Tasks for Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Find the sunniest spot in your home, that’s warm and comfy and read your book. –OR– Take a picture of your garden, or a local garden/green space in the sun (even if the ground is under snow). If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, take a picture of your local scenic spot, park, or beach, on a sunny day. –OR– The Romans believed that the sun god rode across the sky in a chariot drawn by fiery steeds. Have you ever been horseback riding, or did you otherwise have significant encounters with horses? As a child, which were your favorite books involving horses?
When I was very little, horses slightly intimidated me, but — like everything moderately scary — they also fascinated me enormously. By the time I was in elementary school, there was a riding stable and school just a few houses from ours in our street, with one of the pastures coming up all the way to the walkway (we weren’t living in Bonn proper but in a village nearby at the time). One day, as a dare, some friends and I climbed the fence of that pasture and mounted the two horses grazing there — as luck would have it, they were two extremely friendly and patient fjordhests (Norwegian fjord horses) named, as I would later learn, Charlie and Suraba, who bore our antics with all the goodwill that horses of their breed are capable of, which is surprisingly much.
My mother, upon hearing my guilelessly proud recital of the episode, took this as a sign that maybe rather than going on to naively approach animals considerably bigger and stronger than myself, I ought to have some proper instruction in horsewomanship, and this is how I came to be enrolled for my first riding classes — for the very first couple of which, as coincidence would have it, I would find myself (this time with due license) again on the backs of Suraba and Charlie. On their bare backs, that is: riding instruction in this place started you out without a saddle, so as to improve your sense of balance and build up your leg muscles quicker than might have been the case if you had had stirrups to hold you.
I had tremendous fun, but I’ve never been one for building up proficiency in anything slowly and gradually, so within a few weeks I demanded to be included in one of the several-hour-long jaunts offered by the stables every weekend. My mom inquired with my riding teacher whether I was ready for this sort of thing (not necessarily hoping to get “no” for an answer, but obviously, to get a genuine assessment). My teacher thought I was ready and added, “she’ll just have to learn how to canter for short periods, which hasn’t been part of her instruction just yet.” So, to catch up with the other folks going on the excursion, I was given some extra instruction in cantering.
The problem, as it would turn out, was that during that lesson I had been in a saddle for a change, as a result of which I still had absolutely no clue what a gallopping horse’s movements under you feel like when you do not have a pair of stirrups to give you extra hold … and just how much harder it is to stay on the horse’s back as a result. Well, you guessed it — come Sunday, it was back to “no saddle” (thank God, on the back my Norwegian friend Charlie). Which I enjoyed just fine as long as we were just walking and trotting along leisurely — but the excursion’s first gallop was a major wake up moment. I managed to hold on (and would have been way too pigheaded to give up anyway), but I was apprehensive of the next time nevertheless; and what had to happen of course promptly happened … halfway through the second gallop I was no longer able to hold on, and I fell. For a seemingly eternal moment, I watched Charlie’s hooves flying over me: horses will instinctively try to avoid stepping on humans (and all smaller creatures) in their way, and ordinarily Charlie would very likely have stopped and / or veered sideways, but the path was narrow and there were other riders directly behind us, so he probably felt pressured forward, and as a result he did the only thing left to him — he jumped right over me. Thankfully, he managed to avoid hitting my head or anything else truly vital — but one of his hooves left a horseshoe-shaped mark on my right shoulder, and my right collarbone was sprained. Once my shoulder was righted, of course that horseshoe mark turned out a badge of honor (which I exploited for all it was worth), but I learned the biggest lesson of all horsemanship on that day: Whenever you have fallen, it is vital for you to get right back onto your horse — if you don’t, you’ll never go riding again. (Of course, for the trip home I was given a saddle, and to everybody else’s chagrin there was to be no more cantering that day.)
I continued to ride all through my school years until my graduation from high school and abandoned it, much to my chagrin, only when assignment and study pressure in university got too big for me to still be able to invest the considerable amount of time that this particular pastime requires, but I immensely hated having to give it up — and if by now my backbone weren’t a mess of herniated discs, I’d still like to go back to riding.
As far as favorites go, while I (still) love horses of all breeds and colors, I’ve always had a particular love of the two breeds most prominent in the riding stables where I started out — Norwegian fjord horses and Haflingers — as well as Mustangs, and, at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, purebred Arabians, particularly if raven black. There was a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing going on with my favorite horse-related reading and TV ingestion when I was in elementary and middle school (I loved Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, the adventure novels of Karl May, whose heroes Winnetou and Old Shatterhand / Kara Ben Nemsi own peerless black stallions, and the various TV “adaptations” — to use the term loosely — of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, which basically made Beauty an equine version of Lassie), but in any event, for years I used to dream of owning a black stallion myself — preferably, a purebred Arabian.
Unfortunately, virtually all of my horse- and riding-related photos were in one of several albums drowned in the floods of a broken pipe in their place of storage while I was living in the U.S., so literally all I have left is a photo taken by a French penfriend, whose family owned horses and whom I visited shortly before graduating from high school — and a photo taken a few years earlier, during a vacation in Austria, where I made friends with a mare and her filly that we passed on a walking trip (I was unable to walk by any horses without trying to get their attention and pet them at the time):