Part One: Starting Out
By April Horowitz
I was born in California, and was always drawn to horses. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that someday they were going to be a big part of my life. Like every little girl I had fantasies about them. I used to put my little Barbie doll on plastic horses and when my father brought home the book Black Beauty to read to us children, I immediately fell in love with it. I still have that copy with its worn covers and thumbed pages on my bookshelf today, where it is one of my precious memories.
There were lots of horses in the valley where I lived, and many local fairs, and I used to beg my parents to let me ride the ponies. One summer we went to a dude ranch in Utah, and I got to ride horses there too. My aunt Betty was an expert rider who won ribbons at local rodeos and competitions. She filled my head with stories of the shows she competed in and her adventures riding trails.
When my mother Mary was a little girl, the family called her “cotton top” because of her bonnet of white blonde hair. She had a chestnut quarter horse named Brownie with three white socks, whom she loved. My grandparents put Mary on Brownie when she was only two years old and as she grew older she could be seen riding Brownie all around the farm where they lived, until she was ten. My mother never mentioned Brownie and never talked about her to me until I was an adult myself and had horses of my own. Her reticence came from the fact that her memories in the end were so painful, something I could still see in her eyes as she told me the story fifty years after it happened.
One day she was playing about the barn with her sisters when Brownie turned her head suddenly and struck my mother in the face. A horse’s head is very hard and the blow knocked her out. It was completely unintentional but when my grandfather found out he flew into an alcoholic rage and took Brownie out in the field with his shotgun and killed her.
When the deed was done, my grandfather refused to bury Brownie and left her body to lie out there the whole night, and for days afterward. The next morning my mother went to sit with her dead friend. She sat there all day, and cried. No one could get her to leave. Finally night came and they went out and dragged her in. The next day she was out there again, hugging Brownie and crying. It went on until my grandmother forced my grandfather to get the tractor and drag Brownie’s body to a far part of the field and bury her. I don’t think my mother ever recovered. When Brownie died, she seemed to take a piece of my mother’s heart with her to the grave.