It was a tradition, when I was a teenager, that my cousin and I would go for a Thanksgiving Day ride. My cousin, Summer, was also an avid horseperson and we spent many hours through all seasons riding horses around Town Hill. Summer lived in Hampden but our families got together for holidays and Summer and I would often spend weekends together either at her house or mine. The advantage to staying at my house was that there were horses.
We had three horses at the time: Ivy, my Appaloosa mare; Chief, my mom’s Appaloosa gelding; and Lady, a Standardbred mare, who was the family or guest horse. There also was another Standardbred, a gelding named Bama, who lived with us for awhile, and we took turns riding him also. Usually I rode Ivy and Summer rode Lady, but we both loved riding all four of the horses.
In the summertime, we would ride to the beach and race through the fields, in the winter we rode bareback in the snow, and every November, we rode on Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving Day in Maine is not a warm time to go riding. Relatively warm would mean sun and a temperature around 40. Usually it was colder, windy, cloudy and raw. But like the postal workers on their routes, neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night kept us from our Thanksgiving ride. Actually, gloom of night would have stopped us. We had to draw the line somewhere.
The obligatory Thanksgiving Ride Photo of the two of us showed nothing more than two piles of laundry on horseback. Beneath layers of long johns, jeans, sweatpants, leg warmers, sweaters, knit caps, puffy jackets, gloves and boots, topped off with orange safety vests and helmets, you could barely discern our windburned faces. The photos were far from flattering, but merely proof that we braved all elements and rode horses that day.
The horses were fluffy caricatures of themselves, as their already voluminous winter coats expanded for the colder weather. Horses have an ability to fluff out their coats to create an insulating layer of warmer air close to their bodies. It makes them look like gigantic bunny rabbits, but it works.
Summer and I would set out from the driveway, nonglamorous photos having been taken, and with our and the horses’ breath pluming before us, cruise the back roads of Town Hill. After an hour or so, when we had lost all feeling in our fingers and toes, we would head back home, brush down the horses and turn them out, then head in to join the rest of our family for dinner.
The horses were not forgotten after their ride. They got Thanksgiving dinner, too, with carrot chunks, apple slices and molasses all mixed in a warm bran mash. The sound of them happily slurping this holiday treat and the sight of their mash-covered faces was always joyful for us.
While their table manners would have caused Emily Post to retire to her fainting couch, the horses were as much a part of our family traditions as the humans, and making sure the horses got their version of a Thanksgiving meal was just a normal part of our holiday.