Fudge

Because Edith isn’t old enough to do it herself yet, it is currently my job to name all of her stuffed animals. She has a fat pony, and I have named it Fudge after a horse I once knew.

When I was between the fourth and fifth grades and we lived in Knoxville where my mother was in law school, my mother got a summer internship at a law firm in Nashville and I went with her. While there, I took horseback riding lessons at a stable adjacent to the day camp I attended. This stable was pretty down at the heels: it had a muddy riding ring and a plywood stable with about five tired old school ponies. I got head lice from borrowing a riding helmet (despite the ingenious coffee filters they provided as a barrier). The horse I was usually assigned to ride was named Fudge.

Fudge was a fat, tired old plug, low to the ground, a deep chocolate brown with white spots on his rump, always covered in dust. School ponies are notorious for their recalcitrance, but even by that standard, Fudge was extreme. He had to be dragged from his stall and actively kicked around the ring, and every time he passed the stable, he attempted to break for it, which was the only energy he would demonstrate during the hour. Jumping was a lost cause — he would sometimes consent to step leisurely over a low crossrail if repeatedly flogged, but if you managed to make him, he would often stop still astraddle it and stand there, giving his rider the horse equivalent of a middle finger.

I was regularly assigned to Fudge because I was tenacious and could get him to more or less participate in the riding process. This was one of my early lessons in being punished for being good at something: because I could manage to get Fudge to stay in the ring and lump himself along for an hour, however unwillingly, I got stuck with Fudge every single time. The riding teachers were actually pretty entertained by my abilities with Fudge. I could get him up to a canter and make him take jumps, and I would sometimes overhear them laughing to each other: “Did you see that girl got Fudge over a three bar vertical jump? God bless her.”

When the summer ended, we returned to Knoxville, and my riding lessons ended for the time being, but a year later, my mom graduated law school and was offered a position at the firm she’d interned at and we moved to Nashville for good. Some time after that, I wanted to take riding lessons again. We had come up in the world a bit (although as a kid, I was unaware of this), and so my new riding stable was very fancy. It had multiple outdoor riding rings, including a dressage ring, gleaming white fences, vertical jumps with flowerbeds built into them, an indoor ring bookended by two huge shiny stables with constantly rotating ceiling fans, monogrammed tack trunks, and brass name plates outside the stalls, a club house for relaxation, and three fat little corgis named Apple, Kiwi, and Cherry. There were certainly no lice-ridden helmets for borrowing; everyone had their own, and fancy riding habits besides.

Many of the kids who took lessons at this stable had their own horses, but a number did not, and there were school ponies for those who didn’t. The school ponies at this stable were of a better class — younger, thinner, better cared for. They did not, however, get to live in the stalls, but instead roamed free in some pasture land out beyond the various riding rings. Before my first lesson, the teacher got a few older students to show us new kids how to go collect our horses. She looked at each of us in turn, and named the horse we were to ride. When she looked at me, she barely thought before she said, “She can have Fudge.”

Common name for a horse, I thought.

When we got down to the field, all the horses came running over to the older students, who had brought some tempting carrots to better corral them, and they were easily caught and handed over to their riders. Except for mine.

“You’ll have to go get Fudge for her, he won’t come,” one of the older students said to the other, and that student rolled her eyes and began to march out toward the edge of the pasture where, I now saw, a dark brown lump faced determinedly away from us. I watched a small battle play out, as the brown lump darted away from the student each time she attempted to put a halter on it, but after some time, she prevailed, and dragged the lump toward us.

Still, I was in denial. It couldn’t be. And yet, undeniably, it was. Fudge in all his glory was hauled up to me and handed over, his eyes rolling, his teeth gritted. If he remembered me, he gave no sign of it, but over the coming months, we would get reacquainted, as we were clearly each other’s inescapable fates.

There’s some analogy in here about how no matter how many social classes you might ascend, you cannot escape your own personal Fudge, but I can’t be bothered to connect those dots, so you can do so for yourself.

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