“This is Mouse; he’s a snuggler.”
As the horse pokes its nose to her sternum, she adds dryly,
“He loves boobs.”
Emily lived just down the hall from me on 3rd Pinkney, during my senior year and her freshman year at St. John’s College (the Annapolis campus). I was her RA, but other than seeing her in passing or watching her play the fiddle in the old-timey band, I didn’t know her well.
I graduated, and she transferred to St. John’s Santa Fe campus for her sophomore year. After taking a year off, she embarked on junior year.
“That,” she says, “didn’t work out.”
Emily grew up in York, Pa. She started riding horses at 5, and was professionally grooming by the time she was 14. In and out of college, she has groomed horses in various places around Santa Fe.
The last place she was at, the horses were beautiful but the people were terrible. This, though, is not the case with Nord Stable. And that makes all the more sense when Karen, the owner, arrives. She brings a pair of jodhpurs (is that what they’re called?) for me…they’re amazingly comfortable, like yoga pants but with a lot more give, and a reinforced crash-pad type thing through the crotch.
She also brings her birthday apple pie…made, she vouchsafes, with real lard. I am more than happy to please her by taking way more than my share.
She’s always trying to make everyone fat, Emily tells me. The pitch of her voice is as deep as the stormy grey of her eyes. I realize then that what I always took for shyness in both–her voice and her eyes–was in fact a keen observation and a dry sense of humor.
The things we miss, when we’re not looking closely.
From Emily’s tour, I learn that horses have an extra toe that few people know about–it’s receded into the back of their leg, about three inches up from the hoof. I learn that some horses can live to thirty years old, even with various maladies and weaknesses, and that others will get a mysterious infection during their peak and be dead within days. I learn that Andalusians have naturally curly hair, and a lower backside than front; this makes them ideal for dressage, like the Lipizzaner stallions.
Indy is missing an eye; he poked it out while running around, at a very young age. Ruby is a vicious kicker; Jupiter, her brother, is dumb; Bucky is on his last legs and probably won’t last the winter; Jasper is their most showy horse. And Picasso is going blind.
He’s an Appaloosa; they are prone to blindness, since their white color doesn’t protect their eyes as well from the sun.
They’ve seen it coming, and it was confirmed by two vets earlier in the week. They haven’t yet told his 14-year-old owner, Emily tells me. She hasn’t been to the stables since it was diagnosed. They don’t know how she’ll take it.
Remy is the horse I ride. And he knows he’s training a novice. He takes it about how you’d expect–alternating between resigned patience and patent eagerness to get it done.
No sooner do I get up on his back, than Picasso’s owner shows up. She has owlish glasses and hair and legs to match the horses. One of the other girls who is about to ride tells her, point blank.
“He’s blind?” the girl repeats, with less dismay in her voice than I’d have anticipated. It sounds like she’s just been told her horse is actually a monkey.
She runs up the dirt path to the road, where a car is waiting. In a few minutes, the car parks, and a man with tired hair and glasses gets out and makes his way up to Karen. I can’t hear them confer, but his posture and gestures look like those of a man who hasn’t quite decided who to blame.
His daughter, meanwhile, has Picasso on a lead, bringing him into the ring, taking him on his paces. She chatters to him easily, like a mother pushing a baby in a stroller.
Emily and I continue our rounds. Rather, Emily and Remy do…I just sit there, trying to keep all the threads of Emily’s instructions together. Give the reins a little more slack. Use your knees to steer him. Rotate your core in the direction you want him to head. Raise one arm above your head–see how your body does the work for you, and he responds so much better? Now put both arms straight out, in second position–see how that corrects your posture?
It feels like skateboarding, surfing, ballroom dancing, and driving a car, all at the same time.
Emily says that she’s been riding for 20 years and still doesn’t even call herself an intermediate rider. She’s lavish with her encouragement that not many new riders pick it up as quickly as I do. Privately, I’m certain I haven’t picked anything up, especially when Remy, intuiting that we’re about done for the day, ignores all pressure of my knees and direction of my core to return to the starting corner of the fence and plunge his head in a bucket of water.
The other horses are cantering around the ring, the father is leaning defeatedly against the metal fencing, and Picasso’s owner calls out over her shoulder,
What’s the best thing about living in Santa Fe?
“The mountains, the sky, the beautiful weather. Everything looks like a postcard, every single day. Also how small it is–it’s easy to get out in the country or into town, any time you want.”
What’s the worst thing about living in Santa Fe?
“You’ve heard it called ‘the Land of Entrapment?’ How easy it is to get stuck here.”