It was love at first sight. We were looking for a companion for Emily and I saw an ad in a Bellingham newspaper for one of the wild horses from an island of the East Coast. These horses had managed to survive a shipwreck – escaping as a Spanish ship went down on its way to the new world. Several horses managed to swim to safety. Almost a century later, a wild herd, each year some were culled and sent to auction. The whole romance of it enticed me. Horses that could swim for days in the salty ocean? Horses who managed to survive on a small island? Horses who had few predators and who had had not their instincts dulled at the hands of man. The Chincoteague. I had to see one.
“Don’t go,” warned Mickey my daughter who knows me so well. “You’ll have to buy one.”
“Oh no. Too expensive.” Emily had been free. I had no money to buy an expensive horse. I told her not to worry. I had no intention of buying a fancy horse.
The woman who bred these marvelous horses in Bellingham had several to show. They were all lovely, but one was magnificent. A Quarter horse/Chincoteague cross stood alone in a separate paddock. When I approached her she whinnied and reached over the fence and licked my cheek. When the owner ushered me away to see other horses, Twilight snorted, stamped her feet, complaining loudly.
“She’s ten thousand dollars,” the woman says. “She should go to someone who wants to show her. You just want a companion for an old horse? She wouldn’t be a good choice.”
As we drove away, Twilight raced along the fence following our car for as long as she could. She reared up and pawed the air. I almost crashed the car turning my head to watch her.
For two weeks, I could think of nothing else, could talk of nothing else. Like a teenager crazy in love, it was all Twilight, Twilight, Twilight.
I went to the bank, borrowed the money and handed the cash to the woman who reluctantly agreed to sell her prize mare over to a woman who knew nothing about horses, who had no intention to ride this beautiful animal and who didn’t even own a farm.
Twilight moved into Hyla Garden. And life for me was never the same. It was a relationship like none other I had ever known. It was closest to the relationship I had with the love of my life, a writer, a poet, a musician, a wild Cajun who’d spent too much of his life in prison.
Like Twilight, Jean Guy was dangerous, sexy, brilliant, intuitive, and real. Every moment was an important moment, to be lived to the fullest, with attention, with promise, with anxiety at times and with the deepest kind of peace at other times. Complex, challenging, always aware, always ready to flee, always wanting to love, both of these beings came into my life in a way I’d never expected; and both were irresistible.
Since the death of Jean Guy, I had never felt totally alive – until that horse stepped out of the trailer and pranced with some skepticism and a lot of defiant grace around my newly planted lawn.
When I first met Emily, her name was Lady Rhythm. It was a name that suited her. She is a grand dame. She is elegant and moves with the grace of a dancer. To see her run is to see magic happen.
I have always thought the body of a horse to be the most beautiful thing, more beautiful than the body of a human, more beautiful than a Rembrant painting or a perfect rose. The beauty is in the shape, the power, the movement of the body, the nobility in the head, the shimmer of energy that is always there.
I have always thought this, but seeing Emily let me know it. Know it in the deepest, most certain way.
I found her on a web which advertised horses that people no longer wanted; horses people were willing to give away. These horses, many thoroughbred race horses, had made a lot of money for their owners, often millions of dollars. And now, no longer able to win races, no longer able to produce expensive foals, they are a liability. Thoroughbreds are expensive to keep. Why would one keep a horse that no longer made you money?
Lady Rhythm was such a horse. Born in New Zealand, she had come to America to win many races. As she aged, she was turned into a brood mare and gave birth to many very costly babies. One of her babies even became a movie star, in the movie Sea Biscuit.
You’d think such a horse would be a bit proud, even difficult. She had a right to be. But Emily is so modest, so obliging, so unassuming, you sense immediately that she deserves the best of care. That’s what I promised her when I agreed to take her to the cabin in Bow, WA.
I promised she would never have to work again, never wear a bit or feel a whip on her back. She had earned a good retirement and I was the one determined to give it to her.
My determination came from the memory of a horse in my childhood. Tom, the milkman’s horse.. Each morning I would wait for him, run down to feed him a treat and place my fingers on the softness of his nose while the milkman placed the two bottles of milk on our doorstep. I didn’t understand it then, but that huge Clysdale was saving my sanity, was giving me strength at a time I needed it most. A home situation that was throwing me into a quagmire of helplessness and fear and confusion would have destroyed me if not for that horse. There could have been no better therapist.
A second reason was the debt I owed to mares who were used to produce premarin, a hormone replacement that Mickey had to take because she was missing an X chromosome an could not produce her own hormones. Those mares were most often kept in terrible discomfort, cathederized and standing, pregnant in small stalls in order to collect the urine that was used to produce PMU (pregnant mare urine). I owned 3 acres of land and it was pay back time.
When I met Emily she was grazing peacefully in a field with another retired race horse, much older than Emily. The lady who was giving Emily to me, suggested I take the older mare as well. But I didn’t feel I had enough space for two horses. My property had no field, only garden. And I worried that I did not have the knowledge or finance to care for an older horse.
The lady invited me to brush Emily (then called Lady Rhythm). I did so gingerly, with full recognition of how little I knew about horses. I had never groomed a horse before and had no idea how to begin. “Just follow the way her hair goes,” the lady suggested and as I moved my hands over the enormous body, feeling the direction of the hair, following with the brush, I was eight years old again. I was at one with myself.
I looked into her eyes and promised to take care of her if she wanted to teach me how to take care of her and she sent me the strangest message. “I promise to take care of you.” Tears welled up in my eyes. I dropped the brush, almost staggering with the power of the emotion I felt. I was at once grateful and terrified.
No one ever really took care of me. I was the caregiver. Was I worthy of this kind of love? Was I worthy of this kind of horse?
I left without Lady Rhythm. I told the lady I had to see if I could build a barn first. I was so anxious my heart was racing, my mouth dry.
It took four months to build that barn. A Mexican helper and his brother built it for me out of scrap wood. When ‘Lady Rhythm’ arrived, the barn was too small for her, so we sawed it along the bottom and raised it four feet. We needn’t have bothered. Emily hated barns. She would stand outside, only her beautiful head in the window, the rest of her body under the shelter of the open air roof we had constructed as a her feeding station.
‘Lady Rhythm’ had had enough of standing in stalls. She would not enter a room which did not have two doors, a way in and a way out. I totally understand the feeling of being trapped. I, too, always lived in a place where you had two doors, a way in and a different way out.
Would either of us ever feel safe enough to allow ourselves to be comfortable in a space where the only way out was the way you came in? Would either of us ever trust that the person who might come in after us would not hurt us? I felt certain if ever it were possible, it would be with us, living together, teaching one another.
We all fell in love with him. So much that we actually bought him twice.