Most of my childhood memories involve horses or are centered around horse activities. I consider myself pretty danged lucky to have what a lot of horse-fanatic girls didn't: My own horses and friends who shared my passion.
There has never been a time in my life when horses weren't a part of it, one way or another.
I used horses as an excuse to skip out of high school with my best friend. They were her horses, and yes, they managed to get out of the pasture yet again and her parents were not horse people. No, she probably didn't REALLY need help catching them, but what better excuse to leave school on a breathtakingly beautiful spring day for some much-needed horse time? I'm pretty sure that happened more than once. In fact, I'm positive it did. No regrets.
During my junior year a group of us skipped an entire day of school to go riding. It was too nice out to sit inside and listen to teachers and it just kind of happened. I don't know who suggested it, but it was a fabulous idea.
It was probably the craziest, best, most memorable ride I ever had with my high school friends.
See, our friend Wayne was dying from leukemia. Little did we know he'd be dead less than two months after our day of stolen freedom. Little did we know that was really the last time he'd feel strong enough to do anything wild and crazy.
He wasn't a rider, but that didn't stop him from enjoying it. He doubled up with me, bareback, on one of the many ponies and horses owned by the family of one of our classmates. She didn't ask and we ALL knew how strict her parents were. Not only were we skipping school, we were stealing the horses and riding off the property.
We all knew if they found out there would be hell to pay. They found out, hell was paid and none of us regretted it.
About half of our group were riders...the other half, not so much. But we doubled up bareback anyway and headed across the fields blooming with tall native Kansas grasses and made a beeline to the creek. It was far too early in the season for swimming, but we didn't care. So what if the creek was still cold? We were skipping school to RIDE! It could not get any more perfect than that.
Our little group of horse girls spent summers in that creek with our equine partners...parking the ponies in the deep spots, guiding their noses to the thick grasses growing on the high bank and using them as mobile diving platforms while they stood and munched. Such wonderfully forgiving partners we had! Or, they were just typical ponies who wouldn't budge when presented with a tasty patch of grass.
We headed across the field, a couple of the horses moving out fast with the unexpected excitement in their otherwise boring day and so many kids laughing like nothing in the world mattered. The horse Wayne and I were on tossed in a little crow hop, probably expressing the same zest for life we were feeling that day, and he got dumped. He didn't go flying, just kind of slid off and landed on his knees, laughing the entire way down and still grinning as he stood back up and readied to jump back up behind me.
The spring sun shone off his bald head like a golden beacon and he had such an infectious laugh you couldn't help but laugh along. He was great about being able to laugh at himself, despite the very wrongness of someone so young and vital being so sick. He constantly picked fun at his own bald head. It was kind of hard to feel guilty about his sudden, unexpected dismount when he was laughing about it. And I laughed along and gave him my hand to help haul him back up.
He climbed back up and away we went, reveling in the day and celebrating life as only a teenage boy living under a death sentence could.
He was amazing. To this day thinking about him inspires me and all these years later, his memory makes me smile.
I think knowing him changed the whole group of us. A bunch of 16 and 17 year olds faced with the inevitable death of a friend and trying to deal with it the best way they knew: By skipping school and riding off into the prairie on a bunch of stolen horses.