NDJ:8 ‘Horse-Crazy” by Karen Bellows

Being five at the time, I don’t recall whether it was falling in love with horses or with Roy Rogers that first inspired my plan. But the triggering event was discovering that I’d amassed a large sum of money — exactly $1.73 in change, without even trying — that led to the magical moment of deciding to save my money for a horse. Confident that my birthright was to be alongside Roy on Trigger, I envisioned us happily riding the range together. The pallid Dale Evans was conspicuous only by her absence.
My Dad, an entrepreneur like me, blessed my savings plan with a wildly generous offer to match each $50.00 I saved. Suddenly taller, I was the luckiest girl I knew to be taken so seriously. With each coin in the Mason jar, I was amassing the fortune in nickels and dimes that I would one day hand over for my very own horse. This vision kept me riding high as I imagined galloping, wind-whipped, through the wild Kansas prairie.
When I turned six, my Uncle Wally made his annual visit, and together we counted to the penny the $4.27 current total. Since he had just passed his bar exam, Wally’s authoritative pronouncement that while I yet lacked enough for a horse, I could now easily afford an attorney, provided all the encouragement I needed to stay the course, on my then ten cents-a-week allowance.
That first $50.00 took five years to raise, despite an eventual allowance increase to a quarter weekly somewhere along the way. In spring, I pulled dandelions, with roots intact, for a penny each. My austerity budget necessitated making by hand the birthday and Christmas gifts I gave to family, back then a practice met without enthusiasm by my older sister, who spent her entire allowance purchasing nice store-bought items that family members actually wanted.
During those long years of saving, my mother saw to it that I had regular riding lessons, my only hands-on experience with living horses. But my someday horse was alive and frolicking in my mind — fed by re-reading every horse book in the local library and by caressingly dusting my ever-growing collection of horse figurines.
Searching the livestock section in our local newspaper, I discovered that it would take at least $300.00 to own the kind of horse I had in mind. Between my Saturday job as a mother’s helper and the 50 cents weekly allowance I earned then, the second $50.00 took just a year to raise. And the final $50.00 took a matter of mere months, with yet another allowance increase and regular babysitting. With my dad faithfully matching each $50.00, at last came the moment to hoist myself up and into the saddle.
I don’t actually recall my words at the time. But, at age 12, with my $300.00 in hand, I must have said something like, “I’m ready, Dad”. What remain clear are his words: “You can’t have a horse! You’ll be killed on it! Horses are much too dangerous.” His having been seriously injured as a boy while riding the range had blinded him to the meaning of our pact.
I can just barely remember the shock and my rage. What sticks is the dawning realization that I had been suckered, a sickening revelation: “So you knew all along then that you weren’t going to let me have my horse?” A pause, then his eventual reply answered too much: “… But it helped you learn to work hard toward a dream.” Yes, and to never realize it, I thought.
Years later, because horses are dangerous, I am guiltily relieved that my own daughter’s girlhood dreams did not take the form of horse craziness. But for both of our sakes I need to believe that if they had, I might not have inherited my father’s same blinding form of myopia. With the ache of a loss not to be repeated, I wonder what trusts I’ve unknowingly betrayed with my children, and hope that my failures as a parent have at least been more open to discussion between us.
My salve back then was to tell myself that I would have my horse some adult day. At age 15, I used the savings to spend a life-changing summer as an exchange student abroad. Yet my relationship not only with the single-minded pursuit of dreams but with allowing myself to grab hold of them sometimes still feels uneasy – – like approaching a wary, only half-gentled horse, one that I am yet working to ride, wind-whipped at a gallop.
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