My sister, Bonita loved horses. For as long as I can remember, she wanted two things. She wanted a horse, and she wanted to be a boy. She had such a good imagination that sometimes she convinced herself that her pretending was real. Just in case you don’t remember, Bonita was my best-friend-at-home.
Once a week, Bonita and I hopped on our bikes and pedaled over to Mr. Robinson’s; he lived on a horse farm a half mile down our road, then turn left and go about three miles down a dirt road. I don’t know how Mom knew Mr. Robinson; she only knew people from church, teachers, and other mothers, and maybe a few wives of Dad’s friends from work. Mr. Robinson wasn’t any of those, but somehow Mom convinced Mr. Robinson to let us ride his horses.
Not many people lived on that dirt road, one or two houses on each side of the road every mile, most with dogs. I hated those dogs.
The first house was the Johnsons’. All five kids in that house had teeth looking like tiny pieces of new, sweet corn. My friend Betty told me her mom said the Johnson kids had something wrong with their teeth so they never lost their baby teeth. Betty’s mom sure knew a lot of stuff about people; my Mom never told me stuff about people, except that I had to think about what people said and use my head, ’cause it might be true and it might not be true, and there was something in between called opinion. I was supposed to keep my opinions to myself unless somebody asked, but I hardly every did, which Bonita told me was how I got myself into trouble. Anyway I was super-duper sure to brush my teeth morning and night, just in case some of my baby teeth stayed in and turned all yellow like that.
The Johnson’s had two dogs that came a-running out at the last minute, just when I thought we were clear, and chased after me and Bonita, snarling and barking, showing their big white fangs with slobber-drops blowing off their lips in the wind. Mom said dogs just like to chase the shiny bike spokes, they wouldn’t hurt me. Still, I got up a good speed as I approached the Johnsons’, then coasted with my feet on the handle bars as long as I could, until the dogs gave up and went home. Then I built up speed once more, so I could put my feet up again, ’cause almost every darned house had a dog that liked to chase bikes.
I could hardly believe a grown man spent his entire day just feeding and brushing horses, riding them; then just for kicks, he taught little foals how to be led around and behave themselves. Mr. Robinson was in cowboy heaven: just roaming around outside all day, being with the horses: no planting, no weeding, no cleaning up the house, no chickens to feed. He got to just suck in the smell of all that good alfalfa hay, was sweet, like flowers and bees, not the dried out old timothy hay we had for the cows.
Mr. Robinson said we had to learn to ride bare-back before he’d let us on a saddle; that included getting on the horse without the stirrups. Bonita put on her sad-looking cow-eyes, all big and round, ’cause that was about impossible; then to prove his point,as easy as pie, Mr. Robinson slipped right up on his horse, Abou. Yep that’s right Abou Ben Adhem. I guessed Mr. Robinson liked the same kind of poetry I did. Abou was all brownish-red in front with all kinds of colors, white, and tan, and red, speckled across his rump.
Bonita rode Comanche Chief’s Jill, Peaches for short. There’s no accounting for how people make up nicknames for kids or for horses, that’s for sure. Peaches was kind of ugly in Mr. Robinson’s eyes, but not to Bonita, she loved Peaches. Peaches was pretty much one color, light reddish-orange, with lots of white spots all over. Bonita just knew she would own Peaches someday.
I had to ride Big Joe. There was no way I would ever be able to get on Big Joe, with or without a saddle unless somebody boosted me up. I could just touch the top of Big Joe’s back if I stood on my tippiest tip-toes. I took Big Joe over to the paddock fence, climbed up, and took a leap over onto Big Joe. Tall wasn’t the only thing that made Big Joe, big. He was so wide that only my feet went over the side of his back, which made it impossible to hang on tight with my legs. When Big Joe got to trotting around, he sweat something fierce. A lot of people said ‘sweat like a pig’, but pigs don’t sweat, that’s why they have to wallow in the mud to cool off; people should say ‘sweat like a horse.’ That’d be more accurate. Big Joe’s sweat came out of him in big frothy foam: all over his chest, under the girth, between his legs, and between me and him. By the time I got off, Big Joe’s hair soaked in smelly horse sweat sopped the whole inside legs of my peddle-pushers . I pedaled home hard standing up, except for when I put my feet on the handlebars to avoid the dogs, in hopes that my pants would dry out. Yuck. Another thing that made Bonita laugh her guts out.
The whole way over to Mr. Robinson’s and the whole way back, Bonita talked about when she got Peaches. Good thing she had me along, or she would forget all about the dogs. She got me so excited, I wanted a horse, too. Not Big Joe.
A lot of time passed before Bonita and I got our horses. All that waiting and dreaming and hoping made those two old geldings, Pokey and Old Red, that we finally got, the most cherished horses a couple of little girls ever had.
At long last, Bonita outgrew pretending to be a boy and started dreaming about a boyfriend, but she never gave up hope of owning Peaches. Bonita’s wish finally came true, and that very next spring I got Peaches’ newborn foal, whom I named Abou’s Pride. It was two more years, and a lot of hard work, before Abou’s Pride was ready to ride, I was no longer a little girl, I was in high-school. She was the prettiest filly I ever saw.
Anticipation, it makes delayed gratification just that much sweeter.