Iva began her special day with a prayer for the rains to stop soon because for days on end, and even after a typhoon’s passing three days prior, most of Japan had been soaking wet. It was her otanjoubi, her birthday, and she was eager to go to the local zoo for her much-anticipated horseback ride. Now that she was four, her chance had come to legitimately do what she had always wanted since coming to Japan and seeing horses at the Saitama Children’s Zoo, and she didn’t want to pass up on the very first opportunity that she had.

And God did not disappoint. The rainclouds were still afloat, but the rains held back and the weather positively forecasted a window for a trip to the zoo.

“Mommy, please tell the paying woman that I’m four today, okay,” Iva told Regina at the waiting line as the two approached the booth. By ‘paying woman’, Iva meant the cashier. Later, she would introduce us to another person at the ranch, the helping man. That’s the guy who would guide her and her ‘horsie’ around the track.

After completing the deal with Ms. Paying Woman, Iva’s eyes grew even bigger as she got ready and donned her own jockey hat – something she merely used to seeing as worn by Sofia, one her favorite cartoon characters. Still, she quietly held back, and as most Japanese would do, she patiently towed the line until her turn came. And when it did, a joyous satisfaction overcame her as she savored every step with her mate-horsie – and Mr. Helping Man, of course – from start to finish.

Iva and Mr. Helping Man pose for posterity.

Iva’s fondness of horses was already evident as a baby that even mere arcade horses would excite her. She would usually point to one, say she wanted to try it, and then scream a few seconds after even just the simple up-and-down horse ride began. And so, right at the comfort of our floor mattresses and pillows, we would do Daddy (and Mommy) Horsie, which magically allowed her to loosen up and let go of her inhibitions. I think she would even pet a dragon anytime, so long as Daddy or Mommy touches it first.

Baguio, in the Philippines, was the first time Iva got really close to a horse, and discovered firsthand the sound it made. It was not a neigh. Rather, it’s a “Pphhbbttt” manga-speak, which is the sound made by the involuntary flapping of your lips when you forcefully blow air out of your mouth, while moving from side to side as a horse would shake flies off of its ears.

Nowadays, mealtime would sometimes include discussions – at length – of the thought of having a horse inside the house, which she really believes is very, very plausible.

As I quietly shared her joyful gallop from a distance that day, an odd playful jealousy overcame me that I thought to myself: “So, what happens now to Daddy Horsie?” No sooner than when we had come home that day did I get my answer; she asked for a round of Daddy Horsie with his younger brother, her protégé. And so, I had to ask her: “Do you love Daddy Horsie?”


“But you also love riding the horse, right?”


“Were you scared?”


“So, what’s the difference?”

“It’s fuzzier.”

It was not a contest as to which was the better ride; it was just a matter of being in her book of good memories and happy experiences. And if it were, I’d happily concede to the steed because I believe I have that much hair to worry about already.

So, parents: Help your child open up to the world around her/him; be a Daddy/Mommy Horsie today. Oh, and watch your back. Literally.

A personal goal: To be Daddy Horsie as long as needed.