From Imgaination To Mirage

Don't want my mane to change color, Mom," Heidi pleaded as she smoothed her long blond hair away from her face.

I gazed at my daughter's flaxen look and then at my own auburn hair, and assured her that her "mane" would probably remain light for a few more equine years.

"But after all, there's nothing wrong with being a chestnut," I reminded her.

She rolled her eyes.

This was our typical mother-daughter horse-talk during Heidi's growing-up years. My youngest child had always been infatuated with half-ton hay-eaters and the remote possibility that she could live in a nearby stable, if only I'd let her.

I never counted on being a horse parent. In fact, I don't remember signing up for it, but one day....

The living room became a steeplechase as a troop of unmounted steeds charged between the couches and through the canyons of chairs. It wasn't the cavalry; it was my two daughters. And they were serious.

Heidi and her sister whinnied as they cleared a coffee table or saddled up a hassock, "manes" flying. "We're just playing horses," Heidi assured me with a muffled nicker.

I'd watch, bewildered.

As the years went on, the girls continued this horseplay. They'd draw ponies on paper napkins, neigh to say "yes," toss their hair back, and stamp a foot as if it were a hoof. I'd flinch when every school essay began with, "Mighty, the white stallion, and I...."

Who was Mighty?

Before long, four little neighborhood girls would arrive with their stick horses, bridled in string, and our front steps became a scene from the Old West. "Reins" would lay swirled in a heap on the milkbox or settled into the geraniums.

Even the house looked equestrian: the bathtub was a stall, the clothesline was a lead line, and a bedpost was a place for "hitching." Prancing barefoot, the girls would walk, trot, or canter. From the waist up they were riders; from the waist down they were pacers.

But Heidi didn't stick to stick horses. The love for the real thing overwhelmed her. The toy horses, the pretend ponies, the equine pantomimes could only last so long, and then it became: "Please, Mom, can I have a horse?"

Nothing but the real thing would do.

But I couldn't shake my concerns. "Do you think you can stay on a horse?" I asked her. It seemed like an important question.

"M-o-m," she dragged out my name. "I ride a bike!"

Within months, the trailer arrived with the real horse. And what I thought was going to be her first lesson, became mine.

It began: "Why, he must be six feet tall!"

"Sixteen hands, Mom. You measure a horse by hands."

"But is it a boy or a girl?"

"Golly, Mom! It's a gelding," she blushed.

"I've never seen fur so golden."

"He's a palomino. And it's a coat."

"But is he healthy?"

"He's sound."

We stabled "Mirage" at a nearby farm and not in the bathtub, thank goodness. But as play became real, other things changed, too. The horse ate plenty. A half-ton of hay a month and 60 pounds of grain. Heidi's jacket pockets popped with carrots filched from the refrigerator, and the vegetable garden had a salad-bar look about it.

But I did reclaim the house. Heidi and her girlfriends hung around a real stall now. The only sense of horsiness was in the sink where saddle-soap foam mingled with reins snaked around the faucet.

An instructor came to the stable twice a week and not only got Heidi secure on the horse but also urged us to get serious about the sport. The cotton jump rope was replaced by an honest-to-goodness lunge line. The saddle was now leather - not a seat cushion. And my flowered tablecloth was returned and replaced by an official horse blanket. We were going from horsekeeping back to housekeeping in no time. The "horse" was out of the house.

BUT the horsiness was still in the girl. Nostalgically, I'd think back to the days when our living room was a show ground, and then I'd glance out the window at a sport that was now strictly an outdoor affair.

Was I really ready for Heidi to outgrow our home so soon? She had become too sophisticated for vaulting over sofas and end tables.

"Not for me anymore," she'd say, currycomb in hand as she hurried out the door.

She was right. For the best ride was on Mirage. His name was fitting. He floated. His gait could pick up a little girl's ponytail and send it galloping down her back.

Mane to mane, he was what many young daughters, especially mine, wanted most in their youth. He set her tall and free. As Shakespeare's dauphin in "King Henry V" exclaimed, "When I bestride him I soar."

Resigned (or was it relieved?), I sat down on the front steps of what used to be the OK Corral and watched my daughter pass by like thunder. The driveway and I were left in the dust.

Clearly, it was time to put the toys - and coffee tables - to the side.

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