This time of year, my thoughts often drift back to the days when I was a kid at summer camp. It was one of the best experiences of my lifeâ€”a camp devoted to horseback riding where young girls immersed themselves in everything equine for eight solid weeks.
The names and faces of my fellow campers have faded over time. But the horsesâ€”those I remember. The memories of the four-legged legends that shaped my summers are as enduring as those hot, humid July and August afternoons.
There was Sunbeam, who was older than Moses and the first horse many a little girl sat on. He had a hitch in his git-along that gave him rambling gaits. His canter was discombobulated and trying to sit it made your lower half feel it was attached to two horses going different directions.
When he trotted, all of his toes pointed to different headings. He would have made a good getaway horse in the old West, because trackers would have had no idea which was he was headed. His riders didnâ€™t really know either, and for that reason it was best to let him steer himself.
Then there was Ivory, the old albino mare. The only way to fall off of Ivory was to hurl your own body to the ground. If she sensed her rider was unsteady sheâ€™d just slow down and stop.
Many a kid in the beginner ring plowed into the back of Ivory. It never rattled her, though; sheâ€™d just turn her head and look back at the offending horse as if saying, â€śSeriously? Could you not see me stopped here rescuing this poor, teetering child? Pay attention.â€ť You knew youâ€™d mastered the trot when she went all the way around the ring with you. It was her personal seal of approval.
Captain Mac was a beautiful buckskin whose mission was to see how many campers he could yank out of the saddle by randomly plunking his head down to grab a bite of grass. He could perform this maneuver at all gaits, and he liked to mix it up. Riding him in the dirt arena did not dissuade him, as he had a staunch leap and the net will appear philosophy about things.
You knew he was going to do it, and yet heâ€™d sucker you into trusting him every time. It was like watching Lucy pull the football away from Charlie Brown day after day.
Devilâ€™s Fiddle was a rangy, angular flea-bitten grey with an expression of perpetual disdain. He had a slightly Roman nose and one nostril that would flare distinctly when he was displeased. Which was pretty much all the time. There was smug entitlement about him. Clearly, he considered himself above carrying the hoi polloi.
Fiddle was renowned for having The. Worst. Trot. Ever.
His canter had all the grace of a washing machine with an unbalanced load. Woe betide the unlucky rider who drew Fiddle for the lesson right after breakfast or lunch. Theyâ€™d flop around like invertebrates, trying desperately to keep their heels and meals down, while Fiddle bobbed around with his signature smirk. It was the only time he looked like he was having fun.
Fritz was a round, squatty bay of indeterminate lineage. Imagine what a Mr. Potato Head horse would look like, and youâ€™ll pretty much be picturing Fritz. The misfortune of being shaped like a wingless bumblebee made Fritz decidedly non-aerodynamic.
Ever foiled by the Laws of Physics and a canâ€™t-do attitude, he was the slowest horse Iâ€™d ever seen. Camp lore purported he had actually been seen cantering in retrograde. But he certainly didnâ€™t jump; he never once attained sufficient ground speed for lift-off.
Iâ€™d be remiss if I didnâ€™t mention Betsy.
Betsy wasnâ€™t a horse. She was a boa constrictor that belonged to one of the campâ€™s riding instructors. She lived in the tack room. Betsy was narcoleptic and would randomly take a nap and fall off of or out of something. The tack room was frequently like a scene out of Snakes On A Plane.
She was accustomed to being picked up and would just hold her body in the same shape while you found her a new resting place. Once people realized that the only way she could hurt you was if you tripped over her, she became just another thing to hang up.
Joker resembled a Salvador Dali drawing. He challenged all the rules of conformation. I picture Mother Natureâ€™s architects staring at a blueprint of him and wondering how the heck they were going to make this thing able to stand up on its own. I imagine gyroscopes and whirlygigs in his head fighting to maintain equilibrium, and a man behind a curtain frantically pulling strings and levers to keep him upright.
The Law of Natural Selection had clearly given him a pardon. But you could put the most timid, fearful child on his back and he would make it his sworn duty to carry them safely.
If any of these horses stepped into todayâ€™s show ring, theyâ€™d doubtless be snickered at. But to us, all of them were beautiful. They were some of our first and finest teachers, and, as great teachers do, they instilled in us a passion that changed our lives.
This was a time before cell phones and the Internet, when we regaled our adventures via letters, or in the stories we told when we went back home.
It is entirely possible that things sometimes happened more the way we wanted to remember them than the way theyâ€™d actually unfolded.
And itâ€™s possible that, over the years, the facts have been mingled with the fanciful. There are no Facebook posts or YouTube videos to prove something was one way or the other. And thatâ€™s a good thing. A little memory, and a little mythâ€”thatâ€™s what great legends are made of.
After years of trying to fit in with corporate America, Jody Lynne Werner decided to pursue her true passion as a career rather than a hobby. So now, she’s an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, web designer, writer and humorist. You can find her work on her Misfit Designs Cafepress site. Jody is one of the winners of the Chronicle’s first writing competition. Her work also appears in print editions of The Chronicle of the Horse.