My close connection to horses started when I was just a baby. My mom had serious heart disease and wasn’t able to care for me, so my dad took me to his childhood home to be cared for by his mother. She lived way out in the grasslands of South Dakota, on a plateau overlooking the badlands.
I didn’t see my mother again until much later. She moved to Omaha, Nebraska for treatment and survived one of the first open heart surgeries in America. In the end, miraculously, her heart lasted longer than her body did.
At my grandmother’s house, I grew up in a crib pushed next to an open window. The view of the grasslands outside my window became my worldview. My first memories were of hot breath on my face, velvety caresses, and a bell. My grandmother had hung a bell outside the cabin, run a cord from the bell through the window, and tied it to my ankle. When I kicked and kicked, the bell would ring and my nearly deaf granny would hear it and come take care of me. I learned to pull on the cord to ring the bell. Sadly, granny passed away while I was still young, before I could thank her for loving me and caring for me during her last days. I imagine she had many burdens because she was so old, but I like to think I made her smile.
I survived that way for my first two winters. After my granny passed, I had a new babysitter—a horse. It was his hot breath and velvety nose and mouth that I remember. His loving presence sustained me while my dad worked many long hours in the fields. I would ring the bell and the horse would gallop to the open window to look in on me. If I was inconsolable and he could not comfort me, he would race off looking for my father. Whenever my dad saw the horse running to him, he knew I needed him at home.
Soon my mom had fully recovered from her surgery and I was returned to her. My dad had a new wife, so I never saw that horse again. But I will never forget him. As I grow older, I appreciate more and more the care I was given by those two elders in their last days—my granny and her old horse, my first babysitter.
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[Personal Photo: Cheryl Angel works closely with Horse Nation and is now passing on this love to the next generation of her family.]