Monday, February 21, 2005

The First Mare

Originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
I was one of those odd little girls who lived and breathed horses from the time that I could talk. I drew them, read about them, and badgered my poor parents until they finally agreed to give me riding lessons once I was old enough not to kill myself. I still remember the man who was the instructor, a Brit named Christie, who growled us around the arena at the Balboa Park Stables and rewarded us with trail rides through the park later. When I was twelve, my family moved north to a rural village where the road in and out of town sported a horse warning, and I spent the next six years begging, borrowing and stealing horses to ride. Ojai was heaven for a horse-nut. Most of the asphalt streets had wide dirt shoulders for riders and it was a common habit to ride horseback through the local Frostie for an ice cream or coke.

University schedules and student poverty put an end to riding for me other than the odd chance at a hack stable. Then I changed my career to "mother" and seriously forgot about the very possibility of riding. So much so that when we moved to Egypt and my husband offered to get me a horse (horsekeeping being a much more reasonable activity in Egypt than in Canada) I turned him down. I did keep ogling the horses in the streets however, since Egypt still has a healthy horse-drawn economy. There are some utterly beautiful horses hauling wagons and carriages in Egypt, not to mention the sturdy mules that pull oil wagons.

About our second year in Alexandria, a friend of my husband asked him if I liked horses. His late wife had given him an Arab filly that lived in his garden in Agami, but he wanted to go work in the Red Sea and needed a home for her. My husband said that I'd love a horse and the next thing I knew Dorika was mine. I was forty years old and hadn't ridden for twenty years. I was the worst possible choice for a green mare and the first few years of our partnership were rocky in the extreme.

I remember falling off her with a massive thud and then going home to have a late lunch with my husband. No matter how much I hurt, I walked tall and with dignity for fear that he might decide that horseback riding was too dangerous for me. He was not a rider and had little understanding of the way in which the need to ride short-circuits nerve endings and good sense. Over time Dory and I have learned to listen to and care for each other.

She's my boss mare at about 18 years. She's fought her way back from almost terminal laminitis, recovered from snapped tendons and a sesamoid, and is now in rehab for crumbling sesamoid bones that have been treated with ultrasound shock waves. I own two of her sons, Nazeer and Fagr, and she is the undisputed leader of my small herd. After her injuries, we have fairly circumscribed adventures now, but she is still my favourite riding companion. I trust her with my life with reason. She has gone out of her way to help me when we were out alone, one time going down the trail to bring back some local folk to help haul me out of a chest deep canal.

Dory and I discovered the wonder of the desert together when we moved up to Cairo from Alexandria. Racing across the sand was her idea of heaven, and I tended to be in enthusiastic agreement. It took us a while to learn the lay of the land, since this corner of the Sahara that included the pyramid complexes of Abu Sir and Sakkara was uncharted territory for both of us. We spent years snooping around this dune and checking what was over that hill. We met every desert dog pack and made the acquaintance of most of the antiquities watchmen. Dory taught me to love the vastness of the desert and introduced me to the idea of travel on horseback. My best friend.


ringgit said...

Hello Maryanne,

I enjoy your writing style and even though I know almost nothing about horses, I'd love to read about them in your blog. Is haramlik an Arabic term for horse or is that a name of one of your mares?

Another thing which I am curious about is that since the camel is apparently "built" for the desert, how could a horse be comfortable walking on the soft desert sand (and the heat)?


Maryanne said...

"Haramlik" is a Turkish word that means "the women's house" and is the name given to my home by a neighbour. You are right that camels are made for the desert and are much more suited to it than horses are. However, the Arabian horse was bred in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula and has special characteristics that suit them for desert travel. They are small, hardy, and have a very fine coat to keep from overheating. When we work the horses in the desert, we have to keep in mind that it's much harder to move in sand than it is along roads. As much as possible, I try to ride my horses on dirt roads even if they are sandy dirt roads so that they get the benefit of the firm footing.