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A Horse in the Garage, by Chloe Scott

My daughter Jennifer was always horse crazy. From the time she was three when she had her first painted, wooden rocking horse with real horsehair mane and tail, all she wanted for toys were horses. Our collection of plastic horses, corrals, fences, and barns, was rivaled by none. We had The Lone Ranger and Tonto with their horses, Silver and Scout which came with saddles you could take off. We had Black Beauty, we had National Velvet, we had Rainbow horses, white with multicolored manes and tails, and we had flying horses, even a Unicorn, if that counts.  Everyone who knew Jenny knew of her love for horses and her collection grew steadily as family and friends gave her birthday and Christmas presents of more and more horses.

When she wasn't playing with her horses, she was busy being one. She set up jumps in the garden, and became very adept at leaping over benches and piles of branches. Sometimes, she trotted around on all fours.  She pestered her dad and me for lessons. "Oh, Mommy, pleeese, can I ride a real horse?" But alas, the only riding school in our small Long island community didn't start lessons until a child was six, so she had to wait a while.  But we did have a friend who kept a couple of horses and occasionally we managed to arrange for Jenny to have a ride. As our friend led her around the paddock on the back of a quiet old mare she sat, small and solemn, her little hands holding the reins as she'd been shown - you could see how proud and thrilled she was. I ached to get her her own pony, but such an investment in time and money was out of our reach.

A few years later, Jenny and I left New York behind and migrated to California. My marriage was over; I was making a new start. In Menlo Park I had relatives, and Jenny would be with many of her cousins so we wouldn't be all alone.  By some sort of luck, we ended up on Perry lane, in one of the small rustic cottages left over from World War 1. Although it was tiny, with one bedroom, a large living space, where I slept on a double-bed-come-couch, a minute kitchen and a rather ramshackle bathroom, the rent was only $50. Plus it was set in amongst several oak trees with flower beds full of geraniums‘, a lemon tree in a large pot and laurel bushes around the house, After two years in New York City, in a cramped, dark apartment, this place was heaven.

Jenny was now ten and still in love with horses. I’d managed to arrange a few riding lessons while we were in New York and now, here we were, walking distance from Stanford' famous Red Barn, a magnificent Victorian stable built by Leland Stanford when the whole area really was a farm and he bred trotting horses.  Stanford Stables had riding classes for children and Jenny had lessons whenever I could afford it.  She was becoming a proficient rider, with a natural 'seat’ and good hands.  She wanted to learn jumping. 

Then Jenny's loving grandmother, Mary Scott, aka, Granny, stepped into the breach and with her characteristic generosity decided it was time for Jenny to have her own horse. Willy nilly, I was to be flung into the unlikely role of "horse mother" (which is related to "soccer mom”, with bells on). I had a lot of trepidation about the responsibility of such a large animal especially since I knew nothing whatever about how to care for one, but I figured it was a case of learn as you go. I also had no idea how joining the extensive subculture of the horsey set would affect my life, since my lifestyle was about diametrically opposite to it.  We searched the classifieds, the local stables and ranches and eventually found Flax, a ten-year-old Palomino mare with a good disposition and steady gaits.  It was love at first sight for Jenny and her riding career was launched.

The obvious place to keep Flax, of course, was at the Red Barn. So I blithely trekked over there after work one day and inquired about keeping a horse in one of the 'inside’ stalls'. I was dismayed and dumbfounded to learn the monthly fee was more than our little house on Perry lane.  We had to lower our sights. As a cheaper alternative, the Barn proprietor told me, Flax could stay in their corral, a fenced in field, with a few oak trees and a small shed in the middle for occasional shelter from the winter rain. The rent was half that of an inside stall, and I could afford it, so along with several other horses of varying ages and dispositions, Flax moved into her new home. All seemed to be well.

Every day, when she came home from school, Jenny walked about three quarters of a mile across the golf course to the stables. She would walk down the slope of field behind our house, cross the road, which at the time, was a two lane country road with little traffic, over the bridge crossing the creek and onto the fairway.  No fences, no problem. This was long before Sharon Heights was developed, the Stanford shopping Mall had just opened (and was much smaller), and Sandhill Rd. didn't exist, just this two lane windy road meandering through fields and across hills and dales, to Skyline. She walked with her dog, a mix of golden Retriever and Husky, named Buddha.  I never worried about her walking alone those afternoons.  Life was much different then.

At first, all went well with Flax. But one day Jenny came home all upset.  It seemed the other horses ganged up on the poor old thing and kept her from eating the hay fed to them all once a day. I had no idea what to do about this problem.  The Barn people advised us that sooner or later the other horses would accept Flax and all would be well.  But it wasn't happening and Flax was not thriving.  She was becoming stressed and fearful.  And so was Jenny.

Finally, one day I had a brainstorm. We would bring Flax home and keep her in the garage. Brilliant, I thought. Our cottage had a small front yard with a driveway, and a Monterey Pine near the street. Beneath the pine was a wooden shed, which was supposed to be a garage, though we had never used it as such. What a perfect little barn.  It even had a dutch door in front.  The very same day, we resigned from Stanford and, as Jenny rode Flax to her new home, our friends the Keseys, Vic, Jim, the whole Perry Lane gang, turned out for the installation and it was with something of an air of triumph that Jenny came trotting along the Lane and dismounted in front of the house.  We had managed to get a bale of straw, plus some hay and oats for a treat and Flax seemed to settle into her new digs with a sigh of relief.

The fact that all this was completely illegal and counter to zoning laws never entered my calculation.  I don't think I had any calculation.  I was just solving a problem.  In those days, everything was looser; no one was especially uptight about rules and regulations, particularly where we lived in such a semi-rural area.  Some of the neighbors had chickens.  It wasn't such a big jump from chickens to horses, after all, was it? We seemed to be home free.

All except for one thing, do you have any idea how much manure one horse can generate?  It’s amazing - it's inevitable - it's daunting, and it never stops.  It was not long before we began to feel overwhelmed.  How to get n'd of it?  After composting some, after putting it in everyone’s flowerbeds, around bushes and trees, then what?  The pile just grows and grows.  Jenny tried piling it into her little red wagon and taking it down to the empty field in back and spreading it around. This worked for a while.  Next she tried trekking it across the golf course, back to the stable (at Stanford where she still had lessons and rode around with her friends), but it was really too far for a ten year old girl to keep hauling it, even a strong and willing one, and the little red wagon could hold only a relatively small amount. We were going to have to find a better solution.

The next idea that occurred to me was to drop it down the manhole in the street.  We tried this a few times, lifting the heavy lid off and dumping the manure down to the sewer.  But even I had to recongnize this was not really a viable solution.  We continued to struggle.

Meanwhile, Flax had achieved minor celebrity status.  People who came over unknowing couldn't believe their eyes when Flax stuck her head out the double doors.  Other kids came for rides.  Jenny became a familiar sight all saddled up and riding around the neighborhood. But I knew this couldn't go on.  One Saturday morning, Jenny tied Flax to a tree in the field and while she was fetching a bucket of water, Flax somehow pulled free.  Jenny came yelling into the house,

"Mom, Mom, Flax is loose on the road!"

I came flying, gathering neighbors as I went.  Flax was ambling down the sparsely traveled road, but causing consternation among the few drivers who did come along.  She was stopping now and then for a pull of grass on the verge.  When she saw us coming, she walked a little faster; she had no intention of being captured.  Jenny had had the forethought to bring some oats in a bucket with which to lure her and she was moving towards Flax, clucking and holding up the bucket.  I was scrambling to get ahead of her and try to head her back to the house and the other neighbors were forming a cordon off to one side to keep her from dashing across the golf course.  We were all laughing and calling back and forth.  Jenny finally got close enough to grab the rope Flax was trailing and stop her flight for freedom, leading her back to the Lane.

I realized this was the last straw and we'd have to find another way to house Flax.  But what? Oh, why did money have to be such a constant bother?  We really couldn't afford to be horse owners - we were definitely trying to live above our station.  But help was on the way, our darling Granny, my ex-mother-in-law, who had presented Jenny with the horse in the first place, came to the rescue and offered to pay the difference between a space in the corral and a spot in an outside stall, a small, one-horse corral with a covered shed near the big Barn, a place where Flax would be secure.

I was ecstatic. Luckily, they had a vacancy and we moved Flax right in.  Our garage was once again, just a garage and Flax was happy and Jenny got down to the business of teaching her to jump.  And another chapter of her riding career and my life as a "horse mother" was inaugurated.


by Chloe Scott

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