I survived final exams, grading, and just spent a lovely few days at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where I relaxed (no easy feat for me!), ate delicious food, and went on a wild horse tour, which was a really cool experience. I’ll be back to blogging as of today, and it’ll be good to be back in the swing of things. But first, a few words about horses.
I think most little girls want a horse when they grow up. As Amanda and I drove out to the horse tour place, we talked about our history with horseback riding. Amanda’s been on a guided tour where everyone rides in a line with the tour guide up front. Her horse really just wanted to stop and eat grass, so it was an exercise in frustration. I’ve been on a similar tour. Mine was at church camp in the North Georgia mountains. My horse was in a really bad mood, but not as bad a mood as our tour guide. In all fairness, he had to deal with a group of twenty teenagers coming in to ride horses. I’d probably get huffy as well. But what I remember is 1) I couldn’t make my horse go. And 2) I dropped my camera. When I tried to stop and get off my horse so I could retrieve my camera from the trail beside me, the tour guides yelled at me to stay put. I hadn’t wanted to make trouble for anyone, but I followed directions and stayed in the saddle while one of the tour guides dismounted and got my camera. He glared at me when he handed it back, and I decided to refrain from taking any more pictures.
Not fun. But the best horseback riding experience I’ve ever had was when I was little. My dad had (has?) a friend named Raul who has a farm an hour or so outside of Atlanta where he raised horses. My dad took us there one weekend, and Raul let us pick which horses we wanted to ride. I don’t remember which one I chose, but he showed us how to brush the horses and he helped us climb into our saddles, and then we all took off across open fields. He told me how to bring my horse to a trot, which was such an exhilarating feeling, going fast, bouncing along, my hair blowing back behind me. It was only a few hours, but I remember loving every minute of it. I also remember Raul showing us the electric fence when we got back to the barn, and my dad wrapped his hand around it and pantomimed being electrocuted. (Apparently, it only puts out a shock if you brush up against it. If you hold it steady, you can feel current, but not a shock. This blew my mind as a child.)
I remember my group of friends would play horses in elementary school. We would describe the horses we rode (or the horses we were, depending on our level of imagination that day) and we would gallop around the playground, our hair bouncing on our shoulders, making loud “neigh” sounds and sputtering our lips, shaking our heads.
I came up with a theory about why little girls form obsessions (or at least strong desires) for horses. I remember reading Little House on the Prairie and being so jealous of those girls for having their own horses. And I think it’s because, in the past, to have a horse was to have a means of transportation. You didn’t need a driver’s license to ride a horse; just some sturdy knowledge of safety and care for the animal, and the strength to control it. To have a horse meant you had freedom. You could ride away to the middle of a field or a neighboring house, to the store, to the creek, wherever you wanted. With a horse to ride, you were limited only by the confines of your imagination. It was a level of agency that kids don’t have in the age of cars. They can walk, sure, but what’s walking compared to the thrill of a trotting horse?
Even now, as an adult, horses hold a certain romance for me. They’re impractical in terms of transportation (at least where I live), but they’re big, beautiful animals with flowing mane and tail. And you definitely can’t ride the wild horses of Corolla, but they hold an even bigger kind of romance for me.
The wild horses in Corolla, NC, are Spanish horses that arrived on the beach when Spanish settlers ran aground in the Atlantic off the coast of North Carolina. According to our tour guide, that area is the graveyard of the Atlantic, with a great many shipwrecks happening off that coast. When the ships began to run aground, they dumped off the heaviest items – horses being one of them. Luckily, the horses could swim, and they made it to shore, running wild for many years before man figured out how to reach and settle that long stretch of beach.
As the Outer Banks began being built up into a beach town, the horses were a nuisance. They got hit by cars, and one even went into the Food Lion and had to be chased back out. Eventually, the Wild Horse Fund, along with citizens of Corolla, put up a big fence to keep the horses contained to the isolated beaches at the end of the strip that makes up Corolla. The horses roam free, and even though that land has been built up with houses, it remains free of commercial structures. Horses are free to roam the beach, the dunes, even people’s yards, and the people who live there work hard to protect the horses and keep them safe.
Our tour lasted two hours and we saw about twenty horses, mostly munching on grass, but right at the end of the tour, we saw some horses down on the beach, which makes for really beautiful pictures. It was cold and windy, but we were glad we went on the tour because it was really cool to see the horses up close and to hear about the history and the work done to protect the horses.