I was up in the attic on a search for some of the many beautiful children’s picture books I had stored away after my daughters grew up, hoping someday they could be pulled out once again for future grandchildren. That once distant and barely imaginable day having arrived, I found myself hauling multiple “Boxes of the Stored and Long Forgotten Things” downstairs in order to sort through what age-appropriate reading and other surprises could be found to give them. That is when I pulled out my once beloved copy of King of the Wind, The Story of the Godolphin Arabian, by Marguerite Henry, with beautiful illustrations by Wesley Dennis.
As a horse-crazy young girl, I would ride my bicycle to the local barn where I would voluntarily muck stalls, clean tack, groom horses, walk children around on pony rides, take lessons, and just ride. Anything about horses. I pored over the H. Kauffman’s and Miller tack catalogs, absorbed Horse and Rider and Western Horseman magazines. Birthday gift desires were riding boots, a helmet, a curry comb. My ever-growing collection of model horses was vast and beautiful. I would get lost in both fiction and non-fiction books about horses. My signature filled entire lending cards in the back of the Walter Farley books (The Black Stallion series) that I checked out at the public library. King of the Wind, a Cinderella story of a colt from Morocco that became one of the founding stallions of English racing, had conjured up much imagination. Adjusting the tattered dust jacket, I opened the book to just indulge my memory for a moment, but never got past the inside cover, where an old and yellowed folded newspaper article tucked inside slammed me into a time-warp about all the horses.
My model horses were an escape into another world, especially when those childhood moments were difficult or painful ones. As a young child I would be magically transported somewhere else while immersed in imaginative play, crouched on the floor while they grazed on the green carpet in our upstairs hallway. They had names and personalities. The first one was King, a Thoroughbred. Next came Brownie, a Clydesdale.
And they just kept accumulating – mostly Breyer, Hagen-Renaker and Hartland horses. As I got older, I bought leather and fabric and started making saddles, blankets and costumes for them. They were kept lined up on shelves in my bedroom, which started to look like a miniature stable. I wrote make-believe pedigrees for them, took photos with my Brownie camera, and joined a club of other horse-model crazy girls who put out a newsletter.
Stallions, mares and foals. Saddlebreds, pacers, mustangs and polo ponies. Thoroughbreds, Morgans, Arabians, Quarter Horses, Percherons, Appaloosas and Lippizans. Palominos, red and blue roans, chestnuts, bays, grays, pintos and buckskins. Dappled, painted, duns. Names like Pumpkin, Gray Lady, Falinika, Shêtan, Marmlade, Montclair’s Mirage. More than just beautiful, in my full-blown, weird and nerdy horsey-girl way they were both delightful and life-saving.
The day did come when an interest in boys and other distractions overshadowed the horses. Many long-distance moves ensued and the horses were lovingly wrapped and packed into boxes, where they would hopefully go to my someday children in the future; children who would of course be horse-crazy just like me. Next thing you know, there I am young, married and on the brink of moving once again – this time across the country with my then-husband. A then-husband who looked upon my boxes of stored horses in the attic as childish and urged me to sell them in order to get some money to help facilitate our move. I had no place to store them. I couldn’t take them with me. I wanted to be “grown-up” and not saving childhood “toys”, if you could call them that. I didn’t know what to do.
Serendipitously, an article appeared in the lifestyle section of the New York Times. The subject of the article was an eager, intelligent nineteen-year-old college student, only slightly younger than I, who had a huge collection of models with a focus on Arabian horses. She not only made costumes for them, she wrote pedigrees for them. And not make-believe pedigrees like mine, but real pedigrees of real horses, which she painstakingly researched. If I was going to let my horses go, this would be the person. With packing boxes stacked around us and the move imminent, I tracked her down and she drove up to at our cottage quickly thereafter to see and ultimately purchase all the horses.
Even back then I knew I was letting all the horses go for less than their value. Monetarily, the whole lot was a very good deal for her – emotionally, for me, they were priceless. I could feel that she was excited, more so about the Arabian-looking models. She was astute enough to see in my face there was some sadness and actually suggested I hold on to a few of my original ones, like Brownie and King. But I decided to just take the leap and let them all go. Remember, I was being new and brave. Time has erased some details of the transaction, but I possibly may have also given her my file box with the photos and make-believe pedigrees, which of course would have been silly and useless to someone who did expert research. And so, she left with all of my horses – horses who had provided me with great enjoyment but also had provided a refuge – an outlet for angst, absorbed my anger – all the horses who had carried me out of my childhood.
The internet eventually happened. Every once in a while I would see models like mine for sale on eBay, although most often they were not even in as good condition or as old as the ones I had. My then-husband once gifted me a book on collecting model horses one year, a kind gesture which actually caused a brief jab of heartache to look through. When I saw (and see) the prices some of them command now, it is staggering! That said, if I hadn’t sold them right then, if I had had a place to store them, I would have kept them for the children and grandchildren that I now have. However, so far none of the progeny have been all that interested in horses. I think if I had unboxed them and arranged them all over the floor, they would have found themselves lost in some of the same magic though. How could you not?
Back to the present – the book and the faded newspaper – I wondered what ever happened to that girl who bought my horses? I Googled and there she was – then sent her an email. It turns out she became an expert researcher, consultant and lecturer on Arabian Horse bloodlines and pedigrees of real horses. She had been an editor of an Arabian horse magazine. She made it her life’s work. She told me she remembers my partner pressuring me to sell the models. She recalls wondering if that relationship would last! She offered the consolation that she had loved and cherished them for almost thirty years before she let go of her collection of many hundreds. So they went to the right person. There is something satisfying and confirming about that discovery.
It can be odd how things show up in your life again sometimes. I wonder about all the horses – where are they now? Where are Brownie, Gray Lady, Falinika and the rest of them now? I hope they are continuing to be enjoyed. I hope they are having a good life.
This brought up memories of my plastic model horses, who, like yours, lined a shelf in my childhood bedroom. The book I loved was Misty of Chincoteague, same author. Had we known each other then, we could have “played horses” together. Thanks for the memories!!
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