“Oh, here’s my favorite one,” my mom squealed excitedly as we rounded a sharp turn in the winding Virginia road. “The Leopard-print App.” In the wire fenced pasture to our right stood a small black-spotted Appaloosa horse, a baby yet, at most two years. “I bet he’s a bad horse,” Mom said playfully; she’d been watching him grow up since she and dad relocated to the secluded Indian Valley region of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains roughly two years earlier. “It doesn’t look like anybody really pays attention to him,” she said. The horse, who had his butt turned toward us, switched his tail quickly from side to side. “I call him Mr. Spot.”

Mr. Spot

We continued driving, the tires of my Volkswagon Golf winding their way through the tight turns and steep inclines of the mountains, and around nearly every corner, Mom had another group of horses to point out. “There’s a white donkey around a corner near the farm, Dad and I call him a white ass. When it was real cold in the winter we would laughlingly say ‘I wonder how that little white ass is doing.’ It made the cold a little easier to take,” she said, alluding to the fact that the past winter had been one of the most wintery, frigid and snowy that this area had seen in years. The car swooped down a steep hill and mom pointed out, “Look, look, there he is!”

“That is a cute white ass!” I remarked, feeling only a slightly crass. We both burst into laughter, “Oh yeah,” she replied, “it’s a real cute ass.” The scraggly little white ass was a accompanied by a gray ass. They stood together beside a barkless tree, hanging their heads peacefully in the sleepy southern sun. We drove on, now climbing a steep hill lined with a small patch of hardy rhododendrons.

“Oh, and those pretty horses with a real light colored mane and tail, what are they called?” Mom asked. I scanned my memory, the years of horse knowledge tucked neatly behind college textbooks and traveling experiences had since I’d stopped riding full time. “Gosh, I don’t remember,” I replied. The horses came into view, two stocky Palomino colored horses with bright blond, nearly ivory colored manes and tails. They bowed their heads into the rich spring grass, one slightly larger than the other, both looking more like carriage horses than the riding type. “Maybe blond Percherons?” I guessed.

“I thought maybe Haflingers,” mom replied, “is that what they’re called?”

“Oh, Haflingers, I think they’re smaller, but gosh, I really don’t remember.” I could see the open page of my horse breed manual and the picture of the exact horse in front of me then but the name still alluded me. “Huh, I’d have to look it up.”

For the first 20 years of my life we’d had horses: big horses, small horses, trained horses, wild horses, show horses, old horses, baby horses, ponies, Purebred Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, cross breeds, mutts, pretty much anything except for miniature horses. My sister and I trained other peoples’ horses, operated a boarding business right there on our 64 acre farm in Pennsylvania. During the summers I showed my horses in jumping competitions, traveling throughout PA, New Jersey and Maryland to go where the ribbons were. There were only a couple of years in our lives that we didn’t have horses and those occurred once I’d left for school and no longer had the time or money to afford their care and training.

Since she was a young girl growing up in Huntington Valley, PA, mom had always dreamed of having a horse. In the hot summer days, she would walk to the nearest stable and watch the horse shows, judging the horses herself, picking out the best performers based on her own liking to the animals. By when she and Dad gave my brother, sister and I our first horses when we were babies, they were not only making dreams a reality for us, Mom was also doing so for herself.

But, eventually the kids grew up and moved on to Australia, Colorado, the Appalachian Trail, the horses were sold, the farm soon after. Mom and Dad resettled in the Virginia hills on a farm no less beautiful than the last, though it needed a little TLC. One thing it didn’t–and still doesn’t–have is horses. Mom and Dad talk about getting a couple someday, the real mellow type that do what they’re supposed to. A constant supply of free or cheap problem horses over the years satisfied our needs for a bucking bronco thrill; we were all now more in the easy trail riding mindset. I think Mom really wants to have Mr. Spot, she’d give him all the attention he needed to be sure. They’ve also talked about miniature horses. Just today Mom drove Gabe and I past a field dotted with stubby minis. We cooed over their adorable figures while mom casually mentioned, “You know, I heard it takes a mini an entire month to work through one bale of hay. That’s pretty low maintenance…”

Until then, though, we drive the Virginia roads admiring other peoples’ horses, all the while thinking that hopefully someday we’ll again have horses of our own.

Franklin Kids on Horses, Pennsylvania
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