I am an animal lover, and some of the books I loved to read as a kid were Marguerite Henry's classic children's stories about horses and other equids. Favorites included Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Misty of Chincoteague, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, and my ultimate favorite horse book, King of the Wind.
Henry worked with a phenomenal equine illustrator named Wesley Dennis. Dennis was an amazing artist, and I still admire how he could capture the brightness of a horse's eye or the velvet of its coat. His illustrations looked like they were about to come alive before your eyes, and it was because of his work I began sketching and painting horses as well (although I am nowhere near his masterful skill level).
It was because of Henry and Dennis that I took a horse management class in college, ended up working at a Morgan horse breeding farm, and crisscrossed the United States to find America's last wild horses. As a result, I've seen Misty's cousins on Assateague Island, petted Brighty's counterpart in Colorado, and spent a day at the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Wyoming.
While working at the Morgan horse farm, my favorite animal buddy to hang out with was not a Morgan horse (although they are charming), but a big, easy-going, charcoal gray police horse named Bella. She was a draft mix and one of the biggest horses on the farm. I'd take my lunch breaks and sit on her fence, and she'd come over and keep me company. Some of my favorite memories from that time are of us relaxing in companionable silence while admiring the gently rolling hills of western Massachusetts on a fine autumn day and sharing an apple I had picked from the old orchard trees near my dorm.
I have picked stones from horse hooves. I have groomed, saddled, and ridden horses, both English and Western style, and I've fallen off of them, too. One of my favorite horses I ever rode was a big-bellied Norwegian Fjord horse named Milo. He found it very amusing when I ended up on the ground looking up at him and his crazy mohawk. Some of my favorite memories of horseback riding are in the western states, where the land is open, and you can see for miles. And in the quiet there, there's just you, and the breathing of the horse, and the wind. It's a magical thing.
One of my last favorite memories I'll mention of horses took place near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. We were driving along a back road, and then suddenly, an unbridled and unbranded buckskin horse ran onto the road. We pulled to a stop, trying to figure out what was going on.
At first, I was alarmed, and I wondered if the horse was an escapee and I was concerned he'd get hit by a car. Or was he a wild one?
Then to our amazement, more horses followed, then tens of horses, then about a hundred horses, in every color imaginable. It was the most spectacular thing to see, a herd of that size, running along and kicking up dust.
And then the wranglers on horseback came, whistling and yipping, as they guided the herd across the road and up a rocky mountain trail.
And all that happened because I once read a children's book about a horse. And maybe some other people did too because they cared enough to keep the traditions of the equine world and protect these marvelous animals so that I could see them one day. I hope that we continue to pass down these things and let these horses live alongside us despite an ever more crowded world.