There was no house next to ours, just a vacant lot with a shed on it and two horses. The men who looked after the horses were Gordon and Dave. The horses never told us their names, so we gave them different ones each week, depending on the adventure.
We all got bikes for Christmas one year. They looked brand new, but I knew that my Dad had salvaged them from the tip, painted them up, scrounged for some tyres and polished the bells until the rust was just a memory. The bikes gave us new stories; we could ride around the yard like wildlings, and the names we gave our wheeled steeds matched that day's name for the real horses munching through the weeds a fence away.
It was an old post-and-rail fence. You couldn't see through it, but you could climb right to the top (we weren't allowed to stand on the top rail, but when has that stopped a child? You can't fall when you're that small.) We would carry handfuls of our grass -- better grass than that wild and weedy stuff next door -- and the horses would know what a treat they were getting. They crossed the paddock for three blades of pure green goodness. We could pat their rough-maned necks, feel the velvet of nose and lips against our fingertips, look into great brown eyes and know that the horses wanted to be with us, instead of waiting for Gordon and Dave to visit again.
From the top rail of the fence, it was hardly any distance at all to drop onto the back of a horse. There was a bond, and the taffy (who this day was called Thunder) would understand. I could slip onto his back and we'd sneak away, me and horse, no longer stuck with less than we deserved. I didn't that day. I didn't the next. I would, of course, one day.
The taffy returned to his weeds, and I went inside to sausage, potato and peas. I changed from hand-me-down jeans to hand-me-down nightie after a bath shared with my sister. Afterward, the family gathered around the kitchen table, now covered with a tartan blanket, and played Canasta until it was time for bed. My dreams were of second hand horses and shiny new bells, and I never ran away. The house was warm, and the back of a horse is no place for a child who has never learned to ride.