“Whaddya want?” Stephen, then boyfriend, asked anticipating my birthday.
“I wanna spend the afternoon horseback riding and picnicking under a tree.”
Two friends and I drove up to a rundown house on a small spread just outside of Los Angeles. To the left, a rusty pickup sat on browning grass; to the right, two bored horses stood in a corral. The pickup got my attention. Tied to the driver side mirror was a dark bay mare shimmering in the sun like chocolate brown quartz, her mane and tail black as onyx, her compact body that of an American Quarter. She was calm as I cupped her velvet chin in my hands and brought her nose up to mine. I marveled at the fragrance of her breath, grassy and warm. Then I saw the birthday card hanging from her halter.
Nothing is remembered about the card but the recognizable handwriting inside. “She’s yours.” I looked at the landowner, searching his weathered cowboy face. He nodded a yep-she’s–yours nod. I looked at my friends who smiled a yep-she’s-yours smile.
“She’s mine?” I whispered not wanting to spook the possibility. “Really, I can ride her anytime, really?”
I was reined in by Vicki’s impatience.
I was reined in by Vicki’s impatience.
“Really! Let’s ride!”
We rode all day. Coco was quirky as it turned out. Letting her out on a straight path and oblivious to an oncoming sharp left, she spontaneously took it in full gallop. That I wasn't riding air that first day was a sign of real cowgirl status, in my opinion. Attempting to stroke her between her ears, she’d jerk her head back, the first time catching me in the teeth. A result of macho cowboy discipline, I imagined. She once galloped from one end of a wire fenced run to the other where I breathlessly stood hoping she would stop short. She ran right into the fence catching her leg through an opening. She panicked trying to extricate herself. Heart racing, I lamely assisted in guiding her weighty leg out. She suffered a gash necessitating vet visits and all-consuming TLC.
An actress, I often avoided or arrived at auditions smelling horsey. It must’ve been my contagious elation for work came. When there was none, I was applying medication, changing wraps and massaging Coco’s leg. I was currying, brushing, combing, toweling, picking the debris out of her hoofs and walking her as she healed. I was cleaning tack and inhaling leather and leather oil.
I was on a continual sensory high. My agents loved me, Stephen spoiled me, my cat adored me and Coco was finally ready to ride.
It was bright and cool – perfect weather. Led from her stall, I backed Coco into the grooming and saddling area where two posts were provided to cross tie her. She was groomed till she looked show worthy. With a beard and hair growing out of her ears? Hardly! I got my clipper. Beard gone. Improvement. I grabbed a stool. Ears were next. I aimed the clipper. Cross ties allowing, she jerked her head back. I massaged the clipper up her neck which she liked and again aimed for her ear. She jerked her head back again, moving her body away from my hand used for balance. I fell off the stool and under her. Was it a kick? Was it the fall? I don’t know, but the result was catastrophic.
Escaping from under a horse’s hooves is like trying to escape from under a weed whacker. When I finally crawled half way out, I saw three men approach. They pulled me free. I told them my leg might be hurt. Two created a cross armed seat and the third placed me in it. Secure, I looked down as my right knee gave way with an audible snap making the same left angle that Coco made that first day I rode her.
“Put me down!”
They carefully lowered me.
I put my good left leg under my mangled right leg for support. The memory of pain is indelible even now as is the emergency room of Burbank’s Saint Joseph Medical Center.
It took three surgeries, endless physical therapy, a knee that is cosmetically unacceptable and a reversal in the trajectory of a promising career.
I never rode Coco again. I never blamed Coco ever. The fault was mine, the Brooklyn girl with dreams of being a cowgirl.