Mystic. Golden Boy. Desert Fox. Lil’ Bit. Cevahir. Ceylon. Kelebek. City Player.
I remember the name of every single horse that was part of our family. I may not remember my friend’s name from pre-school, but I know that my mom and dad rode horses named Mystic and Golden Boy when we lived in Oklahoma.
Then, my dad had a horse named Desert Fox when we lived in Monterey, California. Desert Fox was stabled at Fort Ord. I remember this, and I wasn’t even old enough or big enough to ride, yet.
When I was 9 and 10, we moved back east and Dad was stationed at Quantico. I finally started taking riding lessons at the stables on base. My riding instructor was Major Meek. I rode horses named Da Nang, Montezuma, and Fubachi. I took my first fall when Da Nang decided he had enough of the horse show and took off at full speed for the stables.
Dad got orders to the embassy in Turkey and, in preparation, we moved back to Monterey so he could go to language school. He bought a sweet, chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Lil’ Bit and kept her in beautiful Big Sur. She will always be “my” first horse.
We moved to Turkey and lo’ and behold, it is horse country. They love their horses. The American base in Ankara had stables. We first acquired Cevahir. A lovely, liver chestnut, Arabian-Thoroughbred stallion. He was a retired racehorse (racing was a big deal) and a direct descendant of Kuruş, the Turkish equivalent to our Man O’ War or Secretariat. Shortly after we arrived, a retired colonel from the Turkish Calvary came to manage and teach at the stables. Ahmet Bey. He had been the Turkish national champion in dressage many times over and had trained for a time in Germany. He remains, to this day, the most amazing rider I have ever seen.
Cevahir was an incredible horse who taught me so much. On him, I learned dressage basics. I jumped over my first 5-foot fence (with my eyes closed, I’m sure). I blew up in frustration on more than one occasion, and he always forgave me.
My brother started to get into riding, and as I was not willing to share my beloved Cevahir, my parents bought Ceylon. Ceylon was the quintessential Arabian. Petite, beautiful dished face, big brown eyes with long lashes, perfect ears, high tail carriage, all wrapped up in a dynamo package.
I rode a lot of the other horses at the barn, as well. There was Ceverhan, Zeynip, and Bebek. And then, there was Kelebek. While most of the horses were long-term residents, passing from one ex-pat family to the next, Kelebek was a new arrival. She was a baby—a mere 3 years old when she arrived—and, unlike the Arabian or Arabian-Thoroughbred backgrounds of the other horses, she was all Thoroughbred. A bright bay with perfect black points and the only white, a little upside down question mark on her nose. She was goofy. I rode her some when her owner was out of town or unable. She dumped me nearly every single time. Not my favorite horse. Initially, at least.
Then, I fell in love, and Kelebek became a part of our family for a while. On Kelebek, I learned how to school a young, green horse. How to stay on when said young, green horse decided to buck and romp with joy. Kelebek in Turkish means, “butterfly.” Aptly named, this horse.
When we moved back to the States, we had to leave Kelebek behind. It broke my heart, but I know others were able to delight in her joie de vive.
Back in Virginia, I returned to the stables at Quantico and Major Meek’s tutelage. Da Nang was still there and still a favorite of the beginners. I rode Sir Winston, Punkin, and, sometimes, this crazy horse named, City Player. One day, City Player came to live with us at the barn in Aquia Harbour. My dad and I spent the next 2 years trading off who took morning barn duty, and it was there that I learned all about "hands on" care for horses: stall cleaning, feeding, horse cleaning, vet care, farrier, tack cleaning. I felt as if I lived at the barn, and I was perfectly content with that.
Then, I was off to college and City was off to a different barn where his temporary owner kept him (we leased him initially, and while it seemed like a good idea, now, in hindsight, I think he would have been better off if we had sold him outright). By my junior year, I had discovered a nearby show barn and got a job as a stablehand/groom. Funny that I don't remember many of the horses' names there…maybe because I didn't ride them? They all had fancy show names anyway, but the couple of barn names I remember were Sven and Squid. I ended up having City brought up to school, and it was great for a while. But toward the end of my senior year, it sorta' fell apart as I got ready to graduate and kind of forgot I had a horse to take care of. In the end, he stayed there, and I went home. It's one of those things that I look back at and am horribly ashamed with how I treated a trusting animal that was supposedly under my care.
Maybe that's why it's taken me so long to "return to my roots." I was always an equestrian--long before I was a runner, gymnast, swimmer, or triathlete. Of all the sports I have participated in, I always felt as if I was a better horseback rider than I was anything else.
And so, here I am, some 25 years later, taking riding lessons again. Riding horses named Rowdy, Laddie, Duo, Woodrow, and Bentley. I even rode Cody Pony once. They all live in a beautiful barn in Mississippi with Stainless, Boppie, Lily, Desi, Monty, Ethel, and Prince. I share them with the Mississippi College equestrian team, and just like those young girls, I canter around the ring, jump a few fences, and I dream of one day owning my own horse…again.