It was all I had ever wanted. A horse. Majestic and lovely, the only dream my little girl heart desired. Every week the library door would slide open and out we’d whistle, me and Mum, our bags heavy with books we could only hope would be as good as their covers. I’d spend a lot of my browsing time at the fiction shelves: love stories, fantasy sagas—anything I connected with in the first paragraph, in the bag it went.
And then there were the horse books. How to look after a horse. How to ride one, love one, train one. Whatever you needed to know about horses, there was a book for it. And I wanted to read it.
In the bag it went.
What was it that enchanted me so about horses? I had no idea. I was a city girl and had been my whole life. It was only recently we’d moved to a place I considered to be the country—eucalyptus trees, grassy paddocks a plenty— but even that place had too many asphalt roads to really be considered rural.
The only thing I knew about these wonderful creatures was that, however little sense it made to my city girl sensibilities, the very thought of them thrilled me. For whatever reason, I had gravitated toward these kind animals, and I needed to satisfy that pull in some way.
So, I took horse riding lessons. Gone were the books. Now I stood up close to the real thing; scratching the flat of a fuzzy forehead, closing my eyes to the sweet, earthy smell of horse. What if…gosh. Just what if I could own one of these magnificent beasts.
The challenge was set. With superpowers that would melt even the hardest of hearts—or perhaps it was the big blue eyes and gentle head tilt, that did it— I convinced my parents a horse was the perfect pet for me. I would love my horse so dearly, I’d said to them, that any chance of me neglecting the thing would be a non-issue. And if anything, I’d love it too much and they’d never see their beloved daughter again.
After the triumphant ‘yes’ vote, life for me changed dramatically. I felt it the moment she rolled on in: true love, her dapple-grey bottom booming out the back of the float, the first part of her to come into my life…the last part of her to leave it. But I’ll get to that bit a little later. For now, the beautiful dream continues.
It really was love between me and her. She loved me for the potato chips I’d be munching on most days, during my after-school visit. Those greedy wobbling lips of hers, that whiskery chin. The flared nostrils and the wide eyes. All angling for my afternoon snack. Whoever would have thought it: horses and crisps! But yes. It’s true. It’s a thing.
And me…well. I just loved her. So often, I’d be taken by the very odd feeling that, somehow, those big, almond eyes of hers could see into my soul. To me, despite her youth, her eyes told the story of a horse who’d lived a thousand life times. An old soul, if you will.
When winter came, I brushed her thick coat and bundled her into her pretty winter rug. When the need arose I scratched the dry mud off her legs, picked the caked mud out of her hooves—I did everything a responsible horse owner should do and I was proud of it.
Of course, it was when the rains came that the water trough needed cleaning and refiling. The hose didn’t reach; I’d have to use buckets to refill. Bloody hell. As I clomped from tap to trough and back again, rain falling heavily on my driza-bone, I spotted Mum peeking out from behind the curtains, my baby brother snug on her hip. Was that a smile on her distant face? Was this the moment I’d finally risen above my title of pampered princess of the family? Yes. It was. And right there in the pouring rain I celebrated, feeling every bit the accomplished graduate.
Enter the intruders.
The odd little man who owned my baby’s paddock—the very same man who taught me it was possible for one to ‘bleed like nobody’s business’—agisted two more horses on the property. This would change everything.
A fourteen-year-old girl and her Mum would come and look after these horses, ride them, feed them, yell at them…hit them. I was twelve, by then, and very impressionable, as it turned out. Was this the way to treat a horse when they misbehaved? I tried it their way. When my horse misbehaved, I growled at her, just like they did. I did not hit her—that awfulness will never hold a place within me. But more times than I care to remember, I was unkind. Many years later, as an adult, I would remember these moments of unkindness and cringe. George Saunders was spot on when he said, ‘What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.’
This was my failure of kindness. And yes, I regret it, deeply.
My failure of kindness is the broken heart of this story; the one regret that lives on from those precious days with my beautiful girl. She’d always been a little bit naughty but she did not deserve the vicious words my reckless teenage self, delivered her. If only adult me had been there to tap her on the shoulder. To lead her back to those wise almond eyes and show them kindness. Teenage me would never live to regret kindness.
As I slipped further into the surly depths of teenager land, fate stepped in. We would be moving house, no horses allowed. Me and my beloved pony: we were breaking up. And although it pained me to admit it…maybe this was not such a bad thing, after all.
Our last days together were tender and filled with all the pleasures of an unbreakable friendship. It was as if she knew this was it for us, as if she knew that she’d been unkind to me too, and that this was her last chance to leave a warm and lasting impression.
As the float drifted that big, grey bottom away, there were none of the tears I’d expected of a broken heart. Instead, there was relief. No longer would I have the opportunity to hurt my very best friend, no more failures of kindness from me. Only heart smiles and memories of a wise, loving friend who taught me the profound value of kindness.
And the undeniable value of a good bag of chips.