Coming Home: Dreaming of horses, the best gift a ranch kid can get
by Jessie Veeder
A funny thing happens when you’re in the home stretch of your first-ever pregnancy. Between all of the unpleasant symptoms we’ve all heard about — the heartburn, the aches and pains, the insomnia — you suddenly find yourself with an overwhelming need to purchase a festive Christmas baby hat because the most important thing in the world is being prepared for this new baby’s first Christmas photo under the tree.
It’s all you can think about, never mind that you don’t yet have the car seat properly installed or a single diaper stocked up. If you have this hat, you will be ready.
But three days later when that handmade Rudolf hat with the red button nose arrives in your mailbox, you’ve completely forgotten that 5 a.m. panic order altogether. Because you’ve already moved on to the next obsession.
And lately, for me, three weeks away from my due date, I’ve decided I should really be thinking seriously about this kid’s first horse.
It’s not logical, I know, not in the sequence of things anyway. I mean, I have a good few years to find the right animal, one I can trust to take care of my firstborn as he sits tall in the saddle beside us, chasing cows or checking fence, honing his skills and his way around this place.
But to have a horse of your own as a kid is a unique and life-shaping privilege, one not granted to every child, and one I want to give to mine. Because I remember how I was one of the lucky ones. I inherited an old red mare from my grandma. Her name was Rindy, and she was short and squat with just the right amount of attitude and a rough trot.
I would ride her bareback in the summer, learning about balance and patience as I searched the tree lines for raspberries, leading her to big rocks or side-hills to help me swing my short legs up on her back if I happened to climb down or fall off.
I broke my arm tumbling off Rindy.
I broke my foot jumping off her in a youth rodeo.
I won “best groomed” at a sleepaway horse camp because she couldn’t find a mud hole to roll in like she did at the ranch each time I groomed her the night before a 4-H show.
I put red, white and blue yarn in her mane and rode her in the county fair parade.
I rode double, or triple, with my best friends on her back, trotting through clover fields, seeing how fast we could go before we all tumbled off, leaving her grazing a few yards away as we rolled around on the ground laughing.
And in the fall I would saddle her up, pulling the cinch as tight as I could around her round back, and she would puff out her belly to trick me into thinking that’s as tight as it would go only to let the air out once I climbed on, her way of controlling her comfort level, I suppose.
Oh, that horse was something. But that’s the thing, anyone who had a horse of their own as a kid will tell you stories like these about an animal that helped raise them in an environment that has the potential to be intimidating for a kid.
But a horse out here gives a kid some power. I felt like I was worth something on Rindy’s back, like I could help move a cow through a gate or learn where the fence lines run. I had a partner, a big companion that gave me new abilities. I was stronger and bigger up there. I was capable.
Who wouldn’t want to give that gift to a child if they could?
And so I have that Christmas hat in the drawer, we’ve set up the crib, I’m washing onesies and putting away diapers, and late at night, when the world is dark, my husband’s chest rising in sleep next to me, I lie with my eyes open in our bed, a hand on my swollen belly, waiting on this baby and dreaming of horses.