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Heart of My Heart

Lael Van Riper
Montrose, Colo.

By all rights I should not have owned a horse. We lived in the city. Mom was struggling to support three girls with no help from my absent father. We didn’t have a car. The nearest bus and grocery store were eight long blocks away. Eight blocks that mother struggled to carry groceries after a grueling day at work.

Bills often went unpaid for several months, and there had been threats to cut off utilities. More than occasionally, my paternal grandfather, Gramps, would bring the grocery bill up-to-date and supply us with some food. When I wasn’t Mom’s greatest worry, money was.

But that didn’t stop me from yearning, dreaming, perusing the “Horses for Sale” ads in The Denver Post and, with my horse-crazy friend Judy, calling about those horses for sale.

All I asked for on my birthday or Christmas was a horse. If a horse was not forthcoming, I wanted horse statues, books, pictures. I dreamed of an Arabian. Anyone who read Marguerite Henry’s “King of the Wind” would dream of an Arabian.

I prayed about a horse, spent evenings looking for the first star so that I could wish for a horse, but I was a realist. I knew our financial situation was grim. I knew Judy’s parents were teachers with two children. The likelihood of either of us getting a horse was slim to none.

But July 4, her birthday, Judy got a miracle, a horse. He was a chestnut American Saddlebred gelding. I was thrilled for her and grieved for me until Gramps made some kind of deal with my mother, and by my September birthday we were shopping for a horse.

I don’t remember being told we had a budget, yet I knew. Arabians were out, but a registered Quarter Horse filly, Lady’s Blacky, was mine, along with a new $60 western saddle and bridle from Sears.

We boarded Blacky two miles away”then the fringe of Denver, now right in the heart of the city.

She was a two-year-old, green-broke horse, good bloodlines, and a willing heart. Now I finished chores at home in record time, school work with no complaint, grabbed a handful of carrots, and hiked to Blacky’s pasture. My mood swings, laments over lack of social life, teen angst and rage, all smoothed out or disappeared.

I was gone into a world of horses, movement, new friends, occasional horse shows. We were an inseparable unit”Blacky, my dog Toby, and me.

Blacky never topped 14 hands while I grew into a lanky 5’7″–too tall for Blacky. We were an odd-looking pair but tightly bonded over hours and years. She won me over as a staunch advocate for the gritty breed of Quarter Horses.

Occasionally I would catch mother muttering about the inconsistency of owning a horse when you lived in the city and couldn’t even pay your bills and didn’t have a car, but she never missed a horse show and never said a word directly to me about this incongruency.

By all rights I should not have owned a horse. We lived in the city. Mom was struggling to support three girls with no help from my absent father. We didn’t have a car. The nearest bus and grocery store were eight long blocks away. Eight blocks that mother struggled to carry groceries after a grueling day at work.

Bills often went unpaid for several months, and there had been threats to cut off utilities. More than occasionally, my paternal grandfather, Gramps, would bring the grocery bill up-to-date and supply us with some food. When I wasn’t Mom’s greatest worry, money was.

But that didn’t stop me from yearning, dreaming, perusing the “Horses for Sale” ads in The Denver Post and, with my horse-crazy friend Judy, calling about those horses for sale.

All I asked for on my birthday or Christmas was a horse. If a horse was not forthcoming, I wanted horse statues, books, pictures. I dreamed of an Arabian. Anyone who read Marguerite Henry’s “King of the Wind” would dream of an Arabian.

I prayed about a horse, spent evenings looking for the first star so that I could wish for a horse, but I was a realist. I knew our financial situation was grim. I knew Judy’s parents were teachers with two children. The likelihood of either of us getting a horse was slim to none.

But July 4, her birthday, Judy got a miracle, a horse. He was a chestnut American Saddlebred gelding. I was thrilled for her and grieved for me until Gramps made some kind of deal with my mother, and by my September birthday we were shopping for a horse.

I don’t remember being told we had a budget, yet I knew. Arabians were out, but a registered Quarter Horse filly, Lady’s Blacky, was mine, along with a new $60 western saddle and bridle from Sears.

We boarded Blacky two miles away”then the fringe of Denver, now right in the heart of the city.

She was a two-year-old, green-broke horse, good bloodlines, and a willing heart. Now I finished chores at home in record time, school work with no complaint, grabbed a handful of carrots, and hiked to Blacky’s pasture. My mood swings, laments over lack of social life, teen angst and rage, all smoothed out or disappeared.

I was gone into a world of horses, movement, new friends, occasional horse shows. We were an inseparable unit”Blacky, my dog Toby, and me.

Blacky never topped 14 hands while I grew into a lanky 5’7″–too tall for Blacky. We were an odd-looking pair but tightly bonded over hours and years. She won me over as a staunch advocate for the gritty breed of Quarter Horses.

Occasionally I would catch mother muttering about the inconsistency of owning a horse when you lived in the city and couldn’t even pay your bills and didn’t have a car, but she never missed a horse show and never said a word directly to me about this incongruency.

By all rights I should not have owned a horse. We lived in the city. Mom was struggling to support three girls with no help from my absent father. We didn’t have a car. The nearest bus and grocery store were eight long blocks away. Eight blocks that mother struggled to carry groceries after a grueling day at work.

Bills often went unpaid for several months, and there had been threats to cut off utilities. More than occasionally, my paternal grandfather, Gramps, would bring the grocery bill up-to-date and supply us with some food. When I wasn’t Mom’s greatest worry, money was.

But that didn’t stop me from yearning, dreaming, perusing the “Horses for Sale” ads in The Denver Post and, with my horse-crazy friend Judy, calling about those horses for sale.

All I asked for on my birthday or Christmas was a horse. If a horse was not forthcoming, I wanted horse statues, books, pictures. I dreamed of an Arabian. Anyone who read Marguerite Henry’s “King of the Wind” would dream of an Arabian.

I prayed about a horse, spent evenings looking for the first star so that I could wish for a horse, but I was a realist. I knew our financial situation was grim. I knew Judy’s parents were teachers with two children. The likelihood of either of us getting a horse was slim to none.

But July 4, her birthday, Judy got a miracle, a horse. He was a chestnut American Saddlebred gelding. I was thrilled for her and grieved for me until Gramps made some kind of deal with my mother, and by my September birthday we were shopping for a horse.

I don’t remember being told we had a budget, yet I knew. Arabians were out, but a registered Quarter Horse filly, Lady’s Blacky, was mine, along with a new $60 western saddle and bridle from Sears.

We boarded Blacky two miles away”then the fringe of Denver, now right in the heart of the city.

She was a two-year-old, green-broke horse, good bloodlines, and a willing heart. Now I finished chores at home in record time, school work with no complaint, grabbed a handful of carrots, and hiked to Blacky’s pasture. My mood swings, laments over lack of social life, teen angst and rage, all smoothed out or disappeared.

I was gone into a world of horses, movement, new friends, occasional horse shows. We were an inseparable unit”Blacky, my dog Toby, and me.

Blacky never topped 14 hands while I grew into a lanky 5’7″–too tall for Blacky. We were an odd-looking pair but tightly bonded over hours and years. She won me over as a staunch advocate for the gritty breed of Quarter Horses.

Occasionally I would catch mother muttering about the inconsistency of owning a horse when you lived in the city and couldn’t even pay your bills and didn’t have a car, but she never missed a horse show and never said a word directly to me about this incongruency.


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