A few days ago, I found a photo that was taken ten years ago now, of me at 43 sitting on my new horse (then 14). I look a little disheveled but happy; he looks thin, you might even say emaciated, with very little tail and several scars where other horses had taken pieces out of his hide. What you can't tell from the photo, and what I didn't know at the time, was that the horse (whom I named Tick Tock, after the ticking of our biological clocks) was about to take me on a life-changing adventure that has been more fun, sometimes more troubling, and always more interesting than I could have possibly imagined.
I was a fearful person then, the sort who sneaks into the baby's room during naps to make sure he's breathing, the sort who imagines every latecomer in a traffic accident. I had always loved horses though, had ridden as a teenager, and thought riding a horse might be a more fun way to lose the last 15 pounds of a late pregnancy than riding a NordicTrack with my eyes glued to the Weather Channel, watching for tornado warnings (I lived in Iowa then).
The horse had been around—most recently he had lived in a field with a bunch of other horses, and before that, who knew? But he was kind and easy to ride, and most important, the second morning that I knew him, he nickered at me. That was flattering, like having a nice man call you darling but without any overtones of sexual harassment. I meant to ride three times a week because, of course, I had a baby and other children and a husband and a career and a house and houseguests. But there I was, four days, five days, six days a week, not just riding the horse but taking lessons, asking questions, hanging around the barn, buying equipment. I was right about the pounds—they were gone in a month—but I was wrong about everything else, namely that I was an established grown-up with habits and some sort of unchanging identity.