Trying to remember when my obsession with horses actually began is like trying to recall the moment when I realized I could talk: it’s literally impossible. There is no story of some pivotal moment when it suddenly dawned on me that “hey, I love horses”, or that horses move me like few other things can. But I do remember the Christmas that I was eight years old: Christmas, 1980. Every year, just before Christmas, my Mama would let me sit down with the Sears and Montgomery Wards Christmas Catalogs, and compose my letter to Santa. That year, on page 474 of the Montgomery Wards Wishbook, I fell in love with two Breyer horses: Morganlanz and Azteca. Both were available with tack, but never even having actually been on a horse, I gravitated towards the English tack. (I was never the “cowgirl type”.) Christmas morning, I woke up to both under the tree, as well as the English saddle and bridle. Back then, that set Santa back a whopping $18.93. In the years since, I have amassed a Breyer horse collection (that’s not counting Schleichs, Safaris, and Peter Stones!) in excess of 160 horses. I still have that original saddle and bridle I got when I was eight; in fact, I still show with it. And I still have Morganlanz and Azteca, though I show neither model (Azteca does appear in numerous pedigrees, however, under her new name, Aztec Peacock, because mine had minimal “stallion bits”, and I always played with her as a mare). And I’m still just as obsessed as when I was eight.
To even begin to answer that question, I need to ask you another question: Have you ever not felt real? I mean, have you ever looked around at your life and had to consciously ask yourself who am I, really? Have you ever looked around at your life and asked what have I actually accomplished? Or have you ever looked around at your life and wondered why all those “adult” accomplishments matter, when the really important things in life are things like loving and being loved? If you’ve ever experienced any of those feelings, then you and I are kindred spirits. You see, I have spent most of my forty-four years of life wondering those exact same things. And when I get in those places—when the shadows encroach and those questions start to pull me under and I start to drown in them—model horses are what pull me out of the depths, and back out into the sun.
Those first two model horses that I received on Christmas Morning, 1980, were, in turns, Mustangs, wild on the plains, with their own stories, and show horses, performing under imaginary riders for imaginary ribbons and trophies. At eight years old, I had no ambitions of becoming a horse collector, owning some models that are worth over $300 apiece; they were just horses, and that was all that mattered. Thirty-six years later, that really hasn’t changed. It’s their horseness that matters; not how much they might be worth on the resale market (because I’m never going to do that anyway!), or how rare they might be. Their horseness still puts me in touch with my meness; that’s what matters.
So, what do I mean by horseness and meness? How does a “horse-shaped piece of plastic” have horseness? And what the heck could that possibly do to put me in touch with my meness? What is “meness”, anyway?
Let’s start with the horseness of it all. I can remember when I was very small (we’re talking three or so) watching reruns of Mister Ed with my Mema (maybe that’s the actual spark of my horse obsession….), and for those who don’t remember that very old black and white TV show, the theme song went like this:
A horse is a horse,
Of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse, of course,
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.
Go right to the source,
And ask the horse;
He’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.
He’s always on a steady course.
Talk to Mr. Ed.
People yakkety yak a streak and waste your time of day,
But Mister Ed will never speak unless he has something to say.
A horse is a horse,
Of course, of course,
And this one’ll talk til his voice is hoarse.
You never heard of a talking horse?
Well listen to this:
(And the horse says:) I am Mister Ed!
A horse is a horse, of course, of course: that’s the epitome of horseness. Whether they actually walk around and neigh, or whether they’re an artist’s rendition in a painting or sculpture, or whether they’re a model horse beneath a little girl’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning, a horse is a horse. The same things are communicated through the form of a horse—the shape of a horse—regardless of the medium in which that form and shape are communicated: grace, power, strength, and ultimately, trust.
You see, for all of their grace, power, and strength, horses are actually prey animals. Unlike us humans, they don’t hunt; they are the hunted. Or, at least, they are in the wild, and they were completely up until about 5,000 years ago, when humans first started developing relationships with horses, and riding them. So trust is paramount, if you’re a horse: you’ve got to trust that “thing” up there on your back, because it might eat or hurt you; you’ve got to trust those “things” that bring your food into the barn every day.
Now, I am not trying to sell you on the idea that a model horse might actually be able to feel fear, but if you’ll think about it long and hard, that element of trust is still there; that’s still a part of their horseness. The same could be said of any toy: each toy that comes into a child’s life trusts that it isn’t going to wind up being the broken toy; that the child isn’t going to damage it, but is, instead, going to gently play with it. This dramatic theme has been integral in stories about personified toys since the publishing of The Velveteen Rabbit in 1922, and runs through such popular modern classics as the Toy Story films from Disney.
Which brings me around to meness: we all come into our lives with that same toy-like trust that we are going to wind up unbroken. I don’t care who you are, where you come from, or what your backstory is, at some point in your life, you genuinely trusted that no one was going to damage you, and that you would be “gently played with”. Yet, as we go through life, we get bumped and bruised, physically and emotionally, until we wind up like the velveteen rabbit and the skin horse in that story: our fur gets loved off (or “hurt” off), we become tired and worn-out and “not much to look at”. But, as in that story, that is also the point where we become the most real. That point of realness is your meness.
By that Christmas Morning of 1980, at the ripe young age of eight, I was already very well aware of the fact that other people could hurt me; that other people could break me; that I was already a broken toy. In fact, I’ve been a broken toy since I was four years old. It became very clear to me, very early in life, that I had precisely three things I could always count on: my Mama, my Mema, and my model horses. (Of course, writing this later in life, I can now add quite a few people to that list of folks I can count on: you know who y’all are!) The point is, I gained my meness at eight years old through model horses, and I’ve been trying very hard not to let go of it ever since. They were just model horses, of course, but they were as graceful of form as I wished I was; as powerful as I rarely felt, and in the stories I told with them, as strong as I wished I could be.
As a grown woman, of course, now the only stories I really tell with them anymore are their pedigrees on my webpages and their entries on the show circuit. As I sit and ponder that, I slowly come to understand how that reflects my meness, too; how it reflects the competitive business woman I’ve attempted to become in my adulthood, and all of the pitfalls that come along with that. My relationship with my models has slowly slipped back into that very conundrum of not feeling real that I talked about at the beginning of this post: all those questions of what have I actually accomplished and why do all those “adult accomplishments” really matter in the first place, when the most important things in life are things like loving and being loved. Thanks to the current climate on the show circuit in which I participate (with newly enforced “show or you’re out” rules, and the despicable, non-compassionate people that come along with them–and, no, I don’t mean you, Cheryl or Toni or Scarlette), it is dawning on me, ever-so-slowly, that I need to change my relationship with my models, and somehow get back in touch with their horseness, before I lose my meness again, maybe this time for once and for all.
You see, I got four new models for my birthday (my birthday was in May–that’s two months ago at this point), and the two that came in boxes are still in their boxes, and the events of the past week, coupled with this being Iaconagraphy’s I Love Horses Week have made it dreadfully apparent that the reason why they’re still in their boxes is because I have absolutely zero desire to take them out. How could that possibly be true, when I’m me? How could model horses that I loved enough to want for my birthday in the first place still be in boxes two months later? I have absolutely zero desire to take those “beautiful creatures” out of their boxes, only to take “mechanical” photographs with them specifically for the show circuit. I have absolutely zero desire to “pimp” them as “plastic ponies”, when what should be happening is that they come out of their boxes and become real. So long as they stay in their boxes, they remain horses; they maintain their horseness. But I know that the instant they come out of those boxes they’re going to become something else: they’re going to become accomplishments; nothing more than show assets–because that’s the box that my relationship with my model horses has been forced into.
My entire life has become a dreadful series of deadlines and what-ifs. Now, you might logically argue that every adult’s life is a dreadful series of deadlines and what-ifs, and you would patently not be wrong in that assessment. But my horses have most often been the place where those two things could effectively disappear, until right now. There was a time a few years back when the “bad crap” in my life stopped disappearing when I was “doing” model horses, too. At that time, I completely stepped away from my model horses for about five years. Trouble is, I completely stepped away from my meness, too. I literally became an agoraphobe during that period in my life: I became afraid of other people. I became afraid of relationships. I became terrified of touch, or of showing emotions, or of even being around the emotions of others. I refuse to slip back into that place. When my model horses have become just another deadline in a long series of deadlines, plagued by the ongoing what-ifs of my disability, something needs to change, and it needs to change fast.
I need to play again. I need to no longer have the horses that I love reduced to nothing more than a great number of horse-shaped chunks of plastic with great statistics (showstring and pedigrees) to “back them up”. Because when they become that, I become that: I become a human being that is only as worthy as the statistics (sales, post reach, and number of newsletter subscribers) she has “backing her up”. And then I lose my meness, and I refuse to lose that ever again. But how does one do that, precisely? How does one play with their model horses as a grown woman, without coming across as if they’ve completely lost their ever-lovin’ mind? Or as if they are prematurely dancing with senility? One does that by coming to no longer care what people think. You can only be judged if you allow others to judge you–if you allow them inside your head, they will happily take up residence there, so the answer is simple: don’t allow them.
And that’s another key factor to horseness: horses don’t judge. Whether they’re the living breathing types or the model variety, they don’t care about your politics, your life choices, or your fashion sense, so long as you don’t eat them or hurt them. They just want to bring you peace; to get you to your happy place (maybe because they somehow know that if you’re in your happy place, they’ll be safe). Once upon a time, I laid on my belly on the ground outside and took photos of my models the same way other photographers take photos of the ones that actually prance around: because I marvelled at their beauty, not because I was pondering how to best pad my showstring. I need to get back to that. The moments I spend outside with my models and my best friend are some of the most precious moments I spend in my life: I need more moments like those. To heck with a showstring: it’s those moments that matter.
You’re probably not a model horse enthusiast, so you may be asking yourself at this point what any of this has to do with you; how any of this could possibly apply in your own life. Maybe you’re not even that nuts about the living breathing variety of horse. Then I’ll close with this question for you to ponder: what passions in your life have become nothing more than plastic deadlines, full of what-ifs, instead of the joy you once found in them? How do you get that back? How do you bring back your magick?