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I wish my father had never loved horses. I wish he had never taught me how to love horses. When I look at a horse, instead of thinking of its beauty or the urge I have to ride it bareback, I just think of him. As its mane flows through the hot Arizona breeze, all I see is my father mounted upon its back. I used to look for horses, pointing them out to my dad so he could tell which breed it was. But then Sheree came.  

* * * 

I looked up at my daddy while he held my hand. He towered above me but somehow his hat still kept the blinding lights out of my eyes. He was fixated on the horses in the middle of the corral. I looked out and saw magnificent horses racing around barrels. I squeezed the gray, plush horse that dangled from my free arm. Daddy had given it to me before the rodeo started. 

* * * 

His hands clutched my tiny, frail waste and hoisted me onto the saddle. I didn’t fill out the seat and my feet dangled because I couldn’t reach the stirrups. By the time my feet were secure, my heart was pounding, and tears welled in my eyes. 

“You have to learn how,” My daddy said, “Hold on tight.”

I listened to him and clutched the reigns hard. He gently urged the horse to move. I made sure not to lean back or pull on the reigns. Daddy always told me that that would be a good way to get bucked off. The horse picked up his pace to a trod. It was like he knew that there was a small child on his back as he carefully roamed through the pasture. I relaxed my grip and sat up straight. I smiled a little. I wonder now if he was proud of me that day. 

* * * 

My daddy walked in and found me playing with my cylinder full of horses and farm animals that mom had bought from Cal Ranch. My favorite plastic horse was white with brown splotches. I liked the cow and the pigs, but I lost the chicken already. 

“Emily,” he said, “I have something to show you.”

I followed him down the flight of stairs leading from my bedroom to the living room. There on the couch sat the most beautiful pink cowgirl hat. I dashed to the couch and squealed. I picked it up and put it on. It fit strangely over the braids that my mom had done in my hair earlier that day. 

“My little cowgirl.” My daddy smiled, 

* * * 

I rode on a tall tan horse with black creeping up his legs like a shadow. It was so peaceful out here in this field of tall yellow weeds. My hair drifted through the wind as a laid on the neck of my horse. It felt like I was alone. That was until I heard Sheree’s laugh. She rode up next me and began to tell me how to ride a horse. I tried to be respectful of her will to teach me, but I already knew how. She rode off to where my daddy was. My mom rode up to me and we gently trod through the field. It felt different. She smiled at me, but her eyes were sad. 

* * * 

The first time I met Sheree, she was a guest in our home. An unwanted one I would say. She had long black hair that touched the small of her back. She was taller than my mom and my father seemed to like that because he looked into her eyes more than my mom’s. Her face wrinkled in places that my mom’s didn’t. I didn’t think she was very pretty, but she loved horses. 

Sheree being in our home was becoming an expected thing. Whenever she would come over for what my daddy called “play dates,” my mom would load me into the car and we would drive into town. We always went shopping or out to get ice cream at my favorite shop. The waffle cones there were as big as my head. 

* * * 

Daddy brought home a new horse. We named her monsoon after the Arizona monsoon season. She was calm and beautiful until a storm of attitude came thundering in, so the name was fitting. I was so happy that day, but no one else wore a smile like mine except for Sheree. My brother and two sisters walked away, and my mom grabbed my hand. She looked down at me, “Want to go play?” she asked. 

I looked at my daddy taking care of the horse with Sheree, paying no attention to me. “Yeah. Can I do your hair?” 

“Of course!” she said giggling. 

I didn’t look back as we walked away. 

* * * 

I looked around confused. I didn’t understand. All of our things were being loaded into trailers. I thought we liked Idaho? I ran through all the chaos and found my mom. I tugged on her, “Wait!” I shouted. Pointing over at the corral “We didn’t get the horses! We have to get the horses momma!” 

She cradled my face gently and bent down so that we met eye to eye. 

“The horses are going to stay here with your daddy.” 

My arm fell to my side. “What do you mean? Daddy isn’t coming with us?” 

She didn’t say anything, but instead she embraced my small body tightly. I usually liked mom’s hugs but this one felt different. My eyes searched frantically, and I tried to break loose from my mom. She held me close. “Daddy!” I screamed once I found him. He stood on the porch next to Sheree. I didn’t get it. If we were leaving, why was he staying with Sheree? I looked at her and she looked back at me, her face didn’t change, and her heart showed no pity. 

“Daddy!” I sobbed again. I screamed and cried with my arms stretched as far as they could go. Tears raced down my face. “Daddy! No Daddy! Please!” I kicked and sobbed but I could not break loose from her hug. I gasped for air and continued to sob. 

“You’re not going to do something about this?” He hissed at my mom. He opened his arms as if to gesture at my display of emotions. 

“You chose this. You have to live with repercussions.” Her voice was soft.  

She scooped me up into her arms and walked me to the truck. I looked over her shoulder, still crying, and watched my father carelessly let us leave. My mom opened the truck door and buckled me into my seat. She shut my door after handing me our puppy. She smiled through the window. After checking on my other siblings, she climbed into the seat in front of me. She looked over at my uncle and nodded. She was sad, I could see it in her eyes. My uncle put his foot on the gas and we drove away, and never turned around. 

* * * 

Daddy loved horses. We always had two or three at a time. I would watch him wash them with the hose and a sponge as large as my face. The sun made the dark brown horse look as if honey was running over their coat. Every now and then he would change their horse shoes and hammer in brand new shiny ones. I always found it funny that horses wore shoes.