If I had a horse
After my mother died, my father got us a pony, a black and white pony called Cochise. I believe he named this pony. He was a tiny pony, along the line of the wild ponies of Assateague in Virginia, where the Misty of Chincoteague stories were written. I only found this out later, and wondered if Cochise was a Chincoteague pony. All my father said, vague as he sometimes was, was that he was a shore pony for the right price. He only reached my father’s waist, as he was Shetland pony size. My father picked up his hooves and placed them on his shoulders and danced with him, only for a second, no bigger than a minute.
But that stayed with me. And then the pony’s hooves came down and he spent the rest of the time chewing grass while tied on a chain to a tire that mostly stayed in one place until my father moved it for him to elsewhere.
But he also spent a fair amount of time getting loose, and wandering up to the monks that had a Franciscan monastery up above our property. I would search for Cochise, up to the monastery, and the road was very long. The monks wore brown robes and sandals and most had a bowl hair cut. They were, as monks are supposed to be, rather peaceful, but never together. I would find Cochise and bring him home. Or I would not find Cochise and continue looking. Once or twice they came looking for me, which was a huge problem, but mostly I wandered at will and for this I am eternally grateful.
I wandered where the sassafras grew and where the pine trees nestled their needles and where the stream rolled along stones. The sassafras was also by the railroad tracks and I wandered there too, but that was later, after my father had remarried. And after sassafras root collecting was something we did so I learned to value the snappy ginger smell of its broken root, rather than admire it.
It wasn’t very far in actual fact, but it was far away for me. I have driven back there with my brother and it’s all just a matter of miles, but it was my tiny planet though I had no sense of ownership, just wandered. And I often got in trouble for being lost when in fact I was on our property nestled in the needles of the pine trees near the pony, who was tied over in that spot. There was no winning except by collecting the little red berries that the pine trees held out to me, soft with sap inside that I lay out on a saucer of needles I had collected and sat down to drink my tea with the air, all while Cochise swished his tail nearby, the threads of it no longer than my body, his black and white spotted coat warm from the sun shining down. I think he did not like thunderstorms, for often after one that’s when he was missing.
And lightning struck a tree at the end of our driveway and it caught on fire. He was out there by himself so he must have been very afraid.
None of us rode him much. Probably fell off more than not. It was his presence that was the hold on me, how peaceful he was chewing on his grass, how he had a job to do and he did it. The only picture of anyone on him was of my new mother with her legs reaching past his barrel and then he was sold. We moved to a smaller house where ponies weren’t allowed, and even if he had gotten loose, he wouldn’t have known where to find me.
© Laura Rodley
Laura Rodley is a freelance journalist and photographer. She has two chapbooks, Rappelling Blue Light (which was nominated for a Massachusetts Book Award) and Your Left Front Wheel is Coming Loose (which was nominated for Pen New England L. L. Winshop Award and a Massachusetts Book Award); both are from Finishing Line Press. Her work also has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of Net.