I’d Like to Sit Near My Horse, Please

Friends and I recently dined at a spot located an hour away from my city in what used to be called “horse country.” The entire restaurant harks back to an era when horses ran this area, and the people who owned the horses ruled. This was a time when the social calendar was marked by hunts and cups and shows, and the individual leaders of these events–not corporate sponsors–were courted and revered.

I am sure a few horses still graze in these parts, but they are vastly outnumbered by the townhouses, apartment complexes, gated communities, and strip shopping centers that boast names like “Fox Hollow” and “Meadow Run.” This is the kind of area that prompts one to say, when they see the rare expanse of land encircled by wood fencing, a farm house plunked in the middle, “I guess it all looked like that at one time.”

The restaurant does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of these almost-bygone days. Fireplaces are everywhere, and many of the fireplaces are adorned by paintings that celebrate horse country.

As we sipped a glass a wine and waited for our table, I overheard an older gentleman ask one of the hosts, “Can I sit at the table next to the painting of my horse?” The host clearly was taken aback, but she did an admirable job of keeping her game face on.

“Which painting is that?” she asked.

“The one in the dining room back there,” the man gestured. “Have you got a table in there for me? I just love that painting, and it’s my horse, you see.”

The host looked at her reservation sheet and pondered her computer screen as the gentleman patiently waited.

“Sir, I don’t think I have any tables available in that room right now,” she told him. “Would you care to wait?”

“Oh, no table there? Well, can I take my guest with me to see the painting of my horse? You can seat us where you like.”

“Sure,” she replied, then turned to another host. “Sarah, why don’t you walk these guests around that room, and then seat them at an open table as close as possible to it.”

The three wandered off, the older gentleman standing tall and walking at a brisk pace.

A few minutes later, Sarah returned to the podium. “They wanted to sit at the bar,” she told the other host.

“What? Why? Did they really want to sit there? He wanted a table,” she asked, clearly surprised.

“Yeah, he was really happy. At the one end of the bar were two empty stools, right under the painting of his horse,” Sarah said.

“But I thought he said his horse was in the dining room?” The other host was now thoroughly confused.

“Oh, it is. We looked at that one, too. But he said four of his horses are in paintings all around the restaurant. The bar stools were open, so…”

“He has FOUR horses in paintings here?” the host laughed. “Crazy. Kinda awesome, though.”

“Yeah, crazy.”

Wow, four horses–all memorialized in oil on canvas, all right here. I would bet two silver cups, three pewter bowls, and a dozen blue ribbons that he chaired various horse events for decades in that county. I would bet a gold cup that 20 years ago, he had a table at the ready for him, every night of the week.

The young hosts at the podium clearly didn’t recognize him. They were cute teenagers who cruised the cul de sacs that now hid the grazing fields–a million miles away from horse country. But, in their way, they were very respectful toward him.

We were seated soon after, in the same dining room the man had pointed toward. The ambiance was warm and cozy. Lots of plaid fabric in greens and reds and, of course, a roaring fire. And so many oil paintings of so many horses.

Which one? I wondered. Which of these long-ago horses belonged to the gentleman now seated in the bar?

Indeed, where had all the other painted horses gone? And where did their owners now reign?






12 responses to “I’d Like to Sit Near My Horse, Please”

  1. Aaron DeLay Avatar

    Montana. The land where I was born and the only place where it is truly “Big Sky Country”. There is no greater place where cowboys still rule and horses gallop over thousands of acres, thunder at their feet and echoing over the hills.

    I love horses. There’s something about the relationship of a man and his horse that even a converted City Boy feels stirring in his spirit.

  2. Kim Ayres Avatar

    Never had anything to do with horses, although my father has painted them plenty of times

  3. jali Avatar

    Really sweet story. You’re a great writer!

  4. Christine Avatar

    That was beautifully written:)

  5. restaurant Gal Avatar

    Aaron–Gotta love Montana!

    Kim–Really? Your father is an artist?

    Jali and Christine–Thank you, thank you. This is a story that almost overwhelmed me as I watched and heard it unfold. I really wanted to properly tell it.

  6. Cristy Avatar

    I really like horses. I’ve always lived near them, but never had much interaction. I’ve finally finished all your archives, now I’ll have to read day by day like the rest of the world. 🙁 Ah well.

  7. Kim Ayres Avatar

    Since just before I was born – visit http://www.ayresfineart.com/

  8. Gamestore Girl Avatar

    Horses are such magnificent animals. I haven’t had much contact with them throughout my life – other than seeing them in parades – but I do have one picture I treasure. When I was around 8 or 9 a man was walking his horse around town and offering to take pictures of kids on it for a few dollars. My mom had my picture taken sitting up on the horse in my bright yellow sundress (gotta love the 80s). I loved that picture so much – I’m going to have to go and dig it out now.

  9. Mary Avatar

    I live in a previously horse-friendly area of Southern California, but the stables and so forth are rapidly disappearing. Your story of the horse paintings made me think the restaurant resembles a traditional “gentleman’s club”. Nice that the staff were considerate of his request.

  10. Mary Avatar

    This is a P.S. — if you’re in Canada (noting “customise” rather than “customize”) — do you know anything about eating places in Chemainus, BC?

  11. Ashlea Avatar

    That reminds me.. there was an area that used to be owned all by one family.. they had horses galore. The children didn’t want it, and so much of the land was sold. Medical facilities have sprung up like weeds lately, I don’t know how many kidney specialists we need in 1sq. mile. But for years, there was part of the farm left. And every spring…they’d have foals running around the fields…every spring. They were bought out by developers. The farm destroyed and there are no more foals. And yet…3 years later, no one has built on that land. I kinda find it… like justice. The developers losing out.
    At least, the main family house still stands, and their main stables and arena are home now to a therapeutic riding center where horses still graze on the hills and get ridden daily. I volunteered there for a bit. Now with my college scheldule, I can’t…but man I miss the smell of the horse barn on a crisp January morning. Nothing woke me up more than horse crap.

  12. restaurant Gal Avatar

    Cristy–Anyone who reads the entire archives deserves a huge thank you.

    Gamestore Girl–What a great story!

    Mary–Sorry, not familiar with that part of BC…as much as I love BC, and love to visit that part of the world.

    Ashlea–find time for working with the horses, and the people, again.