The Jennifers

Columnist Suzanne (Suzi) Drnec reflects after many fall drives past fields of fillies. Young horses and young girls have more in common than you might think.
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Columnist Suzanne (Suzi) Drnec reflects after many fall drives past fields of fillies. Young horses and young girls have more in common than you might think.

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I still watch them each morning on my drive to work- impossibly long-legged, beautiful though coltish, hair shimmering over tawny muscles-walking and clowning in small groups as they make their way towards tomorrow. I call them the Jennifers, these yearling Thoroughbred fillies in a five acre paddock. I watch a new crop of them each year. Whether chestnut, bay, or blackish, they seem a natural mirror of the other group of young girls I pass each morning, walking to junior high school.

It's been about six years now that I've observed the equine Jennifers, simply enjoying their sinewy beauty, the way the early sun makes their hair shine in a way no grooming, no potion, will ever duplicate. They swirl and twist in little gangs as they move around their realm, striding out as if they were stepping onto the track, owning the land under their feet and all the world. But at the slightest sound, unheard through the windows of my truck, they take fright and flight, running wide-eyed towards their feeding area and perceived safety. Dust billows in their wake, their nostrils flare and flutter, a sheen of sweat settles on their coats, then they recover, slow, and look at each other as if to say "Why did you run? I wasn't scared."

It took a construction detour to show me I could also drive by a middle school on the way to work, a school where a young friend of mine, Jennifer, was a student. Though I never picked her out of the crowd of young people outside the classrooms as I passed by, I know she was there among a group of her girlfriends, leggy as the fillies, long hair shining beneath demure barrettes, visiting with the others until a certain boy might pass by to send them running and laughing towards...perceived safety. After the little herd of giggling girls would break and rush away, they'd reform and one surely must have said "Why did you run? There's nothing to be afraid of."

Now, though, I realize it's been years since that first Jennifer, the daughter of a friend, looked so like the fillies. I lost touch with the little girl who is probably in college now, I hope, and remains, please God, so beautiful and full of promise. Does her hair still shine with magic that she thought came out of a bottle, but really came from her good genes and youth? Is she in love? Does she still have friends to stand with, friends to run with, and nothing to be scared of? Is she happy and safe and cared for?

And that first class of fillies are long grown up, most gone on to the racetrack. How did they fare? How many of them were fast, and how many broke down and bled from those fluttering nostrils, and how many won races for jubilant owners that couldn't find their Jennifer in a five acre field? Are some of them now standing, heavy with foal, awaiting the next crop of Jennifers? Do they still sometimes start from a noise, rush a few strides around the pasture, and remember when they were young? Are they happy and safe and cared for?

Though I worry for all the Jennifers that have come and gone, there is always something of the unconscious beauty of a filly- whether blessed with two legs or four- that makes me think of spring, of riding bareback through the orange groves, of floating alongside my pony in the deep green water of the sand pit, of the feel of a chilled Pepsi bottle held to my cheek at the corner store. The Jennifers transport me back to who I was long ago.

Will there always be another crop, another class of these lovely ones to remind me of being young myself, of living each day as it came along with no calendars, no crises, no real reason to run except that it felt good? I do miss Jennifer, but I still drive by the fillies each morning to watch and hope they'll sprint as I pass, these perpetual girls of summer.

? 2001 Suzanne Drnec

Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, www.hobbyhorseinc.com, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian. Comments? E-mail them to suzi@hobbyhorseinc.com.