The foal in the paddock was introduced to me as Dancer and from the moment I saw him I wanted him to be mine. The idea titillated me. I tingled with the prospect, but didn’t really believe it could come true. A voice within said, “Why not?” But reason prevailed. It was a mad idea. I was a beginner horseman, completely inexperienced with young horses. My middle-aged mare Floss is my first horse; I am relatively new to this horse ownership deal and relatively inexperienced with horses in general. But as far as horsemanship goes, I do have a few things in my favour. I’m willing to listen, I want to learn, I’m not afraid of asking for help and paying to get it when I need it, I want to be a good horseman, I want to be kind and gentle, to meet horses as horses. To know them, learn from them, be with them. I read avidly. Learn all I can. The idea of learning with a young horse grabbed something in me. A new horse dream.
I watched Helen with Cruiser, Dancer’s older brother, as she came to know him over the first months that she had him. She faced challenges and I watched her overcome them. Perhaps sometimes I even helped her. Cruiser was young but he was true to his name, a real laid back cruiser. I learnt so much watching him, watching Helen with him, and getting to know him myself. His brother Dancer stayed in my mind.
But the timing wasn’t right and I didn’t really have the support to do it, nor the spare cash to make the purchase. I emailed his breeder Sietske and said I wouldn’t buy him. But it sat heavy in my heart. I looked at the pictures of him on my computer. I watched Cruiser and longed for his brother, wondered if I could manage it after all. Thought about the money and if I could really afford it. I landed a new work contract that would more than pay for him. Then another. I realised that money comes and goes; not being able to afford something is a poor excuse. Sure, there are decisions to make around money, but I was only talking about a few thousand dollars. Helen said that if I did want to buy him she would give me free agistment for him until the end of the year. She didn’t want me to not buy him because I felt I couldn’t afford the agistment. I emailed Sietske to see if he was still there. He was. I said yes. Then later changed my mind, then changed it back again. I tormented myself over the decision. Then eventually settled on the yes and set a date a couple of months later to go and pick him up.
For all that time I had thought of him as Dancer, but the name didn’t come out of my mouth properly. On paper, I quite like it. Something about it suits him, and I respect it as the name Sietske gave him when she found him dancing around the paddock near his mother one late summer morning – Equibalance Midnight Dancer. It has reference to his father, who died before Dancer was born – Midnight Tango. In Sieske’s Dutch accent, Dancer sounds soft and lovely; my Australian accent gives it a hard, short ‘a’ vowel. It comes off my tongue roughly. I can’t imagine yelling it across the paddock, calling him from afar. It would sound like a screech. I think to lengthen the ‘a’, to make it ‘ah’ – D-ah-ncer. But that just sounds like I’m trying to be posh, trying to adopt a BBC voice. It doesn’t suit me. It sounds false. Others can say it like that and it sounds fine, but not me. I conclude I’ll have to find something else to call him.
George is my first idea and I contemplate it before I go to pick him up. George was my father’s name and I consider it to be a good, strong, honest name. There is also a certain irony in naming a horse after Dad, who never understood my passion for horses. When I see Dancer again, I immediately decide he isn’t a George. Alf is the next name that comes to me, but when people say it, it sounds like Elf and I don’t like that. I’m also reminded that there was a cartoon about an extra-terrestrial muppet called Alf. At first I can’t remember the show, but then I do and the connection isn’t one I want with my beautiful baby horse. I wonder about Jarrah – the bay colour of his coat is reminiscent of the wood when polished, and although his foal’s coat is shaggy and rough, I know in time it will be silky and shiny smooth. I like the name Jarrah, but it doesn’t feel right for him. Sticking with the Western Australian trees theme, I wonder about Gimlet or Yarri. I like both; both are good horse names but somehow not right. I feel the weight of responsibility of changing his name. I don’t really want to change it, but I still can’t see myself calling him Dancer. It just doesn’t come off my tongue cleanly. I feel silly saying it. I try Dan and Danny, but my friend Judy has a horse called Dan and I can’t imagine us going riding in years to come on the Dans. The Double Dans! (There is a duo of horsetrainers that go by the name of Double Dans, so this makes it seem even more unoriginal and inappropriate.) I am back with Dancer and all but give up on changing it. I fall into the unfortunate habit of shortening it to Dancy, which sounds lame but is somehow easier for me to say than Dancer. I call him Buddy and Baby as well, and even as I do so, hope none of these names will stick. I need to find something else. I leave it sitting in the back of my mind, thinking that something will appear, something will come to mind as I get to know him.
I am of course still in the very early stages of getting to know him. I see him in the paddock when I visit and am surprised, constantly surprised, by the knowledge that he is mine. I want to have him closer to me and long for the next few months to pass so I can have him in my paddock. It is close now, but that is another story entirely, and even as I long for the months to pass there is trepidation with the pending move. I leave him as Dancer and trust that a name will come to me when I am in closer contact with him, daily contact. I will just start calling him something and that will become his nickname – his official name will always be Equibalance Midnight Dancer and I wouldn’t dream of changing that. I acknowledge that Dancer is his real name, but it’s not my special name for him.
I visit him and give him a rub in the paddock. He stands and accepts my affection. I pick up his feet and he gives them to me. He accepts my scratches, follows me around the paddock. I’m looking forward to spending years with him, to adventuring with him. Floss pins her ears back at him and I tell her she has to get used to him, that she has many, many years of paddock sharing with him ahead of her. I say goodbye to them and drive home, Dancer still in my thoughts.
Later that night, I am sitting alone in the loungeroom, reading a book – She Flies Without Wings by Mary D. Midkiff. It speaks to me. My horses and horse experiences play in my mind as I read. I pause and find myself thinking of Dancer, thinking of the word and of the horse that he is, playing with it in my mind, playing with the sound of it. I glance up at my bookshelf, walk across and pick up an old dictionary of names and flick through to the D section. And there I find it. Dante. A Latin name that means enduring. Perfect. Appropriate. It is close enough to Dancer that it feels respectful of his proper name, but it is strong and unusual as well. Dante. I say it with the long ‘a’ vowel – ‘Dahntay’. It comes off my tongue with ease. I have a name that I can call my little horse.
It brings a strange new feeling to me, having something I can call him. Somehow he becomes mine. Until that point, until I had a name for him, until I had my name for him, I didn’t really have him. Suddenly I do. Suddenly he is mine. In naming him he becomes mine. I take ownership of him, guardianship of him. I am struck by this. Struck by the fact that naming things is so important to people and I never understood it before. I have named two children and numerous pets, but never has it struck me before how much meaning there is in naming something. Dancer is the horse I bought; Dante is my horse. I can’t wait to tell him.