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The area I live in is world-renowned for having free roaming ponies. They block traffic, trot in a parade through town and stick their behinds out of local shops. Tourists flock from all over to witness them standing in roads, on pavements, in front gardens without a care in the world.
You aren’t allowed to touch them. People still try.
The girl my mother nannied for (and whose mother’s house we lived in for the first eight years of my life) spent her teen years as an equestrian.
I’d sneak into her room when she wasn’t there and reverently brush my fingers against the competition photos and the many ribbons that adorned her wall.
In the summer months, my mother would hang her muddy jodhpurs out to dry. She’d click into the house in her dirty riding boots. A crop was permanently propped up in the wetroom, wielding a strip of worn leather with pride. When she was at boarding school, a riding helmet would sit forlorn in the back entrance, looking out through the frosted glass like a dog waiting for his master to return.
I would try it on in secret. But where the dome-shaped hat sat elegantly on the girl’s head, it swamped me. And so I would put it back on the bench amongst the Barbours and the Hunters.
My mother (my father didn’t drive) would bundle us into a car once or twice a week to make the 5 minute commute to the stables. It was my favourite part of the week, apart from church, or “meetings”, as we called them .
Even though the girl’s horse, Charlie, didn’t belong to me, I felt my chest swell with glee when I would tell schoolmates about “my pony Charlie”. What was the harm in that? It was less complicated than saying, “Charlie isn’t mine, but he belongs to a girl whose mother’s house we live in, because my mum cleans their house and cooks their food and folds their clothes.” For conversational purposes, Charlie was mine.
He was a lovely boy who stood thirteen hands high, with a strong, dark brown body. His nose would always snuffle, like velvet, against my palm in search of polo mints, which were his favourite snack. His long black silky hair looked like mine, but whereas mine was often scraped back into a ponytail, his would be plaited into delicate, intricate knots.
Once, I saw the girl ride him at the county fair. I don’t remember where they placed, but in my mind they were Olympians.
They soared over hurdles and thundered over the ground, his muscles flexing and his hair lifting in the wind. The way they moved together was magic, plain and simple. Who needed wings and a horn when a tug of the reins could make you fly?
At the stables, I enjoyed mucking him out. Turns out I had a knack for spotting errant poo buried in the hay, and would proudly help my parents pitchfork it out. To me, it made sense that such a powerful beast would produce such large amounts of waste. It was an honour to be a cog in the machine if it helped this beautiful creature win prizes, win ribbons, win trophies.
My love for horses became a torrid affair: I became obsessed with a game called My Pony Friends. I had a book series about a girl who discovers her horse is a secret alicorn (a unicorn and a pegasus in one horse, believe it or not). Hell, we even lived in ‘The Stables’, the annex to the main house where the girl and her mother lived. For all intents and purposes, I was a horse too.
I plucked up the courage to ask if I too, pretty please with cherries on top, could possibly have horse riding lessons.
My mother said she’d ask. I would ask again. And she would say the same thing.
Eventually, she said that she had asked, and that I was too small for horse riding lessons. Her tone of voice told me that the issue was not of my size, but of finance.
I never asked again.
I must have been five or six when it started. A boy with wheat-coloured hair often helped out at the farm. It’s a trope, isn’t it? The simple stable boy, who runs away with the posh girl whose horse he looks after.
Except I wasn’t the posh girl. And Charlie wasn’t my horse. And this boy was a teenager. And I was a toddler.
The memories are hazy. I remember clinging onto his hand as he took me behind a barn. He told my parents he was going to show me some ponies, the coolest, the best, the big league horses. I was led to an abandoned corner of the farm with an undignified metal fence.
Then, after checking no one was looking, he’d push me against the fence, pull my underwear down and stick his fingers inside me.
It was uncomfortable, tickly. I didn’t like it. I remember he made it feel like a game, and laughing with him. But the games I played at school were played with your clothes on, with people your own age. This was no Duck Duck Goose.
I remember a girl coming up behind him once or twice, with her brown hair back in a pony tail. I don’t remember who she was. But I remember her looking and smiling. As if this was normal. As if fingering toddlers was his job.
Every time I came to the barn he would be there, and the same routine examination would happen. I learned to take it, to enjoy the time I had with him. He was handsome, he was funny. I was lucky that he even looked my way.
The boy left at some point, and his fingers with him. But I had inhaled his spirit into my brain like secondhand smoke, and there this tumour would stay, forgotten.
I became unable to wipe myself after going to the toilet. I hated bathing. I became embarrassingly incontinent. I lived in my filth. Perhaps because I wanted someone else to sluice it off me. Perhaps because I wanted someone to notice. Perhaps because no one cared.
I often have a vision of me in a field, idly playing with grass blades as a PE teacher drones on. I, visibly, slide my shorts to the side. The PE teacher, nor any of my classmates, cares. I don’t know what any of my parts are. I stab the grass into what I will grow to understand as a clitoris. It feels good. I notice that this nub resembles the whorls on my fingerprint, which I tell my mother about during the meetings. She tells me to stop, shooting me a disapproving look. I stop.
Charlie was sold on unceremoniously at some point. The news hit me like a truck, and I sulked for weeks.
Years later, I learned that virginity was apparently tied to the hymen. According to my religion, not being a virgin was a sin. I’d search around in my vagina as a teenager, wondering where my hymen had gone if I’d never had sex. I wasn’t a sinner. I couldn’t be. I was a good witness, who didn’t do drugs and didn’t have premarital sex and didn’t steal and didn’t embezzle money and didn’t look at child porn. Why did Jehovah take my hymen?
People say that it’s possible to lose your hymen in extreme activities, horse riding being one of them.
As I never properly rode a horse, I suspect my hymen, my ‘virginity’, was taken by a boy, a man, who knew his fingers were too small for my body, who knew he should not be petting wild horses, but who gave not one single solitary fuck.
I never did get to take horse riding lessons. I’ve always wanted to do it; but the memories of the stables haunt me. The one time I did get to ride a horse was a short hack with some family friends. I got the smallest of them, a timid but docile white girl with a round belly. She was obedient. She would do whatever I said. She was tiny, but she supported my weight like I was a feather and she was a rock.
The rest of my crew marched further on, on taller, muscular horses, while I lagged, shifting uncomfortably in the hard saddle. I didn’t like being on a horse.
Wild horses weren’t meant to be touched by tourists for Instagram. They weren’t be turned into keychains and postcards. They weren’t meant to trust humans to the point where, on a long stretch of road at night, they believe that their steely bodies will not be mowed down by a vehicle that uses their power as a unit of measurement.
Ponies don’t dent, they die. So please, don’t touch them.