Paper Horses Before Real Ones

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Can you recall when you first realized you wanted horses in your life more than anything? I hadn’t given any thought to it at all – why would any horseperson, it’s just there – but then I got gob-smacked by the idea at my 50th high school reunion.

Drawing horses is what I did until I was finally able to take riding lessons. This drawing, recently unearthed by my cousin, is from more than 50 years ago.

Drawing horses is what I did until I was finally able to take riding lessons. This drawing, recently unearthed by my cousin, is from more than 50 years ago.

The weekend started with a gathering of my grade school classmates (many of us were “lifers,” together from K-12). Bill, the first person who greeted me, said he was happy to see that I’d found a life with horses since that was clearly what I had always wanted. Huh? How did he know that!? I hadn’t seen him in 50 years.

Turns out I’d completed a form for the reunion “memory book” online last fall and then forgotten about it, but it had my resume including my horsey stuff. But, how did Bill know what I’d wanted back in grade school? Because, he said, I was always drawing horses. Bill wasn’t the only classmate who reminded me of that. It became a theme for the weekend. I recall constantly doodling horses in grade school, but I didn’t recall anyone else taking notice.

I grew up in a residential neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, miles from any available horse, and my parents couldn’t subsidize my obsession. I recall I was drawing horses constantly by first or second grade. My aunt gave me that wonderful Walter T. Foster How to Draw Horses book, the one with Arabians all over the cover and in a center spread. I duplicated every page in it with my pastels.

Later on, my aunt asked me to draw some horses for her to put on the wall of her beach cabin. I did a couple – a palomino and a gray; the palomino is shown above -- but never thought they were any good. My aunt framed them anyhow and hung them opposite the kitchen table, so I and everyone in my poor family stared at them for decades.

My cousin eventually inherited the beach cabin, which she has since rehabbed, and last week she asked me if I wanted my drawings back. Apparently she’d saved them although I can’t figure out why! So, last week I got a double reminder of my long-forgotten drawing days that sublimated my desire for horses until I got my driver’s license and could drive myself to take riding lessons.

My longing for horses started when I was around 6, but my longing for dressage didn’t start for another two decades, mostly because I just didn’t know what it was. I didn’t even hear the phrase “on the bit” for the first time until I got out of grad school. I don’t think I ever drew horses again, although I did take up calligraphy for my art expression and even eventually used it as the side income that I needed to buy my all-time favorite horse, a black mare named India.

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