A Horse of My Own
From Quick Draw McGraw to Thunder the Appaloosa
Baby boomer reader Julia Nunnally Duncan of North Carolina shares her passion for horses and the bond between young girls and horses.
One of my first toys was a Quick Draw McGraw doll. He was a blue stuffed horse with white hooves and a soft vinyl face. He had big blue eyes and a friendly red smile. I called him “Quickie” and spoke for him, like a ventriloquist, and we talked to each other.
One day my family drove from my Western North Carolina hometown of Marion to Drexel, 30 miles away, to visit relatives. Quickie came along, riding in my lap. Later that day when we arrived back home, I realized I had left Quickie behind in Drexel. I was lonely without him and relieved when my aunt and uncle brought him home to me a week later. But I was also ashamed to face him.
At my 6th birthday party in 1962, I sat at the head of the dining room table with my older brother, Steve, while my guests stood around waiting for me to blow out my birthday candles. Quickie was there with me, a birthday hat on his head.
Bigger and more realistic
During my girlhood, I loved reading about horses. Some favorite books were Album of Horses, Black Beauty, and All Horses Go to Heaven. On sunny days, I would spread a blanket in our yard, pile my books around me, and read horse stories. These stories taught me about different breeds and told tales of courageous horses. I wrote my own horse stories, too. My first one, “The Story of a Jockey,” concerned a girl who finds a wild white stallion, tames him, and rides him in a horserace.
I liked to draw horses, following the steps in my Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw book. I kept a notebook of my drawings, and in a separate scrapbook I pasted horse-related pictures and articles I found in Asheville Citizen-Times and Parade. These clippings featured common horses and famous ones, like the racehorse Kelso.
I collected model horses that my mother bought for me at the Roses five-and-dime store. This collection included many breeds and colors: bays, buckskins, palominos, pintos, and dapple grays. Two were outfitted with fancy Western saddles and bridles. I spent hours admiring and playing with my model horses.
When my family traveled to the Cherokee Indian reservation for a weekend vacation, my father always stopped along the way at a roadside riding stable to allow me a trail ride. Riding one of the old horses through the woods, a teenage guide leading us on his horse, was the highlight of the trip for me.
The ultimate dream
But what I longed for was a horse of my own to love and take care of. I begged my father, “If you’ll get me a horse, I won’t ask for anything else the rest of my life.”
My dream came true when I was 10 and a fifth grader. My parents took me to a farm in Morganton, a neighboring town, to look at a Shetland pony we had heard about. I rode the black pony down a dirt road at the farm. But on the ride back, I noticed a pale horse in a pasture. He was a young Appaloosa-Quarter Horse cross named “Thunder,” and when I rode him, my mind was made up. My father paid the farmer 100 dollars, and our neighbor David hauled Thunder for us in the bed of his pickup truck. Our barn and fence weren’t finished yet, so David kept him in his pasture for a while. But soon I was able to bring him home.
In the next few years, I spent a lot of time with Thunder – feeding him, brushing him, and riding him.
We had many adventures together. One summer day as I rode him in my front yard, I noticed a copperhead stretched on the cement walk. I was afraid if Thunder saw the snake, he would spook and run wild with me, so I turned him quickly and cantered back to the corral. On a winter day, during a heavy snowfall, I rode him bareback in the field below our house. When I felt his hooves slipping, I grasped his wet mane. Yet I knew if I fell off, I would land in the soft snow. So we trotted joyously, snowflakes swirling around like the inside of a snow globe.
Those years with Thunder were dear ones, and I will never forget him. The bond between a girl and her horse is special – unlike any other. I’m grateful I had a horse of my own so I could experience such a friendship.
Julia Nunnally Duncan
is an award-winning author of ten books of prose and poetry, including A Place That Was Home (eLectio Publishing, 2016) and A Neighborhood Changes (Finishing Line Press, 2018). A retired community college English instructor, she now enjoys writing and spending time with her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Annie in Marion, North Carolina.
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