One of the pleasures of having one's work included in an essay anthology is the connection to the other contributors. If you're lucky, you find an entire new group of like-minded writers, expanding your writing community. This has happened, happily, for me several times, and that is precisely how Vanessa Wright and I found one another – as contributors to Why We Ride: Women Writers on the Horses in Their Lives, published by Seal Press last May. Vanessa's artistry is expressed in many ways – as a photographer, writer and teacher, whose work "celebrates the human-equine bond."
Please welcome Vanessa Wright.
Particularly in October, any leaf in New Hampshire will tell you: inspiration can be a dangerous thing. For as long as you can remember, you have been clinging to the same tree: dancing in the wind, glowing in the sunlight, and growing into the lines and arcs of your unique and perfect shape. Life is warm and good. The days always grow longer, and the world grows full.
Then comes the tingling, the cool breeze that riffles the newest, tenderest, and greenest edges of everything that you are. Like laughter between lovers, it is the secret that can never be told, the call not to your heart but to your clear, swift-running blood that cries, “Become!” Become what? “Shh. Let go.” How? Why? And what will happen? No answer comes, except a harvest all crimson and gold, a shortening of days, and a brisk, northerly certainty that change is in the wind.
I was a writer once. I researched and wrote thousands of words each week: fiction, nonfiction, instructional text, history, literature, nature, myth. I was fearless and, thus, full of stories. Fairy tales and lesson plans dropped into my hands, ripe and plump as strawberries; the grand dance of nations, inventions, and ideas twirled itself out in chapters among the wildflowers as my horse and I lolled in his pasture.
I could have lived in that summer country forever. But those silver fingers brushed my drowsing eyelids; that golden bell shattered the dam holding back the clear river from my veins. A strange and terrible story coursed through me – a story unlike anything I’d written, a story of glowering skies and trees turned to flame. Summer turned to autumn in a moment, and that blissful pasture withered beneath my feet.
For a thousand reasons as complex and common as the lace on an aspen leaf, I could not write it. That story, it was not who I was – it was not the fairy tale I wanted it to be. My own heart failing me, I leaned upon the one heart that never had: my horse’s.
The stories came – and went to print – quickly. “Rope Trick,” an essay about my horse’s near-magical abilities to make food appear and disappear, was published in Dr. Marty Becker’s Ultimate Horse Lover. “Under the Wings of Pegasus” tells the true story of my horse's midlife calling to become a foal-sitter for rescued, orphaned and challenged young horses, and opens Allen and Linda Anderson’s Horses with a Mission: Extraordinary True Stories of Equine Service. Of course, “Great Grand-Mare,” the mane-raising tale of his sprint with my 92-year-old grandmother, appears in Verna Dreisbach’s Why We Ride.
Yet writing about my horse produced results I did not expect. My focus turned from the past to the present moment, from the world to here. I realized that legendary horses and their people – Pegasus and Bellerophon, Greyfell and Siegfried, even the Pie and Velvet Brown – had their equals in compassion, courage, and heroism in my own horse and in the lives of those he touched, and those who touched him.
I decided then to travel, across America and around the world, collecting the stories of today’s heroic horses and horse-people, novices and Olympians alike. I photographed them and paired the photos and bios with quotations from classic books. I offered the collection to libraries, and added educational materials I created drawing upon my experience as a teacher of history and literature and as a director and manager of a children’s theater program. Before I knew it, it had become The Literary Horse: When Legends Come to Life, an exhibit touring public and school libraries worldwide through 2012.
More than 150,000 children, teens, and adults have visited The Literary Horse exhibit since its debut in May 2008. It has appeared at libraries to celebrate national and international events ranging from Children’s Book Week to the World Equestrian Games, and it has trotted into the pages of national media outlets including EQUUS, The Blood-Horse, Horses in Art, and HorseChannel.com.
Though I have walked a winding path, not only am I still a writer, I am more of a writer than I was before. The kindness and generosity of the equestrians and horses of The Literary Horse were my harvest of crimson and gold. Learning of their journeys beneath glowering skies and through trees turned to flame, reminded me that all days are short, and that change is how we meet each moment – that it is a blaze and a leap to be embraced. Simply walking among them inspired me to become, and to let go. And that story I could not - would not - write began to write itself.
So, like any leaf in New Hampshire, I too will tell you that inspiration is a dangerous thing: follow it, and you may become more than you ever dreamed you could be.
To learn more about Vanessa Wright's The Literary Horse: When Legends Come to Life, which pairs photos of today’s novice through Olympic horses and riders with quotations from the world’s great books, visit the website. Vanessa also recently started the blog Great Books for Horse Lovers.