A cold front moves across the piedmont of North Carolina.
The wind lifts my horse’s mane from his neck, causing us both to shiver. He stands like a statue as I mount. His ears are alert, catching the sound of stray leaves being stripped from trees. The sky is clear, but the sun feels farther away than usual. In another hour, darkness will fall and frigid air will sweep across the fields, the ground below the ring will begin to harden, and a layer of ice will form on the puddles left behind from last night’s rain. I urge Crimson forward, feel the lift of each hind leg as he walks.
Before going into the ring, we warm up around the outside. Crimson is lazy by nature, but with the wind behind us, he launches into a loose, flowing trot. I give him his head and he seems to float for an instant above the ground before pushing off with diagonal legs. The cold breeze stings my cheeks and my eyes water, but I wouldn’t give up this feeling for anything.
I am thirty-three years old and have been riding horses since I was nine. From the beginning I was entranced with their power, their muscled fluidity. I was a typical young girl in love with horses. But there was more—a nuance I couldn’t articulate, and still struggle to name. Call it a connection, an invisible fiber that runs between me and these four-legged creatures, as if we are one and the same. Crimson’s large brown eyes, his very skin seem to absorb every sensation and emotion that passes through me.
Standing in the aisle this afternoon, brushing his coppery coat, it was as if he intuited something was different, that I was different. Could he feel the new life growing inside me?
The wind howls eerily and Crimson gives a gentle, rolling buck—the kind that shows that, while he’ll go along with it, he’s ambivalent about working.
I wish I wasn’t, but I’m ambivalent about being pregnant. Having a baby feels like the most incredible gift anyone could ever receive. But I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a mother. As the youngest in my family, I hardly spent any time around children younger than me. I was much too self involved. Now, facing the idea of raising a child scares me. I’m unequipped, and there’s so much at stake. What if I don’t have any mothering instincts? Or, what if, on the other hand, I fall madly in love with this baby? Will I lose myself in the caretaking as my mother did? Who would I be if I gave up my love of horses and my passion for writing?
Joel and I have worked hard turning our dream of having a farm into reality. We’ve lived off his salary, saving every check I earned as a magazine and newspaper editor. We own the land, but we still have fencing and a barn to build. Will the vision of bringing Crimson home disappear if I have a baby? And how will Joel and I handle the stress and exhaustion that come with a newborn? His long hours at work and his travel schedule are already a source of tension between us. I want him to partner with me in raising a child.
And, last, the thing I’m most concerned about, the thing I don’t like to think about: I inherited a chromosomal abnormality from my mother that gives me a fifty percent chance of having a miscarriage. I could lose this baby.
Trying to escape my thoughts, I nudge Crimson into a canter. My chest swells at the clatter of his hooves against the hardpan. Rising out of the saddle into a hand-gallop position, I sink my weight into the stirrups and press my hands against the crest of my horse’s mane. His breathing, like his hoof beat, becomes regular as a locomotive.
When he gallops I remember that he is a descendant of Secretariat, and I think of the day he took off across a meadow. On a trail ride with friends, the horses began pulling at their bits, wanting to run. It was a cool morning. There was an open field ahead. We were feeling fearless, so we thought, Why not?
Crimson and I started out behind the other two women and their mares. But when he sensed a race in the making his neck stretched out and his body instinctively lowered. He’s so reliable by nature I never imagined I would lose control of him. But that day, his canter strengthened into a full gallop and his neck hardened to steel. His jaw was set and no amount of pulling on the reins would slow him down. All I could do was hunch down and hold tight to his mane. We surged past one horse, then another. Wind tore through my hair and lashed my face, whipping tears from my eyes. Crimson’s hooves thundered over the ground. My body felt the vibrations that ran up his legs, the strands of his muscles beneath me tensing and flexing. It was only after he was well in the lead that his pace began to slacken.
At the edge of the field I was finally able to slow Crimson down enough to circle and eventually bring him back to a trot. The other women, open-mouthed, caught up to us. “He really is a race horse, Ann!” I pressed my quivering palms against Crimson’s firm neck as I nodded. I had caught a glimpse of how life could change in an instant.
Today, Crimson maintains his slow, even canter. After a couple of laps, I tap him on the flank with the whip to encourage him to pick up the pace. We make two more circuits around the outside of the ring. When I sit back in the saddle, Crimson immediately slows to a walk. The sun hovers behind a thin line of clouds along the horizon; darkness is already descending. I check my watch. Twenty more minutes. Then it will be time to untack, cool down and do a final grooming before my lessons start at six. If things go well, I’ll be home by eight or eight-thirty, in time for a late dinner with Joel.
An award-winning memoir and Amazon bestseller, Motherhood: Lost and Found, is a finalist for the Italian Equestrian Book Award, “Voices for Horses.” To order a copy, go to Amazon.com.
About the Author
Ann Campanella is a former magazine and newspaper journalist whose work has been published nationally. A long-time horsewoman, she was a Contributing Editor for Horseman Magazine. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her family and animals. For more information, see Ann’s website at www.anncampanella.com.