The Horse

Running beauty


I’m joining with Amber’s Concrete Words series, where she writes about writing and uses concrete words to show the abstract. She is such an excellent writer, this is a masterclass. Writers, do join with us!



In the middle of the doctors’ waiting room, amongst the tired magazines and pale patients was an enormous rocking horse.


Approximately three times the height of the average child, its face was painted a gentle brown, eyes wide and white, teeth breaking into a conspiratorial smile. My Mum would lift me onto it, and I could feel the fuzzy brown tartan of the saddle prickling through my tights. At the front, there was a wooden U-shaped handle to hold onto, or you could lean forward and stroke the smooth mane. Leaning back, there was a large nubbin to prevent you from slipping, and behind that, its tail was a solid, triumphant block of upturned black.


This horse made it worth getting ill.

I would lean forward just a bit, then back, and I would start to feel the momentum increase as the weight of the rocking horse pulled it forwards and backwards. After the initial resistance and effort, it was all smooth, the sense of being on something that knew your wishes and carried you there. There was a harmony, an expectation, a comfort in the backwards and forwards, a security in each repetitive motion. On the horse, I would construct a story around the motion: I was Carlotta, a fiery Spanish circus girl, escaping, my equine friend knowing by instinct what I needed, and loving me for it.


Then when I was eight, I rode a real horse for the first time.

I looked at my horse, almost as dark as Black Beauty and I could feel my excitement growing as I stroked it. I felt simultaneously both disappointed and relieved that I would not be riding bare-back – Carlotta surely would have gripped the flank of the pony with her legs, feeling the harmony of human and beast in motion together.

We set off, at first walking, then at a brief trot. My euphoria lasted all of thirty seconds, and was replaced by sheer terror.

I was jolted up and down, thrown into the air and landing with a bump, only to be thrown again before I’d had a chance to recover from the last bump. Every vertebra, every tooth was rattled to the core. My feet slipped in and out of the stirrups at random, and it seemed only by chance that I kept landing back on the saddle rather than being flung into oblivion. Nobody had told me that the reality of being on a horse was like riding an out-of-control bicycle down a never-ending flight of stone stairs. There seemed to be no way of stopping the madness.

Rapidly abandoning the fantasy of being a circus girl, I stopped treating the horse as a friend, and instead as a machine, pulling straps with my hands and kicking my legs, wondering how this thing ‘worked’, how to get it to stop the jolting and slow down. Nothing was effective, and so I began to see the horse as not as machine but as a particularly vengeful enemy.

After the thirty minute ride, I was released, shocked and indignant.
“I did not like that!” I protested. “It was not very comfortable!”
The guide shrugged. “What did you expect?” he asked.


The mane did not feel smooth and sleek but matted and dry. My hair was sweaty and itchy from the helmet. There were flies everywhere. Flies on the back of the horse, flies in the air, in my teeth and eyes. I had scratches on my arms, and I ached, ached all over.

And what did I expect?

A horse is neither a cradle nor a machine to press and prod and deliver for me but a wild animal. It does its own bidding, and there is so much that you cannot control, and nor should you.

And this is what growing up means: that abrupt jolt to our theology, that disappointment of not having achieved our dreams, that feeling of being thrown into the air and not knowing if we’re going to land again. Maturity comes through those uncomfortable rides that herald the discovery that life is bumpy, love is wild, and God is bigger than we thought.

Over to you:

  • Have you had a moment in life when you were looking forward to something but disappointed by the reality?
  • In what ways are we tempted to make God into a ‘rocking horse’?


See my former Concrete Words posts:
Halfway up the stairs
One Book

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27 Responses to The Horse

  1. Danelle 30th October, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    “Life is bumpy, love is wild and God is bigger than we thought.”
    I love the way you pulled the pieces of this story together so masterfully. 🙂

    • Tanya 2nd November, 2012 at 11:06 am #

      Thank you so much, Danelle! I’m so glad you connected with it.

  2. Emily @ The Rambling Junkie 29th October, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    I’ve found this to be a big truth as I’ve grown older…to let go of expectations and control every chance I get. It’s the surest way to stay sane! Why is it so easy to find myself living in my own expectation and why is it so hard to let go of control? faith, faith, faith…everyday I have to remind myself 🙂

    • Tanya 2nd November, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Yup – I’m a big old control freak too… It’s so hard to trust. Everyday I have to remind myself too (but sometimes i don’t!) Thanks so much for stopping by.

  3. Ashley @ Draw Near 29th October, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    Tanya, I so enjoyed this. Carlotta and her circus companion, the abrupt jolt of reality and then, as you said, the call to reconcile what we’ve expected with what we believe — really believe. What a great piece, Tanya. Thank you for the gift! (By the way, I am so happy to have found you through our connection at Amber’s place.)

    • Tanya 2nd November, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      Thank you Ashley – I also love your writing, so I’m appreciating the mutual appreciation! 🙂

  4. Janice 29th October, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Another perfect analogy. I remember my first horse ride at camp. The horse was so much bigger than me. And so oblivious to the 8 year old girl who wanted it to pay attention to her. I enjoyed riding it much more than you did, but two minutes with the animal shattered my idea of it being a sweet pet. I clearly remember the sense of being in the presence of something so much more powerful than myself. Those feelings intertwine with your description as I read this. So yes, I’ve had moments when I’m disappointed by something I’ve anticipated, and moments also when I’m overwhelmed by the power of something I thought I could control.

    • Tanya 2nd November, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      Janice – I LOVE that you always get exactly where I’m coming from, and put it into such eloquent phrasing. Thank you for being a kindred spirit!

  5. Allison 29th October, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Tanya. This is such a brilliant piece. I find it hauntingly beautiful, bleeding mystery. My favorite line, “Nobody had told me that the reality of being on a horse was like riding an out-of-control bicycle down a never-ending flight of stone stairs.” You have quite a gift!

    • Tanya 2nd November, 2012 at 11:01 am #

      Oh thank you! lovely lady – thank you for your encouraging words about my writing – I really value them.

      • Tanya 2nd November, 2012 at 11:05 am #

        p.s. – that was my favourite line too!

  6. Kim 29th October, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Such a good comparison. I have had similar ride experiences on horses and in the process of maturing. You’ve got me thinking. Love this.

    • Tanya 2nd November, 2012 at 11:01 am #

      Thank you Kim – I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s had trouble on a horse!

  7. tallandrew 29th October, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Did you ever have a second ride on a horse?

    • Tanya 29th October, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

      Yup. It was no more pleasurable the second time.

  8. Mark Allman 29th October, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    “What did you expect?” Maybe a question we should explore when we realize life did not turn out the way we wanted it too. We should ask where did our expectation come from; from what did it sprout up? Expectations can be such a source of frustration and disappointment. We have to learn how to deal with life giving us not what we expected but giving us some damn hard stuff to handle as well. We never thought that. Our expectations from life should be anchored more in how we can deal with the unexpected, both the joys and the heartaches for there are surprises both ways. We should temper our expectations to live our life honorably and then to take what life gives and make the most of it. A big part of our happiness is learning to deal with life positively when it knocks us on our butts.
    Often when life hits me in the mouth I want to rail about how unfair it is and how it should be different and I am all tore up until I get to the point of saying…. Ok it is what it is… so now what am I going to do about it.

    • Tanya 29th October, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

      Wise words, as ever, Mark. Thanks so much for highlighting the pitfalls of expectation and disappointment that stop us from being able to look at what life is and what has happened and deal with the present rather than the potential.

      • Mark Allman 29th October, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

        I still have a tough time of dealing with unmet expectations at times.

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