“Your daughter may never learn to read,” I remember hearing a teacher say to my Mom as I waited outside in the hallway of my first grade classroom late that August day. “Does she know I can hear her?” I thought to myself as I stared at the floor.
Holding back tears, I remember silently asking myself why I had to be at school on this sunny summer day when all of my friends were everywhere else. It seemed like forever before my Mom finally came out of her meeting with the teacher, took me by the hand, and led me out into the summer sunshine and fresh air. My parents had faith that I would overcome my learning difference, and achieve anything I put my mind to; however, it seemed to me most teachers at my school had already decided I would not amount to anything special.
As a child there was nothing comforting like the sweet hay smell of our barn… I loved summer it seemed even more than most other children, not for the swimming pool days but for the long barn days. Still I was one of few students in my class who had to go to summer school. I saw a tutor there three times a week. On the drive to school one of those warm summer afternoons I lifted myself up to see out my parent’s car window. I looked intensely at the passing farm fields filled with cows – hoping to see a horse. Just one horse. The beauty, majesty, and sheer strength of horses filled my soul with unquenchable longing.
Although Boreas was the most fierce, fast, and beautiful of my family’s horses – when he first came to our barn his mud covered coat looked rugged and his ribs were poking through his sides.
At one time he was a great show horse champion; however, those days of excellence were long gone from him when he first came to us. He was angry and head shy – he trusted no one. I stood on my toes and peered between the stall boards at Boreas. I watched as he whirled about, snorted, and kicked at his stall door with his front hooves. He was shaking and tossing his head wildly. I noticed an old deep scar above his left back hoof as he turned about.
“You stay away from that horse young lady. You’ll get hurt” Grandpa warned.
I loved to watch Grandpa ride. He often weaved in and out of the pine trees next to our families barn - at full gallop he would turf up mud as Boreas carried him as fast as he could. I picked up mud thrown out of Boras hoof cavity and traced its shape with my small fingers. Boreas ribs were filling out after a few months on our green pastures and his coat started to have a shine to it. I dreamed of climbing onto his golden back.
Boreas rebelled against Grandpa’s stern ways several times. I stood once feeling like myfeet were nearly frozen into the soft summer ground as I saw Grandpa come out of the saddle. Boreas bucked up high and twisted hard to the right as he hit the ground. Grandpa cursed, got himself up, dusted off his chaps, replaced his white cowboy hat on his head, and went to fetch Boreas.
“You gotta get right back in the saddle if you ain’t hurt” Grandpa said.
I loved the leather smell of all Grandpas’ saddles and bridles and the feel of those dusty path ways under my boots as we walked to fetch the horses in the green pastures. Grandpa taught me how to put a halter on and lead a horse, how to carefully lift up their hooves to pick them clean, and he showed me how to brush so that their coats would shine with show quality brilliance. He even walked me around the pasture on the back of our slow chestnut mare Chrissy a few times. I felt proud sitting in his big Western silver show saddle. I cried when he lifted me back down to the ground.
Although going to the barn without an adult was forbidden I decided to disobey that rule … Somehow I carefully broke away from my family when we came back home one summer day from one of my tutoring sessions. I disappeared unnoticed for a time, and found myself drawn to Boreas’ pasture – where he grazed alone separated from all of the other horses. Grandpa had placed him in his own pasture because he was dominating the herd and hurting some of the lesser geldings in the process. I saw bite marks and hoof gouges Boreas had left on the other horse’s necks and sides.
As I slipped through the fence and walked fearlessly towards Boreas, he stopped eating and lifted his head slightly above the grass to look at me. He was calm as I approached him – soon his velvety nose was touching my cheek. He lowered his head and allowed me to put my arms around his thick neck. He nickered to me softly as I offered him sugar cubes and apple pieces.
His golden coat shimmered in the summer sunshine, and his long white mane fell down around me hiding me from the world and its cruel judgments.
“You are a beautiful boy,” I said to Boreas as I looked into his large curious brown eyes, and felt the hot breath from his nostrils on my back. I pulled lightly on his mane asking him to stay close to me. When I pulled on his mane a second time to my amazement Boreas laid down on the ground! Unaware of danger, I climbed onto his back and ran my hands over the top of his massive shoulders. In a few moments, Boreas stood up with me on his back, and then he looked back towards me as if to say “are you ready?” He started walking in a relaxed pace around the pasture. Although my small body was like an ant in comparison to his I felt safe. I was happy on his back, and secretly wished we could ride off to a magical place together - a place where children did not have to go to school and horses were all that mattered.
Boreas unlocked the latch of his pasture gate with his nose, then he gave it a firm push open with his head. Without any tack we walked towards the trails, which would take us on a journey through the woods, hills, and creeks near by. With determination I pressed my heels to his sides as I had seen my Grandpa do many times, asking him to move forward. A trot and then a canter took us far away from the barn and pasture. We enjoyed the sounds of nature around us as we tread along the winding trails which wove through shaded woods, along flowing creeks, and faded into the farm land with lush open fields ahead of us. Finally, we found ourselves in a steady but fast gallop which took us racing across Pennsylvania fields filled with wildflowers.
In this fast pace my mind was liberated from the doubts of others. Suddenly, I did not care who I would be someday or how I would get there. The discontent of teacher’s insisting I should know how to read seemed silly now. My body moved in balance with Boreas as I released both of my hands from his mane where I had been holding on tightly. With arms outstretched I let go – my spirit felt free as the wind rushed through Boreas’ mane and my long dark hair. We explored new trails that day as we discovered a bond between us.
Back at the barn Grandpa was in a panic. He cursed while pacing. When he saw me riding towards him I could see he was angry.
“I told you to stay away from that horse! He could hurt you!” Grandpa shouted.
Boreas came to a perfect stop in front of Grandpa. I slid down off of his back before Grandpa could lift me off.
“I can ride him” I said.
I started to walk inside the barn. Boreas followed me as calm as could be with his head down and his nose between my shoulder blades lightly touching my back. Grandpa was speechless.
In time it was decided Boreas would become my first horse.