Over the years, many friends have asked why I write fiction when my own life is so entertaining. I’ve asked myself the same question, and then I realize that most of the drama in my life has to do with my first love: horses. I believe my mother once told me that my first word was ‘horse’, and that was that. I received a pony for my sixth birthday from my grandmother. Her name was Brandy; she was a chestnut coloured one-year-old filly whose fiery colour matched her attitude. She and I had many (mis)adventures as we grew up together. She taught me how to fall off a horse properly. She taught me resilience when she decided to rear up and over, effectively body slamming me with her full 600 lbs. when we were a good three kilometres from home on a ride, making me walk the rest of the way home, dragging said pony along behind me. (I have used the rearing up and over scene in one of my novels). She taught me that my then-boyfriend loved me very much when she kicked him in the mouth and he lost 8 teeth. He still asked me to marry him a year later!
When I turned fourteen, I had outgrown Brandy and saved up enough summer job money that I began the hunt for a new horse. As my parents and I pulled into the ‘Flying Dutchman’ ranch, a stunning bay Arabian mare galloped along beside us in the pasture. When we came to a stop, she carried on, sailing over the gate and disappearing into the barn. It was love at first sight for me. (I did use that scene in one of my novels too). Her registered name was some such conglomeration of letters that I couldn’t pronounce, so I simply dubbed her ‘Pasar’. Pasar was my equine soul mate, if there is such a thing. She carried me through my teenage years and gave me my love for Arabian horses. She gave me three foals, one of which I still own. Sadly, Pasar had a dystocia (a malpositioned foal) and she died shortly after delivering the colt. (I used that scene in a novel as well, and did not have to imagine the heartache behind it).
Not only are these wonderful animals an inspiration to me, they are also a wonderful source of knowledge. As I write historical fiction, I do not need to spend much time researching the equine field. I will never call a baby horse a ‘pony’, I will never call a ‘grey’ horse ‘white’ and I will never, ever bed a stall with hay, rather than straw! (Apologies, pet peeves when I am reading historical fiction).
My dear husband, Doug, tolerates my habit, and has even gotten on a horse a time or two just to make me happy. He too has suffered at the hand of my equine passion. As I stated earlier, he was kicked in the mouth by my pony when he was twenty years of age. However, he did not lose his teeth instantly; she only managed to ‘loosen’ them for him. Over the course of the next two months, he spent over 40 hours in the dentist’s chair, undergoing procedure after procedure of root canals, crowns and implants only to have his body reject the work within two years and in the end, having to get all eight front teeth pulled anyways. To my knowledge, he has never walked behind the business end of a horse again.
More recently, he cut the end of his right index finger off with a skill saw while he was building my dream horse barn. If Doug gets injured, he does not do it in half measures. Don’t worry, they sewed the finger back on and we are just about finished the barn. ;-)
The story of Doug and Brandy’s relationship ended this summer when Brandy became ill and I had to make the tough decision to have her euthanized. I made myself scarce when Doug buried her, so I’m not certain if he exacted a bit of revenge twenty years late by dancing a jig over her grave.
To Doug’s everlasting delight, our three daughters have also been bitten by the ‘horse bug’ and spend just as much time as I did at that age, drawing horses, reading novels about horses, watching movies about horses and spending time in the barn caring for and riding the horses. Perhaps he will appreciate their devoted ‘horse habit’ when the boys start coming around in a few years. Of course, he reminds me that my ‘horse habit’ was one of the things that made him fall in love with me. Currently, we own four Arabian mares and one Arabian gelding (whom Doug seems to have found some common ground with, both having been overrun with females).
Despite the accidents and injuries sustained over the years, I feel very blessed to be able to go out to the barn, to smell the sweet smell of hay, to spend time with my hooved friends, and to share my passion with my family.
Over the years, I’ve been bitten, stepped on, kicked, run over, and tossed off more times than I can count. But for some strange reason, I keep going back for more. Maybe I just need more ‘research’ or some inspiration for another scene. Or maybe, all little girls love horses, some of us just don’t grow out of it.
Karen Beintema is a lover of all things country and wearer of many hats: Christian, wife, mother, secretary, librarian, novelist, artist, equestrian, barn slave, and history aficionado. She won the Word Alive Press Free Publishing Contest in 2015 for her historical novel, Retribution.