Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chapter 4 ~ Fast Forward 30 Years

Driving ever so carefully, I glanced back into the rear view mirror several times each minute. The man at the antique store had done a good job in securing the 4 pieces of the armoire into the truck bed, making sure that the blankets were covering every part and that the ropes would not rub, but this was such a big purchase for me, I still felt uneasy. I was coming down a long stretch of good road. It was quiet, except for an occasional whoosh of the wind as another car passed. It gave me some time to relax. I felt so content. I loved living out in the country, even if we only had 3 acres. It was an amazing place to raise our daughters Emily and Joy. Emily already in her first year of college and Joy would follow the next year. “And finally” I thought, “we were not so strapped financially that we seemingly had to say no to everything!”

I gazed around as I drove. The hills gave character to this area unlike any place around it. Not big jutting hills, but gently rolling swipes of land that carried your eyes to the farthest point. Somehow it all of a sudden felt very familiar to me. As I came to a crossroad, I noticed the sign. “This was it!” I thought. “This was the intersection JoAnn told me about.”
My precious neighbor and wonderful friend loved to wander. At any given time, if Joann was driving somewhere, she was subject to just venture off the beaten path …and well, just go and explore. She had, only one week ago, told me about a magnificent piece of land she spotted and if I remembered correctly, it was just 3 or 4 miles down this road…the exact opposite direction of home.

I wheeled the truck from the right lane into the left turn lane. I had to find it. She said it was at the top of the hill and there was a gate..yes, a gate right after a bridge I think.. The light turned green and I headed North with my precious cargo in tow. Carefully watching the odometer, I slowed down after traveling 3 miles. I could see the road still rising in front of me, so I kept driving.

“There it is!” I gasped. Pressed into the landscape was a large metal stock gate coming off of a short gravel drive. I pulled up and turned off the engine. I gazed around. This had to be it. I walked over to the gate and noticed the chain about it fastened with a combination lock. No one seemed to be anywhere around. Again I looked right and left. Grabbing the gate with both hands, I hoisted myself over it as though I was mounting a horse from one side and dismounting on the other. I shoved my keys into my back pocket and started to walk to my right. The driveway was not quite at the top of the hill, so I ventured in that direction.

There was a thrill of anticipation. My heart was beating fast and I felt excited for no apparent reason. Trekking about 100 yards North I crested the top of the hill. My mouth fell open. I could not take in the magnificent view in just one sweep. My eyes danced back and forth several times trying to absorb as much as I could. The hills rolled into each other for miles like waves coming to shore. The grass of the back pasture swayed back and again with the constant breeze that was rising from the hundred foot slope. This was my home. At that very second this land claimed me and I knew God had just bestowed a very special undeserving gift into my hands. Bordering what I knew was going to be the back pasture for our horses was a line of forest. Not just a pine forest, which was the norm for South Texas, but massive ancient oaks and pecan trees. I kept walking. There were grape vines hanging from tree limbs spilling the unclaimed fruit to the ground. Stepping through the underbrush and into the forest landed me under a canopy of trees, each so sheltering that the ground beneath was surprisingly clear. It was then that I happened upon a very special place. In front of me were 3 trees that had, over the years, grown together as one. It was a God made sculpture and from that moment on named, The Three Graces. It was there that I knelt down and thanked God for this gift. No physical evidence or proof was available showing that the land was mine…only faith. I knew what I heard. I knew what I felt. This was my new home.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chapter 3 ~ My One & Only Horse Ally

My Grand Father ~ James Milam Leavens

* * * * * *
I had only one horse ally in my family, my paternal Grandfather, James Milam Leavens. He loved and respected horses and it was he who introduced me to different breeds and horses of quality.

One Saturday morning, Grandfather came over unbenounced to my parents, to pick me up. I was up and dressed at daybreak anxiously watching for him out the window. I was privy to the scheduled events for that day and could not have been more excited. We were going to the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show! This show was held once a year at the infamous Pin Oak Stables and was considered by most to be the social event of the year for Houston, Texas.

Crowds of people flocked to the rings, men wearing suits and ties and the ladies in their Spring finest. Hats, matching dresses, bags and shoes completed with wrist length gloves. With a back drop of laughter, amid the chatter, most of the conversations were centered around a favorite contender. It had all the elegance of high tea with the exception of a few awkward steps to avoid any horse mishaps.

It was here that I was introduced to the world of horses at their finest. Showcasing each individual breed and their talents, I was not only able to experience the horses, but so many disciplines of competition as well. Arabians, Tennessee Walkers, American Saddlebreds, Thoroughbreds as well as Hackney Ponies were all there. Horses cleared jumps I could not see over. Arabians and their riders costumed in vivid colors captured everyone’s attention. Grand carriages being pulled by perfectly matched pairs as well as Roadster Ponies flying around the corners so fast, it had the crowd gasping and waiting for the jog carts to flip over! Class after class opened me up to new worlds of horses and riding styles, but the class that left the biggest impression on me was the Saddleseat American Saddlebred class.

The Ring Master lifted his horn beckoning the show horses through the gate. Trotting in a fashion I had never seen, in came the most breath taking creatures God had ever created! Heads held high, long refined necks and longer legs with a knee popping trot and a confident fire in their eyes captured my heart like no other breed ever had. Hardly able to breathe, I soaked every moment of it into my soul, just knowing that I would relive this day in my mind a million times over. Every rider, no less elegant that their mount was dressed in day suits with matching Derby hats. Their long riding coats were slit in the back and seemed to glide over the back of the horses as a cape would if the wind had captured it. I fell madly in love with American Saddlebred horses that day; a passion I am sure to carry with me to my last breath.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chapter 2 ~ Prayers

Not being a very beautiful child lent into my dream world of horses. It was a place that I could escape and had no baring on the fact that I had severely buck teeth, very thin stringy hair and pale skin. I would pine over any book I could find. I traced so many horse pictures that on occasion, when books were returned to the library you could see the indention from my pencil around the subject.
Every night before going to sleep my Mother would come in and say prayers with me. She ended hers with a kiss to my cheek. Knowing that I had God’s full attention; after all I believed, who would not listen my beautiful Mother when she spoke? I continued my prayers after she left.

Looking straight up at the ceiling with an intent stare I whispered
“Dear God. Pleeeeeessse bring me a horse. I promise to be good. I’ll do all my chores, eat all of my dinner. I won’t even whine anymore. Please, please, please, bring me a horse of my own! Also, if you can…make me a little bit prettier each day so the kids will stop teasing me…BUT – if you can only do one of those things, I would rather have a horse! AMEN.” I then flipped over, pulled the covers up around my head and fell fast to sleep knowing that He heard me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chapter 1 - In the Beginning..

My Father always said the worst mistake he ever made in raising me, was taking me to Main Street to ride the Shetland ponies. I remember it like it was yesterday…

It was a warm summer day. Riding in the front seat, I was hardly able to sit still as the minutes seemed to drag on for hours. I held tightly to the plastic baggie containing the allowance money, mostly pennies, I had earned doing chores. A whole dollar! My fingers started to sweat. At the ripe age of six, I was already stricken with it. That dreaded life long disease called Horse Fever.

My heart was racing. From the moment we pulled into the drive to park, I was stretching and twisting my head to look at all the horses. Never would I let them tell me which one to ride. Waiting and watching carefully, I looked for a horse of size and spirit; one who would certainly canter if I asked! At the Main Street Pony Rides, a horse of size was only 11 or 12 hands high. After watching the other children ride and carefully making my decision, I would take my bag of coins to the ticket booth.

“Four tickets please.” I said hoisting my payment onto the counter.

The old man behind the booth was tall and thin. His unshaven face or the fact that he had dirt under his fingernails did not blemish my opinion of him. In my eyes, he had the best job in the world!

Cocking his head to the side, he picked up my bag of money.
“How much is in here?”
“A whole dollar!” I exclaimed.

He moved the bag off to the side of the counter and tore off the 4 tickets.

“Aren’t you gonna count it?” I questioned.

Ever so slightly his left eyebrow rose.
“No Hun. I trust you.” He said as he handed me the passport to my dream!

I ran over to the gated area where the horses stood, each tied to a fence line under a small covering. Bouncing up and down I held tightly to my Father’s hand while waiting for my turn.

The young barn hand walked over to us. He was dirty, but he smelled wonderful..just like the horses. Dad waited outside the gate as I was let through. I held up my tickets at the same time I was pointing to the pony of my dreams. An ancient palomino gelding whose body hair rivaled the length of his mane. He raised his head and looked over the other horses backs, watching my approach.

“That one?” the man asked.
“Yes. He is the one I want to ride.” I said as I made my way to his side.

I was lifted up into the saddle and placed my feet into the stirrups. I put one hand on the saddle horn and with the other I held the reins. We were led to the entrance of the track. Looking ahead of me, it looked massive. We walked just a few steps; enough to be out of reach of both my Father and any one else who might object. No one was in front of us. I cued the pony to canter. He picked up the trot. Determined not to waste my hard earned money, I leaned forward and kicked harder. This time I made the kiss noise my Grandfather told me about too. The well trained steed listened and obeyed and off we went. Busy with another horse and child, the attendant barely noticed my mischievous act but as we came back into the corral, he looked at me from the side of his eye. I dropped my chin and was smiling back at him.

“Do you want to ride him all 4 rounds?” he asked.
Whew! I thought I was about to get into trouble. I smiled even bigger as I nodded yes. I knew better than to make any eye contact with my Father lest he order me to obey the rules!