In our Daddy Issues series, a father of a young daughter seeks guidance, hoping to raise a strong woman. He looks to you, dear readers, for insight.
So we go into an English-style tack shop. It smells like brass and leather. There are whips and halters scattered across the walls. Buckets overflow with brushes and horse treats. Riding pants hang from clothes carousels near a rack of tweed riding jackets.
"Hello!" shouts the owner, sidling up to my daughter, "And who are you? Are you going to be a little riding princess?"
My daughter pauses for a beat, her lips working in the silence like she's trying to formulate a response. The owner waits, hands on knees, expectant face.
"I ain't a princess," my daughter finally mumbles, "I can make Pegasus hit his twelves on the homestretch without a whip ... but I think I'd like one anyway."
The owner stares up at me and mouths, "His twelves?"
"She wants to be a jockey."
My daughter nods.
"You got any silks?" she asks, "I need some silks. White ones with red and a striped hat."
The only horse the kid has ever ridden was a broken little miniature pony at a school carnival. For three or four tickets, she got to ride around a small circle for five minutes. And yet, one morning, out of the blue, she announced she had figured out what she wanted to do with her life.
Not knowing anything at all about horses but excited by her interest, I encouraged her by reading passages from "Secretariat," "Seabiscuit" and one of my favorite books this year: "Lord of Misrule" — which largely accounts for her newfound and appalling diction. We went to a few horse races and hardly an evening goes by when she doesn't throw me onto the living room carpet and leap onto my back, setting up elaborate races between Pegasus and The Pie from "National Velvet." For her 5th birthday, I'm sewing her kid-sized jockey silks just the way she wants them.
I know all the things she wants to "be" will change like crazy over the years, but it's been fun for us both to enter a new world and learn about horses. I'm frequently reminded of an episode with a young cousin a few years ago. Jokingly, I told the young girl I'd buy her a pony if she brought me some more ice cream. The girl's eyes lit up and I saw her mom frantically shaking her head and waving her arms, mouthing, "No! No horses!" It was dangerous territory, this topic of horses, as the poor girl had been aching for one for years, and to have it so close, for only a little ice cream.... I felt terrible.
After my daughter was born, I read a book about raising girls and remember vaguely a few scattered passages about horses and young girls and some bond between animal and human. Just what, exactly, is it with young girls and horses? It's one of those phases little girls go through, but what's the reason and why such an attraction for a horse as opposed to, say, a dog or a cat? How can you account for this special kind of desire?
Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out!. He refuses to buy a Daddle.
Image by Lauri Apple.