In ‘Why Some Girls Love Horses’ Rekdal explores themes of freedom, coming of age, and memory. Within the poem, the poet uses the speaker’s horse, Dandy, as a symbol of how one should live in order to be most alive. His disobedient attitude in her youth taught her everything she needed to know about what it meant to be alive.
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Summary of Why Some Girls Love Horses
The poem takes the reader from the present, where the speaker is a grown woman, to the past where she was a young girl. She spends the bulk of the poem describing what it was like to grow up with her horse, Dandy. The speaker loved him for nontraditional reasons. He was headstrong and did not want to be cared for or ministered to. He would step on her feet, pull suddenly at the halter, and cause her pain. These things made her love him even more and he became a symbol of freedom and disobedience.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Why Some Girls Love Horses
‘Why Some Girls Love Horses’ by Paisley Rekdal is a three-stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first contains twenty-eight, the second: ten, and the third: twelve. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They also vary in length metrically and visually on the page.
Despite the lack of a rhyme scheme, there are numerous examples of half-rhyme. Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “day” and “awakening” in line three of the first stanza.
Poetic Techniques in Why Some Girls Love Horses
Rekdal makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Why Some Girls Love Horses’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, caesura, enjambment, and imagery. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example “forward” and “flanks flecked” in lines ten and eleven of stanza one. Or, farther along in the poem, “blended,” “bleeding” and “bleeds” in lines seven, eight, and nine of the third stanza.
Caesura is another interesting technique. It occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might precede an important turn or transition in the text. The first line is a good example of how splitting a line can make a difference to one’s perception of it. The same can be said about line five of the second stanza. It reads: “with this cunning: this thing”. With this line in combination with line six of the same stanza, there is another important technique at play, enjambment.
Enjambment occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. This is seen in the tradition between those two lines, as well as between lines two and three of the first stanza.
Lastly, there is imagery. Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. There are several powerful examples in ‘Why Some Girls Love Horses’. For instance, the description of the horse’s flanks in the first part of the first stanza.
Analysis of Why Some Girls Love Horses
And then I thought, Can I have more
of this, would it be possible
for every day to be a greater awakening: more light,
the livingness, the warmth
of all that blood just under the skin
and in the long, thick muscle of the neck—
In the first stanza of ‘Why Some Girls Love Horses’ the speaker begins by connecting a contemporary moment with one from the past. She is in bed, considering the nature of the moment she’s living. It is a brilliantly warm and peaceful one. She wants, more than anything, for it to occur every day. While thinking about laying next to “you” with “your face on the pillow” and “hair so stiff” she is reminded of the feeling of “Dandy’s neck” and his hair. This is a reference to a horse she had as a child.
The two memories come together because of their similar qualities. These are expanded on as the poem continues.
In these lines, Rekdal uses techniques like alliteration and sibilance to depict her memories of her horse, Dandy. She describes how he used to “haul” her up onto his “flanks flecked green / with shit and the satin of his dander”. Words like “warm,” “blood,” “muscle” and “skin” show how tactile this experience was for her as a young girl. These also relate to the contemporary moments she’s in, in bed with someone else.
He was smarter than most of the children
I went to school with. He knew
how to stand with just the crescent
to push him off, that hot
insistence with its large horse eye trained
deliberately on us, to watch—
In the second half of the stanza, the speaker continues to describe her horse. He wasn’t just strong and powerful, he was also smart. She says that he was “smarter than most of the children / [she] went to school with”. From these lines, it is clear that no matter what her horse did, how he acted or looked she loved him. She describes his posture, how he walked, and the careful nature of his steps. In the last lines of this stanza, she explains what it was like when he’d step on one of her feet. It was painful, and in his stubbornness, he often refused to move.
Like us, he knew how to announce through violence
how he didn’t hunger, didn’t want
despite our practiced ministrations: too young
I could not love him anymore
in the ways I’d taught myself,
watching the slim bodies of teenagers
Dandy was from the gentlest horse. He knew how to let everyone know when he did or did not want attention. The speaker wanted to care for him, and at her young age, she did so easily. She found it easy to empathize with “this cunning”. The horse was, to her, “human” and not human.
In a very clear voice, she explains how she respected her horse for what he was. She did not try to see him romantically or through a specific lens that transformed him into something that wasn’t. He presented her with the possibility of a different kind of love.
guide their geldings in figure eights around the ring
as if they were one body, one fluid motion
of electric understanding I would never feel
the hand placed on back or shoulder
and never feel the desired response.
I loved the horse for the pain it could imagine
The next lines flow, one into the next, resembling a stream of consciousness narrative. She describes how the other horses she knew behaved with their riders and how her horse differed. He was mentally much freer and more independent than these other animals. The horse “possessed / an indifference that gave [her] / logic and measure”. She learned from him how to care for herself and feel less of a need for attention or the “hand placed on back or shoulder”.
and inflict on me, the sudden jerking
of head away from halter, the tentative nose
inspecting first before it might decide
your hand against my shoulder, the image
of the one who taught me disobedience
is the first right of being alive.
The final line of the second stanza leads into the third with enjambment. The speaker describes how the horse would pull on the halter and jerk her arms. Dandy could inflict pain on her and the danger she perceived in these moments made her love him even more.
It was his lack of servitude, his full-bodied instinct that made her love him. This made the moments of connection even more powerful. He did nothing that he didn’t want to. It is at this point in the poem that the memories of the past and the experiences of the present come together. She speaks ephemerally about one bleeding into the other and emphasizes words like “light” and “bleed”.
There is a line of connection between the future and the past. Other experiences with Dandy taught her the importance of “disobedience”. It is the “first right of being alive,” she concludes. A reader can make their own assumptions after the poem ends about how these final lines might relate to the first which described her in bed alongside another person.