The grass was waist high. A silvery wire fence stood between the two horses and my sister and me. Gazing up from my four year old vantage point, I felt a rush of excitement. My little sister began whimpering as the black horse lifted his head from the grass and ambled towards us. “It’s okay,” I said. “Pick some grass to feed him. That’s all he wants.” I picked a blade of grass and pushed it through the wire and the black horse tickled it with his muzzle before delicately and generously consuming the single blade. “That’s enough!” Our mother rushed in and dragged us away, glaring at me for frightening my toddler sister.
I couldn’t let go of the dream. When we moved to Wyoming I once again dragged my sister along to visit a fat little black pony picketed out in the grass to graze. I knew Blackie belonged to one of my fourth grade classmates. “I think it’s okay if I just get on her.” I said. My sister said I shouldn’t do that. Maybe I didn’t that day, but Blackie’s owner would bring her by to gallop up and down the hill in front of our house and she would sometimes let me take a turn.
“Mom! She won’t leave!” It was my first time babysitting for the neighbors’ two preschool aged daughters and it was time for them to go to bed. My sister had come over with me to play with the younger girls. I was 12. “You’ll just have to ask her to come home again. This is your job now.” My mom washed her hands of responsibility and my sister refused to leave. When the neighbors returned my sister was sitting at the dining room table with their daughters, and they were all eating vanilla ice cream with cocoa powder sprinkled on top. I apologized and turned hot, embarrassed and tongue-tied. The next day my mother told me she had talked with the neighbor and apologized for my failings and due to her timely intervention I was being offered a second chance.
Babysitting every Wednesday for the neighbors provided a weekly revenue stream of $1.50 which I dutifully saved in the back of a dresser drawer towards my horse fund. After that initial chocolate dusted disaster, my job fell into an easy routine. My neighbor let me ride her buckskin mare, Chipmunk, from time to time. She said if I were her daughter she’d buy me a horse. I wished she were my mother.
For my 15th birthday my parents gave me a card that said since I could drive to haul feed, I would be allowed to get a goat or other animal of my choosing. I leapt up, “I can get a horse. I can get a horse!” And I did.