By Sarah White
Horses, my heart’s desire.
From earliest memory I wanted a horse so bad it hurt, and that’s no cliché. When heard hoof-beats coming up our street the pain tore me in two. I ached to run down the driveway to see the horses and who was riding them. But I knew that running down the driveway and petting those satin noses would only make the ache turn into a stabbing pain at the knowledge: they had horses and I did not.
What was it having horses put into their lives that was missing from mine? I didn’t know what it was, but the need for it was as big and as natural as my own body.
At least I had access to horses. A pair of ponies lived in a remnant of field just up the street, and from the moment I could toddle I made petting visits there with my father.
As the 1970s approached, Indianapolis was swelling like a gourd. The appearance of stables around Carmel was the first sign of the suburbs to come. The farms turned into stables, and the stables filled with pretty horses for riding lessons for the daughters of the new suburbanites.
Carmel had a whole subculture of horsey girls like me, with moms driving us to riding lessons. No athlete, I made slow progress from circling the paddock at a walk to posting to the trot to beginner jump classes. To extend my horse contact I volunteered to muck out stalls and helped out at the competitions. I reveled in ever minute of horse-ness that could be begged or bought.
Carmel also had a subculture of horse farmers who gathered for morning coffee at the Carmel drug store. My father, a home-based writer, daily sought company there. With him I made many trips to the farms of his friends to pet the trotters and pacers who trained in serious racing stables. My family did what they could to people my world with horses, if it could be done with a phone call, a short drive, or a few dollars. But it was not enough.
I had to have a horse.
By the summer of 1971, when I was fourteen, my horse lust could no longer be satisfied with visits to other people’s horses. The pain of longing was with me constantly. I took matters into my own hands.
As I saw it the puzzle consisted of three pieces: a place to keep the horse, money to buy the horse, and money to maintain the horse. I set about putting the pieces together.
My job delivering movie programs for the Carmel Theater plus two summers of corn detasseling had given me a bank balance and a monthly income stream.
From the girls in the riding classes I learned about a stable that would board horses for only $25 a month. It was just under two miles from my house. I could get there on my bike. I figured I was financially able to cover the board plus feed.
This only left buying the horse. One was for sale at the stable where I rode: Hot Potato was his name, a pinto pony as round as a potato, and they were asking only $600 for him. But I didn’t have that much money saved, and my parents could not be convinced to add Hot Potato to our household.
Then came a piece of luck—a friend of my father’s had a horse he would sell us for only $125. My father brokered the deal over the round table at the drug store. The farmer lent us his horse trailer and truck. On a Saturday late in the summer of 1971 we bought the horse and moved her to her new home. Then we came home and told my mother.
I had never seen her just stop in her tracks and cry like that. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “We’ve taken care of everything, I have the money for the board and the feed. What’s wrong?” She did not say anything, but went back to the dinner on the stove.
In the next months my father would exhibit increasingly erratic behavior. The day was coming when his troubles would be diagnosed as manic depression, with alcoholism mixed in for self-medication. A father who helps his daughter sneak a horse into the family might have some problems, and maybe a family facing those problems shouldn’t have a horse to deal with. But none of us knew that then. I didn’t take time to think of it. I was in heaven.
Most of my memories are mental snapshots, but one from that time is a brief movie. It consists of releasing Cocoa from the trailer, opening the five-bar gate to the big pasture, and watching her take flight. She ran from captivity as any creature would. She flew away from me over the crest of the hill, yellow sunshine buttering her brown flanks, warm air whipping the black flag of her tail. She was so beautiful I cried. She was a wild thing and she was mine.
To be continued…