From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been an obsessive horse fiend. Anything that had to do with horses was my agenda for every day. There was a brief period at Christmas when I was 4 years old that I had a toy cow that I played with, but other than that, it was all horses.
When I wasn’t playing with horses I was being one. I whinnied and snorted and tossed my “mane.” At times I was a racehorse, a jumper, a wild Mustang or a fancy show pony.
Breyer model horses were on every birthday or Christmas wish list, right behind a real horse. We had a small shed on our property where I grew up in Hulls Cove and it always frustrated me that Dad wouldn’t let me have a real horse to put in it. The toys and tools certainly didn’t need all of that space, did they?
It’s my Mom’s fault, really. She had horses growing up and sat me on my first horse when I was hardly old enough to sit up at all. She provided my first horse book and stuffed horse, a red felt pony. Some kids develop a love for horses without having a parent or relative anywhere that knows a palomino from a pinto, but my passion came from my Mom.
Riding lessons started when I was 10 years old and then, when I was 14, Mom and I were finally able to have our own horses. They didn’t live in the shed though — we boarded them at an old dairy farm down the road.
At first, just Mom had a horse, a big Appaloosa named Chief. It soon was apparent that one horse wouldn’t do for two riders so Mom and Dad agreed to let me lease a camp horse over the winter, and if I proved that I could take care of it and cover expenses, then I might be able to buy one to keep.
Dad was pretty sure that would be the end of my horsekeeping desires. His thought was that looking after a horse during a Maine winter can mean a lot of extra work and not a lot of riding time so I would be discouraged. Dad’s plan backfired. Having that horse for the winter was like throwing gasoline on a brushfire.
The horse was Ivy, and she was mine until the end of her life 15 years later. When we moved to Town Hill while I was in high school, Dad built us a barn. The “yard” was a horse pasture and a horse trailer took up half of the driveway.
I gave up a lot of social activities in order to spend more time with horses. The friends I did have went riding with me. In school, I wrote about horses in English class, drew horses in art class and took pictures of horses in photography class. In algebra class, I day dreamed about horses.
My algebra grades were never quite as good as my other grades.
Mom taught me a lot about horses during those first few years and I read every book on the subject I could find. Then I went to college to study horses and when I came home, I taught Mom all I had learned.
After college I worked at a stable in New York, but dreamed of owning my own stable. In 1998, that became a reality. I found a farm, Dad built more stalls in the barn, then built more barns with more stalls. I now own four horses and two ponies, and board a dozen more.
There are still some Breyer horses on my shelves and there is still a raggedy red pony in a box under my bed. I may not whinney and toss my mane anymore (although I may occasionally snort), but I spend all day with the creatures who do.
There are other interests I have now, outside of the horses. My son likes animals but did not get the horse gene so I do other stuff with him that he enjoys. Also there is my enthusiasm (obsession) for movies starring Matt Damon, and I have my ballroom dance classes. Although I think my instructor gets tired of hearing me exclaim after every explanation he gives, “It’s the same as riding horses!”
I was lucky enough to have parents who supported my passion and allowed me to pursue it. There is nothing else I can imagine doing with my life, and there never was. When my son discovers his passion, I’ll support him the same way my parents supported me.
Unless it involves algebra. Then you’re on your own, kid.
Cassie Astle owns Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor