I arrived for my first riding lesson wearing brand new beige jodhpurs, just like the ones Caro, the slender, older blond with the popular boyfriend and the prize-winning palomino Arabian, wore in Horse Crazy: Horseback Summer. Emily was the heroine of the book, the freckled redhead whose recent ascension into puberty and, by extension, womanly hips, left her with only ratty jeans to ride in but whose wisdom enabled her to see through Caro’s phony attempts at friendship meant only indebt Emily to her in a big way. But I wasn’t going to be Emily. In an effort to leave the young girls of 1980s America with a moral lesson worthy of the Girl Scout and the 4H clubs I had dropped out of after just one meeting each, Virginia Vail, I was certain, had painted a very slanted picture of Caro. I knew that being Caro was better than being Emily. There were no Arabians at the barn I went to and I was a brunette, but at eight years old, I had read between the lines of enough books written by Vail and her peers to understand the rules for getting to the top of the tween pecking order. Those jodhpurs, ordered from a real tack catalog, were a good start.
They couldn’t, however, compensate for the ridiculous vision of my 50 pound, four foot self atop a thoroughbred that stood over 16 hands tall. My legs, splayed into full cowboy posture by the horse’s girth, didn’t even extend halfway down his belly and my fingers could barely wrap around the reins. I was an ant atop an elephant. Wearing an emerald green hockey helmet. My parents had been willing to pay for the jodhpurs, but they were not going to pay for a proper riding helmet until they were certain I was going to stick with horseback riding for the long term. I had a habit of quitting. Quitting art contests, quitting the flute, quitting my interest in having a little sister. If my imitation of Caro had been unrealistic before, it was downright farcical with the green hockey helmet. Caro, of course, had a velvety black show helmet with a red satin interior and a leather chin strap that smelled every bit as delicious as her Arabian’s saddle. Continue reading →