Sunday, July 4, 2010


Early this morning I was hanging three pairs of freshly washed jodhpurs out on the washing line to dry. Suddenly, the heavy horses across the road (who pull a special wagon for local garbage collection – I wrote about them in an earlier post) began thundering around their field, kicking up their heels, squealing and generally having a wonderful time. What did I do? I did what any other horse-gaga person would have done. I rushed to the top of the garden, opened the gate, and stood watching their wonderful display of grace and power with a giant smile on my face, goose-bumps erupting all over my body. My throat constricted, I may even have brewed a couple of tears. Neighbors shot me strange looks as they drove past me in their cars. Well, yes, I suppose I must have looked rather odd, standing there gazing at the horses in my pjs, a cheesy grin stretched across my face. Anyway, the horses settled down after a while, going back to grazing and swatting flies, so I pottered back to the laundry room looking forward to tackling the fascinating task of sorting through divorced socks.

That’s when the questions started niggling at me. What is it about horses? Why do they do…well, what they do to me? Where did this passion come from? What prompted it?

I can fully comprehend an inherited passion for horses. It makes sense for horse-mad people to pass the equestrian torch from one generation to the next. There’s good imagery in the French expression “il (or « elle ») est tombé dedans quand il était petit”, which translates to “he (or she) fell in when he (or she) was small”, and applies to the likes of show-jumping superstar Rodrigo Pessoa, or to members of the Whitaker clan. These people were probably, quite literally, riding before they could walk. It also seems logical that children born into horse-loving families might develop an interest in horses; my daughter, Olivia, definitely caught the horse bug from me.

But where did I catch the horse bug? My parents were never particularly interested in horses. They never felt the need to stroke a suede-velvet nose, or enjoyed running their fingers through a long, thick, waxy-tough tail. They weren’t particularly fond of that unique, musky-sweet horsey scent. They didn’t tear up watching movies such as International Velvet, or The Black Stallion. Sure, they’ve always thought horses are beautiful, they’re not scared of them, and have enjoyed patting the ones I’ve been associated with over the years. But that’s as far as it goes. In no way did they encourage my horse-craziness; my mother didn’t specifically choose bedtime stories revolving around horses. During weekend outings, we never went out of our way to go and look at horses, although if we happened to see any as we drove by, my parents would always point them out to me.

I have a vivid memory of my father slowing the car down as we passed a horse and rider on a country road. I must only have been about five or six, but I can still remember him winding down the window to say hello to the rider, asking if his horse was friendly. The man was definitely friendly! I remember how he bent down to talk to us, how he laughed, telling my father his horse was “très très gentil”. I remember how he waved at me, bright-eyed and flat-nosed against the back window. I remember him asking me if I’d like to have a ride on his “gentil cheval”. Of course, he was probably joking, and I was far too overwhelmed to take him up on his invitation. Yet as crazy as it sounds, forty-odd years later, I still regret not taking him up on that spontaneous proposition!

Was this my “ah-ha” horsey moment? Was I contaminated by the horsey-bug during that chance encounter? To be perfectly honest, I think I was born with it. But as it’s my first ultra-vivid horse memory, I can’t help thinking that that friendly man had something to do with my childhood obsession, my teenage fervor, my lifetime passion. Call me mushy, but I wish there was a way for me to let him know!

So, tell me. When were you first smitten?


Beth said...

I can not even remember. I went with my sister to one of her riding lessons but the horses were so big. A few years after that I started taking lessons for myself. That was it. I was hooked.

Recently I found out that a great great great grandfather was particularly good with horses. My other always enjoyed horses too. How I got so absolutely smitten though, I'll never know.

I, too, though tear up at a beautiful horse running or performing. Draft horses in particular just make my heart stop.

3ChunkyMonkies said...

I don't ever remember NOT being horse crazy. My mother tells me I was born horsie...and my family is very much anti-horse.

Linda Benson said...

Francesca - this is a fabulous post. I was so intrigued with this subject that I wrote my college senior thesis on it: "What causes American women to develop a passion for horses?" (although obviously it's not only American women who can harbor such passion :-))

Believe it or not, many women that I interviewed for my research stated they thought they were "born" with a love of horses, as if it were a gene that was passed down. My college professor scoffed at such a notion, but many of my subjects identified an older relative (not necessarily parents) who also loved horses.

Perhaps there is a horse-lovng "gene" or trait that is passed down through generations. Personally, I tend to think so. How else could we all be so crazy?

Anonymous said...

I think I was born horse-crzy, despite it not making sense in the middle of a non-horsey family in an urban setting.

Earliest memories? Roy Rogers and his wonderful horse, Silver. I was totally in love, and not with Roy! I was obsessed with horses long before I met one in person.

It has NEVER made any sense.


Jami Davenport said...

I have been crazy about horses almost since birth. I remember playing with Breyer horses before I could read. My favorite kid's books were horse books. I have no idea why I fell in love with horses. I, too, didn't have a horsey family, not at all. I can't remember not being smitten with horses so I seem to have been born with it.

Jami Davenport said...

Linda, I'd love to hear more on your thesis. Maybe you could make it a post sometime.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Francesca! I would agree with the opinion that we are just born with the horse loving gene. Although my adoptive parents couldn't stand horses, my biological mother rode during her pregnancy with me and even rode the day before I was born. I guess she had enough and thought it was time for me to make an appearance :D
I was horse crazy from the beginning and loved anything horsie!!!! Read all the horsey books, begged and begged for a pony, rode through till my twenties, when I gave it up to finish school and get married. I came back to it after I had kids. But in the meantime I never stopped loving these beautiful creatures. Even when I'm sweaty and stink like an old saddle I still love it! I think one of my three kids might have the bug. But in my exerience you either have it or you don't.

Francesca Prescott said...

Beth: speaking of smiten ancestors, rumour has it that my... mega-great grandmother (I use mega to avoid having to write "great" a trillion times as I have no idea how far back this ancestry goes)was part of the English royal family, but was cut-off and disinherited when she fell in love and ran away with one of the (Spanish!) stable boys. Maybe there's a horse crazy gene link there. Might also explain my thing for Latino men!!

3ChunkyMonkies: I think I drove my parents crazy as a child, constantly pestering them for a horse! They weren't anti-horses, just anti the expense of horses!

Linda: I'd love to hear more about your thesis, what an interesting subject you were able to study. I wonder if some day we'll be able to identify a specific gene.

Stillearning: I never saw Roy Rogers and Silver, I don't think they aired it in Switzerland when I was a little girl. But there was a French series about a Shetland pony called Polly, and I used to love that. Basically, I was fascinated with anything that had anything to do with horses or ponies. My mother used to have to take me to a park in Geneva where there were little pedal-bike things with little horses (metallic) in front, and I'd ride around for hours. Also those galloping horses outside supermarkets?! I loved those!

Jami: did you ever read the "Jill" series as a little girl? I LOVED those books. "Jill has two Ponies", "Jill's Gymkhana", etc. Can't remember the author, but I was her biggest fan.

Mommyrides: I bet you never stink like an old saddle! Besides, didn't you know: horses sweat, but ladies simply glow :)

Thanks, everyone, for reading and commenting :)

Anonymous said...

Correction: Roy Roger's horse was Trigger, not Silver! Same memory, wrong name....


dunslidin said...

My mother was terrified and my father could care less but I was a horse lover from the moment I was born. My first toy was a blow up horse(I know plastic and babies) that I kept for 7 years. They make me happy, cry and feel good about myself. I am closer to my horses than most people and I'm a social person. Luckily my husband likes horses and tolerates my gaganess over them. My gelding is my best friend and treats me like a buddy, my husbands new gelding is getting like that already and we have only had him a few months. My mare is like a really demanding older sister, smart, funny and it has to be her way and she lets you know. Love her so much. Aren't we lucky to be loved by and love horses.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I totally agree about it being hereditary. I was never around horses much as a child but I would crave the merry-go-round and the pony rides anyway. My first memories are of petting some horses in a field. Often, my family went fishing at a pier near a park and I would sit and watch from afar, the 'lucky ones' riding their horses on the riding path and in the ring, wishing I could do it too.

My mother is horse crazy too. No one else in my family really is though. As a military family, we moved often but when we settled on a base with horse stables, my father had no choice. He had to buy a horse to get peace and quiet from me. I had never even ridden a horse before (except led pony rides) but my mother had rented hacks when she was younger. It was quite a learning experience for us all and very soon my mother and I had three horses!

When I was pregnant with my first child, I rode almost until my due date but my son wanted nothing to do with horses after being thrown from a pony as a beginner rider. My daughter likes horses but not as passionately as my mother and I. Sometimes, I feel disappointed that my children don't have my horse-itis but they grew up with horses so I don't think they ever really developed the yearning.