Still (Horse) Crazy After All These Years

In 1964 I was a horse-crazy little girl who was over the moon when Fox Smith asked if I’d like to help him and his friend Laddie at a big horse show in the summer. Would I!! My dad dropped me off at dawn each day and I mucked stalls, stood on a stool to groom and comb manes and picked hooves all day long. I talked to each horse. I hugged each horse. I basked in the glow of being around horses all day, every day. And of being in the radiating airspace of Fox Smith. He was the first adult in my life who wasn’t a family member, neighbor or teacher, yet he became beloved, and he taught me volumes. He was tough and funny and expansive, and I’d never known anyone like him.

One afternoon he stood outside the ring, leaning his foot on a rail, watching me have a crummy lesson. I got tossed twice, and after the second spill he opened the gate, helped me off the ground, took the reins and said, simply, “C’mon.”

Thinking I was done for the day, I wiped my tears and skipped along next to him. Reprieve! As we neared the barn I noticed he wasn’t veering off toward the entrance. Without a word he kept walking down the slope to the indoor ring. Because he was Fox I followed, clueless. He parked my horse in the center of the ring, gave me my first leg-up, magically produced a longe line and clipped it to my bridle. Still silent, he crossed my stirrups up at the pommel and
tied the reins in a knot high up on Gay Blade’s chestnut neck.

Still clueless.

He began talking as he started us walking in a circle around him. Like a hypnotist he relaxed me with easy commands. “Can you cross your arms?” “Rest your hands on your legs.” “Can you feel her under your bottom?” “Pretend you’re part of her and move with her.”


We continued on this way, seamlessly easing into a slow trot, a move that both surprised and delighted me. And then posting without stirrups! Keeping my balance! When he told me we were going into the canter, my insides froze. I said “I can’t” but he ignored me, keeping his voice at the same pitch and tempo, telling me to slide my outside leg back, feel her body and…. \”Canter!”

I can still feel the thrill coursing through me as I did that day. Arms out to my sides, legs and seat, spine and torso all magically connected to the mare beneath me. We moved together, heads up, manes flying. And then I was laughing out loud, and Fox was laughing, too. When we came to the halt he walked over, smiled up at me and said, “It doesn’t ever get better than this!” and let me do it again. And again.

Decades later my daughter’s trainer and I watched her cruising over a complicated series of jumps under a bright blue October sky. The reds and golds of the framing trees were shimmering in the breeze and I was mesmerized, thinking what a beautiful rider she was as she flew with her horse, remembering Fox and how it felt for me that first time. As I remembered his words, her trainer leaned toward me, shaking his head and said, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”

When it’s early morning at the Polo Fields and the dew hovers an inch above the grass, sparkling like pixie dust as the sun peeks over the trees, the quiet mantra of horses softly snuffling and snorting as the new day begins is my favorite music, and the sweet, pungent aroma of the barn, when I smell it after a time away, takes me back, every time.

A girl. A horse. And the teacher who flipped the switch.

Lynne Nigolian Pollack

Scroll to Top