My Four-legged Valentine

I have experienced love at first sight two times in my life.

The first time it happened I was at assembly in the tenth grade, and  the second time was in my car when I first saw Buck, an American  Quarter Horse who was spending his days with a herd of cows in Connecticut.

Things as ephemeral and spontaneous as love at first sight are both good and bad.  In the case of the human crush, my unrequited obsession fueled my passion for writing and risky behavior. The inter-special affair with Buck has been more modulated and longer lasting, yet not entirely without suffering.

I have admired horses for as long as I can remember.  Once I got old enough to launch and sustain an effective campaign of harassment, I tormented my parents until they hooked me up with riding lessons. After college, I continued to ride and didn’t stop until I got pregnant in  1992. I put the sport aside until 2000, and then, like a recovering addict, irresponsibly introduced Thing 1 to riding and got us both hooked.

American Q/uarter Horse

Who could reisit those big brown eyes and that velvety nose?

On New Year’s day 2001 I realized that I  was a big girl and could have my own horse if I wanted to.

In my quest to find a nice  prospect, I drove all over the state and rode a dozen horses but remained unmoved by all of them. Just when I started to feel like I would never find my heart’s desire, I found Buck.

Despite the fact that he was too small for me by a hand, and riding him felt like I was astride a stoned manatee, I was a goner. I had fallen hard for the stocky little Quarter Horse before I had even gotten out of my car.

My favorite thing to do on horseback is trail ride. There is something indescribably great about seeing the world from a saddle.

Buck arrived in Rhode Island on Valentine’s Day, and a few days later l  took him out for our inaugural ride.

He was awful.

On that first ride, Buck’s body quivered with barely contained anxiety, which lead him to jig and prance around while he contemplated the odds of successfully bolting for the barn. I established that there would be no bolting, yet, there wasn’t too much I could do to reassure him that the woods were not filled with horse-eating trolls.

There was no denying it: my new love was sweet and polite, but he was the laziest and wimpiest creature on four legs. There were times on the trail when he was reduced to a sweating, snorting wreck by something that I could not hear, see or smell. Other times, he would inexplicably erupt underneath me. Being besotted, I chose to ignore the fact that my horse did not have the temperament for what I wanted him to do.

Buck was like that nice alcoholic guy you dated, and maybe even married, because he was really sweet and super cute, except when he went on a bender and got arrested. Like that guy, Buck would play with my emotions by being solid on the trail for a few weeks, only to disappoint me just as I was starting to feel like we were making progress.

After keeping my seat through countless cyclonic eruptions over the years, Buck finally tossed me as we were heading out one May afternoon. It was the first and only time I fell off in the 9 years we had been together.  Since I escaped partial paralysis from that one fall by a centimeter or two, I threw up my hands  and quit riding for good once I was back on my feet. There were those without families to care for and jobs  to do who counseled me to get back in the saddle. They are misguided because life does not revolve around my love of a sport.

Buck was completely muscle bound and stiff on his left side when I got him. I am "bending" him around my inside leg to stretch the muscles on his opposite side

Buck was completely muscle bound and stiff on his left side when I got him. I am “bending” him around my inside leg to stretch the muscles on his opposite side

I was a mess following that accident, and briefly leased Buck to my friend for her lesson program.

While I had failed at turning Buck into a reliable trail horse, I had been successful at teaching him to move more like a horse and less like a dazed sea creature. I felt confident that once he was safely ensconced in a schooling ring with other horses, he would make a fine school pony.

As it turned out, he was perfectly behaved  with the kids who were sure of themselves, but punky with the ones who were not. Within a week, he was relieved of his duties and I was secretly ecstatic to have him back.

I haven’t ridden Buck since I fell in 2009. The heady romance of our first decade together is long gone, but the true love has endured.

When I am doing barn chores, Buck stands as close to me as he can, hangs his big head over my shoulder and breathes out his sweet smelling horse breath. Other times, he will rumple his big nose around on the top of my head. If I catch him napping in a sunny corner of the paddock, I will wrap my arms around his neck and let him doze with his heavy head on my shoulder.

Back in 2001, I imagined long, relaxing rides with my bomb-proof and surefooted horse, but of course that never happened because I let my heart get the better of my judgement. After realizing my mistake, I worked hard to wrangle Buck into what I had hoped he could become, and failed in spectacular fashion. After the accident, I attempted to sell him, but luckily for both of us, the economy tanked and the market was flooded with horses.

These days, Buck is living the dream. He has kept his coltish good looks despite the fact that he does nothing more taxing than amble from the water trough to the hay. Now in his twenty-sixth year, he doesn’t look a day over 10. Thanks to him, I am now condemned to a lifetime of fitness because if I don’t work out hard every day, I can barely move. His moronic impulse to explode at the sight of the barn cat was a win-win for both of us.

Twelve years ago, I thought everything would go the way I wanted it to, because I was the human in charge.  I know better now, and realize that things have actually worked out very nicely for Buck. Who is to say which one of us deserved the better outcome? Before Buck, I understood the idea of compromise on an intellectual level, but after all these years together, I have truly taken the idea of compromise into my heart.



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  1. Kim Falcone says:

    Our experiences with horse love are very similar, Lavie. My Tassie, a Standardbred trotter retired from the racetrack to a barn full of cows in Cranston, threw me the first time I got on her back! I will share more when you return from your fabulous adventure! XO Kim

  2. Margie says:

    After years and years of trying to conform horses (and dogs and children, as Cheri says) to my own needs I finally realized that this is NOT possible. I think that the fact that you also came to the same conclusion makes you a fabulous horse woman!

    1. admin says:

      Thank you! It’s true, you really can’t control anything or anyone!

  3. Al Fermeglia says:

    Wonderful story. Are you submitting to any publications?

    1. admin says:

      I haven’t yet, but my crazy goals are to either get something with This American Life or in The New Yorker…crazy I know, but a girl’s gotta have goals!

  4. thepainterchick says:

    Thanks for the beautiful story. I remember the awful days after the accident and am glad to hear how you guys are getting on these days.

    1. admin says:

      I was never mad after that happened, but I was very much effected by it and have tried to write about the experience several times…unsuccessfully. It was hard to admit, in writing, that I wasn’t the fabulous horse woman that I imagined myself to be, and that I had made an impetuous choice. I guess now that it is far down the road, I can face uo to my own shortcomings. I really do love that useless horse to pieces. Thanks for reading!

  5. Cheri Thacker says:

    Awwwww, I love this story. Buck reminds me a lot of my kids. 🙂

    1. admin says:

      Ah, you got it perfectly! Thanks for reading, Cheri.

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