If there were ten thousand web sites for Kentucky Mountain Horses I would have visited them all. That’s probably better than telling everyone I visited ten thousand sites, if better means sticking to what seems plausible. I could also say it felt like ten thousand, or might just as well have been ten thousand, by the time I gave up from sheer, irritable exhaustion.
Day and sometimes nights for months I’d been writing to the breeders, getting into phone conversations, explaining that I wanted a the dark brown “chocolate” color horse, with flaxen mane and tail with white leg markings no higher than the knee. They told me they were so rare I wouldn’t find one unless I was willing to wait for years, and even then, I’d probably miss out. A horse matching this description would be snatched up by local breeders and would not be advertised on line. This was the paragon, the ideal horse within the breed, most highly prized as a show horse and I had to admit, for sheer stunning beauty they left my Cooper in the dust. Their flaxen manes were three feet long, their tails touched the ground. One breeder said to me, with undisguised scorn, that she bred for riding and not for color and I almost said, well I guess you’ve never imagined being drawn up to heaven in a chariot by a winged horse. I should have said it. But in those days I was trying to monitor myself.
At night, looking up at the stars from the hot tub, I would think about the horses in Plato’s fable of the soul. The horse on the right is said to be upright and cleanly made: he has a lofty neck, an aquiline nose, and dark eyes. This is the horse of our nobility, the lover of honor, modesty and temperance. Guided by word alone, no hand need touch him with the whip. But his partner is that horse you never want to own; put together anyhow, short-necked, flat-faced, with blood-red complexion and lousy conformation. A creature of undeserved pride and insolence, lust and disobedience, uncontrollable by whip and spur, an altogether bad fellow. I thought I was probably old enough now to have tamed lust and disobedience, ready to follow the gods in modesty and holy fear. Wasn’t I? All I needed was the world’s most beautiful horse.
Village wisdom came to my aid again. I wasn’t a breeder, I wasn’t local to Kentucky, it might seem ostentatious for a relatively new rider to be seen cavorting with the world’s most beautiful horse. Who could disagree? The sight of not exactly a spring chicken astride this paragon might strike some people as incongruous. I should keep riding and taking lessons and wait for the right, older, local horse to come along. Invitations came pouring in, sometimes from people at three or even four degrees of separation: through the waitress at the Station House, whose mother’s mother-in-law’s sister lived in Inverness. And there was the open invitation to ride the Danish Warm Bloods, one of which had already been picked out for me. I never said, ‘Yes, but do you have Kentucky Mountain Horses? And is one of them a dark, chocolate brown with a flaxen mane?’
I knew I was always a step ahead of myself, wanting a horse before I knew how to ride, insisting on a young horse before I knew how to buckle a bridle, dashing off after a particular kind of horse when I’d only ever seen one of its kind. The Woman from the Paris Café thought that I was learning in the best way possible what an open-hearted and generous village we had chosen. Not that I ever took anyone’s advice. Waiting, insisting on the impossible may certainly have given the appearance that I had given up hope
Horses bring out the best in people. Equestrian generosity can be found even in the cyber world, as I discovered when a message came in from a complete stranger in Tennessee. I must have written to her months before when I was still desperately seeking a Kentucky Mountain Horse, hopeful and excited until it turned out there were no horses like the horse I had met at the Morgan Ranch. Of course not, he must have been a vision. She suggested I write to Jim and Diana Sarber, breeders of Kentucky Mountain Horses in Bedford, Kentucky. Their website announced that the family “attended Milton United Methodist Church and was dedicated to the Lord and living by his word.” To live by the lord’s word was not the same as living by magic but these devotions shared an affinity, both requiring a certain kind of risky trust. For sale were: Dakota Kate, an experienced trail mare, a lovely creature with a high head, winner of show prizes. A gelding called Copper, a chestnut with a mane 24 inches long. Copper, whose name was almost Cooper, had one of the prettiest heads the Sarbers had ever seen.
The horses for sale were as beautiful as the horse I had seen at the Morgan Ranch and had all the fantastic characteristics his owner had described. I wasn’t exactly in love with them but it was time, I told myself, to accept the world as it is. They were affordable and available and all I had to do was fly down to Bedford to meet the Sarbers who had invited me to stay. Why not go? I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have to buckle anything.
On the other hand, one’s true nature sometimes doesn’t change over night. I can’t speak for others but mine didn’t. I had caught a glimpse of the Sarbers’ stud horse, a marvelous creature named Chisolm, with his dark chocolate coat, his flaxen mane and tail and four discreet white socks. All at once, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to have found the horse I was looking for. The months of trying and failing fell away, the drama was gone, I didn’t shout or cavort, I sat quietly gazing at his photograph. They were displaying him because he had sired a number of their colts and fillies but he was not for sale. Not for sale? Why would I be deterred?
It’s probably not wise to go about harboring convictions but a conviction is not really something you can choose to have. They roam around looking for someone to inhabit, anyone who will offer them a long stay and not easily trade them in. I’m as willing as the next person to change my mind but somehow I never get around to it. One minute a conviction doesn’t exist, the world is a tumultuous hazard, the next minute you know beyond any question of doubt you can get something you’ve wanted. I don’t know if it’s good or bad to be chosen by a conviction but I know it won’t let go once it’s taken hold. In that sense a conviction bears a striking resemblance to our local ticks.
Jim Serber and I were having almost daily conversations. He was a man who liked to talk, I a woman who loved to listen. He asked me if I went regularly to church and I answered without hesitation. My church was Millerton Point and the Vedanta and Bear Valley and the rocks up near our house where the land slopes down roughly into the bay. There are two year-round ponds (of course I refer to them as lakes.) During the rainy season another shallow pond shows up where white herons like to congregate. My bird book says that herons are a solitary bird but I saw seven of them at one time together in the seasonal pond, startled off over my head when I got too close, in an anxious flurry of white feathers. Omen? It didn’t matter.
Jim told me he was getting on in years and was tired of breeding and raising horses. Before Chisolm had been cut, he had fathered a filly that looked exactly like him: dark chocolate, flaxen mane and tail, a perfect blaze like the tail of a comet. Jim and Diana Farber were looking forward to showing them off together, father and daughter, a perfectly matched pair. Jim told me he would only sell his horses to people who would love them and never mistreat them. I ventured the opinion that Christian people, if they were true Christians, could not possibly mistreat a horse. “Not if they follow the word of God,” Jim replied; an awareness on his part, I thought, that not all who call themselves Christians deserve the name. But could it also mean that people who did not call themselves Christians might live by the values the Sarbers’ believed were Christian?
I thought so. And that’s what I was counting on. Why want something if it is possible to get it?
Kim Chernin is a fiction and nonfiction writer, feminist, poet, and memoirist who lives in Point Reyes Station. She has just published a book together with her wife Renate Stendhal, Lesbian Marriage: A Sex Survival Kit.