Horse Love - The Mack Attack and the Childhood Throwback
Cell phones did not exist when I was growing up, and video games were in their infancy. When I remind my kids of this, in a vain attempt to encourage them to disconnect from the digital world, I’m usually met with snarky comments such as, “How did you alert each other of approaching dinosaurs? With smoke signals?” Or, “Did you manage to score a cabin with a private patio for your voyage on the Mayflower?”
I usually ignore their snark and instead, for the zillionth time, launch into one of the many stories about my childhood escapades and how they didn’t involve electronics. Most of those adventures involved my horse, Beauregard Humphrey.
My horse was my first love. Every day after school I would spend my remaining afternoon hours with him, either training for an upcoming horse show or just grooming him from head to hoof while he stood there half asleep. In high school, boys and school activities made my visits a little less frequent but not by much. I truly adored my Beau. When it was time for me to leave for college, I gave Beau to the little girl who lived down the road. She was a horse lover and I trusted her to take excellent care of him and shower him with many more years of adoration. I think I’m still grieving his absence in my life.
Decades later and quite by accident, I discovered a horse training and boarding facility on several acres hidden inside the city and only 15 minutes from my house. It was divine intervention! They even offered a series of week-long summer camps! OH MY GOD! I rushed home to share the exciting news with my then ten-year-old daughter.
Here’s why I’m stupid. I have yet to comprehend that when it comes to the Great Outdoors, my daughter’s interests do not mirror my own.
I grew up in the country, in a time before cell phones, where the Great Outdoors was smooshed in my face and my body was acclimated to all temperature extremes. She is growing up in the city where a good deal of our decision making revolves around which type of ethnic food we’re in the mood for that evening. I come from a generation that spent their childhood downtime outdoors, escaping the indoor lung-level haze produced by their parents’ chain smoking. My daughter comes from the generation who spends their down time on a device of some sort. They get their exercise by playing a structured sport and attending scheduled practices. They do not get their exercise by log rolling down grassy hills or by mindlessly riding their bikes around the neighborhood looking for other kids who might also be hanging around outside. A little voice inside my head said, “Don’t sign her up for horse camp. She will hate you.”
I signed her up. All she needed was be around these magnificent creatures and then, surely, she would catch horse-fever. Amiright? Of course I am!
On her first day, I stayed long enough to find out which horse she would be assigned. They gave her Firefly, an adorable little brown mare with a white butt. I watched as they regarded each other, Firefly wondering why she wasn’t being given a treat and my daughter wondering how long this insufferable camp was going to last.
I wandered back to my car, detouring my way through the stalls to check out the other horses while pondering how much the world has changed in the span of only one generation. Then my eyes looked up and locked with the most beautiful, massive, soft brown eyes I had ever seen. He was a gentle giant with chiseled muscles that twitched independently of each other as they shook flies from his shiny coat. His mane and tail flowed as one with the wind. The nameplate on his stall said “Mack.”
It was an instant and powerful connection. Well, on my part anyway. Mack was probably just looking at me to see if I was bringing him a carrot. I approached him, awestruck, and reached out to pet his velvety nose.
“He’s gorgeous, isn’t he?” a woman’s voice said behind me.
I whipped my head around, feeling immediately territorial. Mack was mine!
“Mack is mine,” she said.
“Oh,” I said, deflated. “Yes, he’s absolutely gorgeous.” An idea struck me. “Hey, do you need anyone to come out and exercise him for you?”
“I’d do it for free.”
“Not even once a month?”
“I give him all the exercise he needs.”
“Ok, well, let me know if that ever changes,” I said, making no attempt to hide my disappointment. In return, she made no attempt to obtain my contact information.
The rest of the week, I dropped my daughter off at camp every morning and, on the way back to my car, wandered by Mack’s stall to say hello. When picking my daughter up in the afternoon, I would take the same route in reverse. Sometimes Mack wouldn’t be there, and my heart would sink. Then I would make a mental note to research if horse-stalking is a felony.
As the end of the week neared, I asked my daughter if she would be up for attending another camp. I wasn’t ready to let Mack go and she didn’t seem to be catching horse-fever as quickly as I had hoped. Maybe she just needed another week, I reasoned.
“No,” came her firm reply. Firefly was OK but “kinda gross,” she told me. She had never seen poop that size up close before and apparently Firefly pooped a lot. Even while trotting! Plus, Firefly had swung her head around to nip at a fly and had accidentally nipped my daughter instead. Then there was the time that Firefly had flicked her tail and ended up flicking my daughter in the eye. She’d had enough of Firefly.
On the last day of camp, I arrived early for pick-up. Resigned to a future without Mack, I wanted enough time to say a proper goodbye. As I walked up to his stall, he moseyed over. He’d grown accustomed to my daily treats.
His owner’s voice broke into my thoughts. “You know, almost every camp, there’s a mom and sometimes even a dad, who wanders over here and falls for ol’ Mack,” she said with a chuckle.
While that didn’t surprise me, I didn’t exactly appreciate her minimizing the eternal and unbreakable bond that Mack and I had developed—and putting me in the category of “Screwball Mom of the Week.”
“How much would it cost for me to have my own Mack?” I asked, feeling both heartbroken and annoyed.
I stared at her in disbelief as her fingers ticked off the various expenses for purchasing and then caring for a horse like Mack. There’s nothing like the cold splash of reality to shake a longing heart back to its senses. Suddenly Mack was looking less like a comfortable, broken-in pair of Levi’s and more like an unnecessarily expensive pair of Gucci Genius Jeans.
Humbled, I thanked her for having the patience to put up with me all week, gave Mack a final pat goodbye, and went to pick up my daughter who was nursing a toe that Firefly had stepped on.
The week hadn’t been all bad, my daughter informed me on the way home after whipping off her shoe and showing me her red toe. In fact, it had even been fun at times. She had been forced to unplug and interact with nature on a daily basis, which, she discovered, had not totally sucked.
I told her that I was glad she had enjoyed the camp. In my head, I recalled the cost of the camp and wondered if it had been worth it. My daughter hadn’t caught horse-fever, but she had unplugged for a week, so I supposed that, yes, it had been worth it. Then I recalled the list of expenses of owning a horse and made a mental note to call my mom later and thank her for shelling out all of that money for my horse when I was a kid. My dad died years ago, or I would have been calling him as well.
My dad. I knew there was something that had been tugging at the edge of my mind all week. Mack would have been exactly the kind and size of horse my very large dad would have had.
Maybe that’s what I had found so irresistible about that gorgeous beast. And maybe that’s what I had really been wanting all week: A connection with my dad that was no longer possible. When I looked at Mack, I pictured my dad riding him, not me.
Memories of my dad filled my head, bittersweet but happy. My dad teaching me how to ride a horse. My dad picking cactus quills out of my butt after my horse had scraped me off his back by walking under a low branch. My dad plunking my sore butt back on my horse and then teaching me how to steer him away from low branches.
The memories kept coming, along with a sad realization. My daughter and I have many interests in common, but they are interests that I have introduced and experienced alongside her. We attend concerts, theater productions, funky restaurants, and art events together because I have spent her entire life taking her by the hand and making her see and try new things in this magnificent city that is our home. I had not, I realized, done the same when it had come to riding horses.
In fact, I had done just the opposite. While I had been busy walking down memory lane and showering Mack with my undying devotion, she had been “dropped off” for the day and pushed to the back of my mind. No wonder she hadn’t taken to horse camp.
It’s entirely possible that my love for horses extends from sharing that experience with my dad, just as my daughter’s love of music extends from sharing that experience with me. I could see how futile it had been to ship my daughter off to camp and then expect her to fall madly in love with horses as I had once done. She may have had a different outlook if we lived on a ranch and she had her own horse, and if I had taken her by the hand and taught her good horsemanship as my dad had done with me. But we don’t live on, or anywhere near, a ranch.
The danger of raising kids in this digital age is the lack of connection to which parents and kids can fall victim. Each of us on our cell phones “just for a sec” as we eat our meals while trying to carry on disjointed conversations, and then disappearing to sit in front of our respective screens after dinner. But a similar disconnect had happened to my daughter and me without any digital intervention, and I had not recognized it.
Fortunately, Mack had been there to remind me what it takes to build a real connection with your kid. Even if the time spent with your daughter involves the physical pain of dissecting cactus quills from her butt, she will likely look back and feel overwhelming gratitude for that experience.
It’s not like my dad spent a lot of time with me, if I’m honest. He was usually either working way too many hours or exhausted and snoring on the couch next to an empty highball. But when he was with me, he focused on me, usually while trying to teach me something.
I don’t remember being a particularly quick study and the student rarely surpassed the master. Still, my memories are full of him showing me how to do something, my bumbled attempt at trying to mimic whatever he was teaching me, him half-laughing and half-sighing in exasperation, and then starting all over again. The next time he’d begin his explanation with something like, “Look, kid, you have to be smarter than the horse.” Or, “Now pay attention. If you put your thumb there and then hit that exact same spot with your hammer, what are you going to hit? That’s right. You’re going to hit your thumb.”
He was a flawed and complicated human being who smoked and drank way too much and did just about everything wrong, by today’s parenting standards anyway. Still, he was present, and he loved sharing in my joy whenever the thing that he was trying to teach me finally took root.
I think I’m going to look for opportunities for my daughter and me to ride horses together. Maybe then she’ll catch horse-fever. I’m not giving up!
On second thought . . .
Now that I’m the adult who would have to foot the bill for anything horse related in her life, maybe I’ve dodged a bullet. Maybe I don’t want her to catch horse-fever after all.
I wonder if there are decent parent and child cooking classes in the area...
Funny Parent Mom
- Funny Parent