He had no name or his name had been lost. I called him Ben.
I was at the Pettigrew science center in Griffith Park on a school field trip. The little bay horse was standing alone in a small corral, goats on one side, a bad-tempered llama on the other. I gave him a carrot from my lunch and he ate it eagerly. The next day I ditched school and brought him apples. And the next day I brought nothing, but he let me stroke his neck anyway, and I was surprised at how soft his shaggy coat was.
I began coming to the center nearly every day. Sometimes my friend Katie came with me. Dar, the old cowboy who took care of the animals, didn't seem to mind having us around. We scraped the sludge out of the horse's corral. We groomed him, combed out the tangles in his mane and tail, cleaned his hooves.
One afternoon I tied a rope to his halter and led him out the gate onto the baseball diamond in the park. He cropped the thick grass while I carefully got onto his back. His ears swiveled delicately back and forth while we both waited, wondering what would come next. Ben was 27 years old. So many things had already happened in his life that having a 13-year-old girl on his back was nothing to him.
Then he stepped forward and began to walk around the field. I urged him into a trot, and then a canter, and as his hooves beat on the grass and we flew around the green field my heart leaped up and I was flooded with this miraculous feeling: happiness.