Riding a Wood Horse into 2014

ink on rice paper by Nicki Chen

ink on rice paper by Nicki Chen

In my dream, I’m galloping across the prairie on a chestnut mare, my hair flying in the wind—no saddle, no bridle, no bit in the horse’s mouth. Together, my horse and I are wild and free. We’re fast as a summer storm.

In my memory, though, my short hair is artificially curled, and the horse is burdened with a heavy saddle. Before I mount, I have to lean down to see if the belt around his belly is tight enough to hold the saddle in place. His leather strap, engineered by men, reminds me of the brassieres we women strap around our chests to hold up our breasts. It’s a miracle that a horse (or a woman) can run free with such a tight constraint.

horseback riding 001This horse of my memory, however, has no desire to run free. He dawdles and baulks. He stops to eat grass. My husband, on the other hand, has no such trouble.

“But you’ve never ridden before,” I complain. “Why does he do exactly what you want him to do?”

My husband shrugs. “I’m a descendant of Genghis Khan. Riding horses is in my blood.”

In my imagination, the Year of the Wood Horse becomes a rocking horse, fortunes rising and falling, rising and falling as the horse rocks back and forth. Or the Wood Horse becomes a carved horse on a merry-go-round. I buy a ticket and take my grandson’s hand. He chooses the white horse with golden hooves and mane. Her saddle is red and she has bells around her neck. The tinkling organ music begins, and around we go, waving at “Mommy” with each round. When the horse is still, I help my grandson dismount, and we’re right back where we started.

This is the most unlikely scenario for the Year of the Wood Horse. We may imagine that our lives will be the same a year from now, but they won’t. We never get off the merry-go-round of life in exactly the same place where we climbed on.

Chinese astrologers aren’t concerned with carousels or rocking horses. This is not the Year of the Wooden Horse; it’s the Year of the Wood Horse, which is an entirely different thing. In Chinese tradition, wood is one of the five elements: fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. It’s associated with Spring and the growth of trees. Wood provides the fuel for fire.

Since horses, especially Mongolian ponies, can run long distances, 2014 should be a good year for travel.  But beware, one feng-shui master predicts, “with wood being very combustible, there will be a lot of scandals, conflicts, explosions and arguments.” Another warns of an “increasing potential for heated clashes as people stick to what they believe…”

painting by Nicki Chen

painting by Nicki Chen

On a more positive note, this astrologer says we can look forward to “a time of fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance…Energy is high,” she says, “and production is rewarded. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory.”

painting by Nicki Chen

painting by Nicki Chen

They all seem to agree that for people like me, born in the Year of the Sheep, it will be a good year. And with my book, Tiger Tail Soup, coming out in a few months, I’m going to need all the good luck I can get.

Wishing you all an enjoyable bareback gallop across the prairie of your choice in 2014.

my signature

About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen
Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She’s working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early ’90s.

China, Culture, fortune-tellers , , , , , ,

20 comments


  1. Really great post. Wonderful writing. I wish you a great year of the horse.




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    • Happy year of the horse to you too, Matt. I forgot to mention that 2014 is supposed to be an especially good year for those born in the years of the snake, tiger, and dog as well as that of the sheep.




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  2. “and production is rewarded. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory.” Love this!
    I have the same visions of myself riding bareback, a free-spirit with my hair flowing. The last time I was on a horse, I was hanging on for dear life when he took off.




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  3. Sheila Valentine

    Very fun read, Nicki. It was especially lovely to see the picture of you and your husband, and your pictures of the paintings!




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  4. Like how you tie your story to your husband’s and how the different cultures meet and ultimately sort of blend. Your writing and illustrations are beautiful too. Thanks for sharing.




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    • Thank you, Evelyne. The meeting and blending of cultures is an interesting topic, as you well know. I’ve enjoyed reading about your move from Paris to America and about your YA novel, Trapped in Paris, that has an American and a Parisian stuck in the airport in Paris.




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  5. victor

    you definitely have a way with words 🙂

    and those paintings!

    WOW!!!




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    • Thanks, Victor. I found those paintings in a trunk, rolled up and unframed. It’s expensive to have them mounted and framed, so after taking pictures of them, I put them back in the trunk.




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  6. Hey, Nicki, I love your ink drawings!! Those horses of yours are lovely. Not being a horse person (a dog person, instead), I don’t usually draw horses since I don’t have a “feel” for them, but I can tell that you do. Is your book going to be a memoir, fiction? Tell us more!!




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    • Barb, I don’t know if I have a feeling for horses (certainly not the real ones), but I had a good painting teacher, Professor Chen Bing Sun. Also, China has a centuries-old history of painting free-style horses.




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  7. Julie (Pederson) Scouten

    Just love your painting, there awesome, I love horses… Good luck with your book, I’ll say a prayer…




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  8. Gretchen Houser

    Such a beautifully written post, full of action and color and vibrancy. I’m behind you all the way, my friend. (But not on a horse.)




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  9. 马到成功!Wishing you success in the horse year! Your book is going to be amazing when it comes out this year!

    And love your drawings, Nicki! You’re so talented. 🙂




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  10. Wonderful post, Nicki. Love the paintings, especially the last. Here’s to running free.




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  11. Nice horse paintings! 😀

    Nicki, have you hear about the year of the horse bringing bad luck to people born in the year of the rat?
    Also, have you heard about dreaming of horse is considered as bad luck in some bu-ethnic Chinese? 🙂




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