It was a nice 95 degrees at the Grand Canyon in the middle of the summer, and my family was visiting the hole for the third or fourth time. As customary for our family adventures, my sister and I scouted the gift shop looking for the best (and inexpensive) item that would probably resemble the location we were visiting in no way whatsoever, while preparing our speeches (one for mom and a back- up one for dad) as to why this was the only item in the store we really wanted. My sister commonly picked up a stuffed animal or a cute, cheaply glued-together keychain while I looked for stationary or writing tools. As a child, I would have been content if my souvenir from every family trip was a fine-tipped pen (to the disbelief of my father who believes every vacation must be commemorated with no less than one decent family photo, the best-designed refrigerated magnet with the location not-so-discreetly displayed, and a tee-shirt with the same fringe magnet criteria).
As I roamed the golden-lighted, wood gift shop, an item popped into my peripheral vision. A set of horse stencils: all in different colors with a different pose and breed for each. I quickly snatched it up and ran over to Mom who was always more willing to accept my choice. I was ready to make my case. I held the stencils in her line of sight. I didn’t say a word, and hoped she would find them as wonderful as I did.
Mom turned and looked down to see what I was holding. “Is that what you really want?”
I held the stencils tightly and imagined the six perfect horses I could draw. The rearing horse would be the best one, or maybe the galloping pose would be my favorite. I could have endless horse markings, patterns, and maybe use my horse book with all the different coat colors for inspiration, or I could just make every horse a pinto. “Yes!”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay, we’ll get it as soon as Dad picks out a magnet.”
I walked over to Dad who was carefully observing the magnets, trying to decide if there was one better than the one we already had of the Canyon.
I proudly showed what Mom had already approved I could get.
“You don’t want a tee-shirt?”
I firmly held the stencils and shook my head.
“Okay then.” He turned to see my mom and sister coming up the front, ultimately deciding a tee-shirt was the only thing he wanted. “Where did she get this horse fascination from?” Mom shrugged her shoulders and instructed my sister and I to the register before we changed our minds. Katrina brought up her 167th stuffed animal and I placed my horse stencils on the register counter. That trip was about twelve years ago.
Despite my dad’s observation, I don’t remember having a strong interest in horses before then, but there’s no doubt that I came out the womb craving the scent of wet hay and wanting the feel of dirt mixed with horse hairs wedged deep underneath my fingernails.
Over a hiatus from college back home for Christmas, my sister was doing one of her deep cleans. A huge bag of stuffed animals slumped outside her door, which I was told to glance through since some of them were technically mine. She probably gave away about seventy-five pounds of stuffed animals, and I’m sure among that pile was the woodpecker, or coyote, or donkey, or whatever animal she begged for at the Grand Canyon twelve years ago. The stencils I pleaded for are deeply buried among many badly drawn horses. Most of the horses ended up being pintos (blue and white or chestnut and white ones). Half of the stencils are bent forwards and backyards with river creases, while the other half needed
a couple of tape surgeries to remain functional.
What followed the stencils was a normal string of horse merchandise any child going through a phase would put on every birthday and Christmas wish list. My room was never the perfect cowgirl paradise (complete with perhaps a saddle, multiple cowgirl hats, no room left for horse posters, and a bed always covered with a stallion with suspiciously untangled mane), though it would have been if my parents weren’t as sensible and instead let me have my own way. Still, I was able to achieve a fair collection of horse figurines (all named of course); a framed horse photo on my wall; many, many horse notebooks, calendars, pens, or shirts; and a mini horse play set complete with about 15 mini horse figurines, a truck with a detachable horse trailer, a barn, a pasture fence, and the tiniest saddles and bridles that I took pleasure in dressing my horses with every play session.
When I go back home, I make sure to dust off my figurines (although some are so complex, small, or delicate, that the only way to clean them is by rinsing them in the sink). It makes me sad to think that, unlike today, I could remember every single name. I remember the less creative ones (a black stallion named Midnight), but I will never remember all of them. Even so, what started as an eleven-year-old me using cheap horse stencils over and over until mostly ripped and unusable turned into a teenager who loved staying hours after lessons, even if just to scoop away the fly-defended piles of shit.
I was never able to go very far into my horse interest, and after moving from Arizona to Arkansas for college, horse time became sadly rare. I volunteered at a local stable when I could, but two majors quickly required more attention. The summer after graduation I was able to help a friend with her horse, but the summer quickly ended as I was preparing to live in France.
Now in France, I am feeling horse-starved, but that doesn’t mean my horse interests have faded. Instead, I enjoy the memories I have: having my first lessons with a drama queen named Lily, volunteering in a barn where I was able to share my limited knowledge with kids, having one-on-one time with an old boy named Chance who didn’t like my attention at first but slowly started to anticipate my long brushings. I don’t know when I will be able to step into a barn again, see a horse, or get the chance to ride. Yet, I look forward to when the opportunity becomes once again available.
Allena is a recent college graduate who is working on her illustration work. She has a love for nature, animals (horses are number one), creative writing, and pattern design. You can see her work at her portfolio here, or follow her Instagram @allena_design.