I always knew that I could ride like the wind. Some of my very first memories are riding behind my Father, a cowboy-turned-metallurgist in the hills outside of a small SD town. I sat behind him, saddle or bareback, and hung on for dear life. We took off at a gallop on the wiry quarter horses, stopped on a dime, and had an exciting and rambunctious time. I felt more at home flying through the air on a horse than I did with my feet on the ground.
But things happened, and life changed us all. My father nearly took his own life when I was eighteen. I was never told why. Instead, nebulous accusations were floated about that what happened was my fault. My Father, Mother and sister circled the wagons, and refused to talk to me about it.
And so I lived the best I could and stumbled around a lot with questions that were not considered worthy of answers. My Father became successful and lived the rest of his life well, so I knew that good had come out of it all.
Having had a few scary experiences doing white-knuckle Western riding, including a horse managing to runaway with me on the grass next to a major highway heavy with early morning traffic to New York City, I waited until recently to learn how to ride correctly. After spending a great deal of time and money with teachers who in some instances seemed more scary than the horses, I found my horse Miles and myself in a dressage clinic with a great classical equestrian who saw through my issues and helped me realize I was blocked from achieving all my goals because of something, or things, that had happened in the past.
So I quit taking regular lessons and tried to focus both on my horse, learning everything from the ground up, building a relationship with him (I am still a fairly new horse owner — three years now) and using riding to help unleash the issues of the past.
Gradually things began to become more clear, and an extraordinary and unlikely pattern of events presented themselves to me.
As a child I was very healthy. For some reason, this seemed to make my Mother unhappy. (She was a horse of a different color, that I will discuss in another post). But there were times when I would be completely felled by nausea and vomiting. At that time she was always her lovelies and most conciliatory. In fact, it was almost as though she were begging me to be comfortable being ill, knowing that she would be pleasant to me (our normal relationship was not). At one point she even made a statement that puzzled me for years. She said, “Why don’t you just die and go to heaven like all the other good little children.” That made no sense to me at the time. In hindsight I can say that she was a sick woman. But she was also brilliant and able to charm just about everyone, including me, whenever she wanted. So her vicious and unbalanced streak was largely hidden by what seemed to be a sophisticated and witty gentleness. Few who have seen her rage are ever again completely naive, but all of us were at one time or another almost hopelessly vulnerable to her charms.
Our typical family dinners, especially during my high school years, involved my being served a plate heaping with heavy and fattening Midwestern food — mashed potatoes, roast beef and gravy — in short, things I had no interest in eating. I was forced to eat everything on my plate. My pleas and tears went unheeded. My Father said nothing. My sister said nothing. After dinner, my sister was excused to do her homework, while I was given the task of helping with the evening dishes. We did not have a dishwasher at the time, and the process seemed endless. My Mother, in particular, seemed to manage to find a spot on a dish or a piece of silverware that required doing the entire piece all over again. I was utterly mystified at the time. Now I wonder if I was kept in my Mother’s line of vision to make sure I was digesting the dinner.
As I prepared to leave home for college, a sea change began to take place in our house. My Father was coming apart, but, having no frame of reference, I was unable to properly assess what was happening. It was a few months after I left that he nearly succumbed. He ate poison. Rat poison.
And so, while riding my horse, feeling more comfortable again in the saddle than with my feet on the ground, it began to occur to me years later that the riding block I was dealing with might in fact have had a connection to the fact that my Father was aware that my Mother had tried to make attempts on my life through poison. And once I lived away from home I would realize that I was no longer becoming ill. That realization did not dawn on me until much later, because all I could think about was this terrible near-tragedy that had happened to my beloved Father.