the herd as any horse would. But he stayed right beside me. I smoothed his mane and stroked his neck again. Suddenly, I remembered the apples in my car. I ran back across the arena, surprised by a lightness in my leap that hadn't been there for many years.

Tomorrow a contractor will haul his bulldozer to our house and break ground for Aari's barn. Already I can see his head over the stall door, nickering softly to me at feeding time, just as my pony used to.

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