His name was Red Eagle. I remember looking at him in askance at first. I was eight years old and this was to be my first real horseback riding lesson. In my horse daydreams, I’d imagined a magnificent white horse to carry me across fields and over fences. Never did I imagine riding something so …speckled. He was an Appaloosa, I was told, and that’s what they looked like. My sister’s horse was much prettier: a creamy Palomino with a white mane and tail. But horses, like books, should never be judged by their appearance. A less than pleasing exterior does not necessarily mean a less than pleasing interior. Such was the case with Red Eagle.
I didn’t really see it at first. I took his sweet, patient nature for granted and assumed every horse was as sweet-tempered as he. He walked and trotted when I asked him to and placidly put up with my inexperience as I learned to saddle and bridle him. Then one morning, our riding instructor suggested we switch mounts for the day. It was important, she said, to be able to ride different horses than those we were used to. I was finally going to ride that pretty Palomino! I shouldn’t have been so eager.
For whatever reason, that horse did not like me. I could get her to walk but that was about it. No amount of gentle nudging and commands could get her to obey me. Overwhelmed by the instructor wanting me to get her to trot and the sight of Red Eagle doing everything my sister asked of him, I gave her a good sharp nudge and all but shouted the word ‘Trot!’ That did the trick. Now, before I go on, it’s important to note that getting our horses to walk, trot and stop was all we had learned up to this point. So when this horse took off in a brisk canter across the practice ring I was terrified. Needless to say, I wanted to finish the lesson on Red Eagle, but the instructor insisted I finish as I started. It wasn’t all bad. At least my sister’s pretty Palomino didn’t break my foot when she stepped on it while I was leading her into her stall.
A few years ago, my husband and I took our kids on a trip to the Kentucky Horse Park. We watched a parade of different horse breeds and among them was an Appaloosa. I made a point of going up and visiting that particular horse afterwards with a smile on my face and sweet memories of Red Eagle in my heart. I don’t know what happened to him but I will always be grateful for the lessons I learned on him and through him.
Jennifer A. Davids’ latest book, Restored Heart, is set in 1880’s Ohio and tells the story of how Peter McCord and Anne Kirby fall in love as they care for an aging Morgan stallion. It will be available in August through Harlequin’s Reader Service by calling 1-800-873-8635 and it will be in select K-Mart and Meijer stores starting in September.