Golden Light at the End of the Tunnel

Maybe, anyway.

I will update in full on Sunday, but after a whirlwind week, I have A Prospect.

A golden palomino one.

Her (!) name is Dorada. She is in New York. And I’m going out there tomorrow to see her.

No spoilers! I’ll share more when I’ve met her and had a little time to recover from the drive there and back. I’m sure I’ll have a fun story to share and many, many pictures.

Yay for adventures!

Try, Try Again

I kind of had a feeling my search was going to be on the more difficult side.

The last time I was horse shopping, my parameters were much wider. Sound, mostly sane, and able to carry my weight were pretty much all I was looking for. Then Image happened, and he showed me what a smart little horse could become in a very short amount of time. Outside of his issues, he was perfect for me. If I could have cloned him into a rideable horse, I would have in an instant. I suppose I still could — I have his tail hair and all…

Ahem. Anyway.

I finally put up a post on EquineSite.com’s message board after a huge letdown over a Paso gelding that sounded perfect, but has probably already been snapped up by someone faster and smarter than I am (though there is still a small part of me that’s hoping some miracle occurs and I can at least go look at him!). I’ve gotten a few emails and a couple of leads, including one pinto Standardbred/Paint cross (I know, I know…but he apparently has a running walk so we’ll see) that I am seriously considering going up to look at. I do have a tentative appointment to make a day trip to PA to see a Kentucky Mountain gelding, but I’m probably going to let him go in favor of the few closer leads I have.

My world is relatively quiet otherwise. I spent the past week house sitting for my sister’s foster parents in northern MA. I snuggled a very lovey goat, slept with a cat on my toes, and woke up to cold dog noses nudging. I’m back home now for most of the week, and then back up north for a weekend house sitting stint. It’s nice to be occupied, because I find myself hurting a little more than I have been this past week. It could be because we’re coming up on the “one month” date — I cannot believe a month has passed already. It could be because I’m allowing myself to look at pictures and videos and dear LORD do I miss that horse. It absolutely blows my mind how much I miss him and his funny little head tilt and his sweet snuggles and his tolerance of my inability to let him be dirty ever.

Tonight is a little less “stuck inside my own head”…a wonderful friend just offered me a ticket to Cavalia, the prestigious horse-centric play that’s currently in Somerville, MA. Not only will I be sitting front and center, I’ll get to explore the VIP lounge, eat good food, get some sort of small souvenir, AND MEET THE HORSES.

I may not sleep tonight. I am practically vibrating with excitement!

The List

I began emailing people last week about horses.

Image’s previous owner, B, kind of kick-started me in that direction on Thursday morning when she forwarded me a Craigslist ad that sounded promising. That didn’t pan out to be anything worthwhile, but the fact that I was even interested (and a little excited) made me start actively going through sale ads.

I am dreading this a little, to be honest. I rather abhor horse shopping. Believe it or not, I don’t actually like most people (hah!) and trust them even less. The buyer/seller politics are exhausting to me.  I hate the sugarcoating (and sometimes blatant lying) that can come with someone who is desperate to move a horse. I got really, REALLY lucky with B. She really was a first time horse owner’s dream of a previous owner. She was easy for me to converse with via email and in person, and was honest about what she knew about Image and his background. She very much only wanted what was best for him, and that endeared me to her immediately. When I took him home, I was very happy to hear that she wanted to keep up with Image and I. I have been grateful for her presence via the Internet as a sounding board and cheerleader for these past seven months. That being said, I know very well that the relationship I’ve cultivated with B is the exception, not the rule. Hopefully, because of the type of horse I’m looking for, I won’t run into the kind of horse owner I truly can’t stand. The horse shopping game is not a game I like to play, but it’s likely I’m going to be involved with it for a little while…so time to cowgirl up, and deal with it.

I’m keeping my search to private owners, word of mouth, a daily Craigslist search, and, once I get my act together, I’ll be posting a wanted ad to a few gaited Facebook groups. I will not be attempting Camelot or New Holland. I don’t have the money or energy to play Russian Roulette with a horse. Right now, I’m a bit soured on taking a big-ass risk on a horse. Yes, all horses are a risk, no matter which way you look at it…but, I’d like to limit that risk juuuust a little, by my next one having a bit more background available for me to scrutinize. I’m a chicken. More so now than ever. I loved Image to the moon and back, but I really don’t want to go through this again anytime soon. Someday, when I’m a famous photographer (hah) and I already have a well established riding horse, I will reach out to a critter in need with a bunch of unknowns for me to puzzle out. Right now isn’t the time for that, though.

So what, exactly, am I looking for? I figured it would be best to outline it as much as possible, with as much detail as I could get out. I don’t expect to find something EXACTLY like what I want, but I feel like putting as much down in one spot as I can will keep me a little more focused.

Anyway, without further adieu…here’s “The List”:

MUSTS

Pony must be these things. Simple as that.

* GAITED. I have a cranky, ruptured disc in my back and the last doctor I spoke to about my back “suggested” I stop riding. I told him, politely, to eff right the hell off. Provided I can keep my balance and am not in pain all the time, I honestly don’t care. That being said, to prolong my riding career, gaited sounds like a good idea. I also like the added extra challenge of conditioning for the gait. It takes a lot more energy for a horse to correctly hold a four beat intermediate gait that it does for them to trot. There’s no cooler feeling than getting a horse you’ve worked with to move out into their preferred intermediate gait. I didn’t even ride Image, and I still squealed with glee every time I pressed the right buttons on the ground and got that lovely little rack out of him! Anyway, I’d prefer to go with one of the spicier “Paso” breeds — a Paso Fino or Peruvian Horse (also known as Peruvian Paso). They’re a bit hard to come by in this neck of the woods for anything close to what I can afford, so anything with a decent natural gait will work provided all the other little duckies are in a row. I do not want a five gaited Saddlebred or Morgan — they usually come from hot, kind of crazy show lines that don’t fare too well on the trails. Fox Trotters, Walkers, Kentucky/Rocky Mountain Horses, and the two breeds mentioned above are probably the ones I’ll run into the most on my search.

* PHYSICALLY APPROPRIATE. I ain’t small. I’m probably never going to be small. Being smaller is something I’m working on, but there are some roadblocks in the way I need to deal with before I can truly get to work on that. That aside, even when I was lighter, I preferred a stout, well built critter that’s a smidge bit lower to the ground. 15-15.1 is about perfect for me, provided the horse is built well with good bone, a shorter, strong back and decent shoulder conformation. I’ll admit, I’m vain — I want the whole package pretty. I like hair (looooots of hair!). Gender and color are the last things on my mind, but if we’re going for ideals here, I’d prefer to avoid the lighter colored horses (really light palominos, greys, cremellos, ect) and would prefer a gelding. There is no such thing as a bad color on a good horse, so that’s just a “if I get really lucky” kind of statement! I would prefer a horse younger than 15 but old enough to have already been backed with your basic buttons installed: go, whoa, back, left, right. Would also like barefoot and an easy keeper, along with a good history of being sound and medically unexciting.

 * SANE. I loved Image. He was a nearly perfect gentleman on the ground and almost nothing bothered him. I did not love, however, his tendency to go all explodey under saddle. He had every reason to be, mind you, but it doesn’t mean I liked it. I, however, do not want to play the explodey-bucky game again. I hate bucking more than anything, but I’d like to avoid the big three: bucking, rearing and bolting. I can deal with confidence issues, provided they manifest in ways that aren’t any of those. I would consider myself an advanced intermediate rider (when I’m riding consistently…sigh) and can deal with most naughty behavior…but that doesn’t mean I want to! Horses are horses, and they will react to things in “undesirable” ways no matter what…but I’d prefer to avoid a horse that has chronic issues with any of the above. I’d also prefer to avoid a horse that has truly serious confidence issues under saddle…see above re: spooking 🙂 All of this applies to working with the horse on the ground as well. I do not want to deal with an animal that can’t be handled safely on the ground due to aggression or fear issues. That’s not my idea of a good time.

* CONNECTION. If I don’t have that spark of connection, game over. It could be the best horse in the world, but if I look at him/her and I’m not thrilled to be in their presence? Not happening. I want a horse to bond with and have as a partner and friend. I had it with GP. I had it with Image. It’s really important to me to have that connection.

NEGOTIABLES

These are qualities that aren’t “hard and fast” rules on what I want/need. There is some wiggle room here. No horse is perfect. No human is perfect.

* SMART and WILLING. I like smart horses. I like horses that when faced with something new, thinks it through and then reacts. I value level headedness quite a bit. I like horses that have a lot of “try” and want to give me the right answer, even if they don’t understand what I’m asking. I love horses that do their job with joy and don’t have a sour, unhappy look about them every time I saddle up to ride.

* BOLD and ADVENTUROUS. I go out alone a lot. I explore new territory a lot. I want a horse that LOVES the trails, and likes to go play, regardless of who they are or aren’t with! I have great trail systems right down the road from L’s, but I would love, love, LOVE to start being able to trailer out with friends to go ride elsewhere.  I’d love a horse that is just as happy as I am to go on an adventure that could include riding down the road, weaving through the local trails by the gun club, and then yanking off tack and going for a swim in the river. A level headed horse that doesn’t have a lot of spook to him is ideal in my little world. Horses spook, there’s no getting around that…but I don’t want to feel like I’m a ping pong ball because my critter is peeking and eek-ing at everything in sight!

* FORWARD and RESPONSIVE. I hate having to constantly nag a horse to keep it’s pace. I’d prefer to hold back instead of boot forward, but! I want a horse that doesn’t need anything more than a snaffle in it’s mouth. Lightness and suppleness is important — there is nothing better than simply closing your hand on a rein and having the horse respond accordingly. GP’s mouth was rock solid and while I loved him to the moon and back, I hated having to use a big bit with him. Forward, mind you, doesn’t mean hot. I don’t want insane, out of control forward motion…just a little more get up and go than chill out and slow 😉 I don’t like having to “get louder” if my request is being ignored, and I prefer a horse that is sensitive to body language. By the time I lost Image, I was able to lead him without a halter, bring him into the barn, and set him up on the cross ties, all through body language and voice commands, even if there was grass under his nose. I don’t mind if the training for these things is already in place or not — just the inclination to be more in tune to things is the important part.

* PERSONALITY PLUS. I love horses that want to be with their people. Image was slow to warm up, and he wasn’t hugely demonstrative. The first time he ducked his head into my chest and sighed with pleasure as I rubbed his ears, I nearly burst with happiness. I never grew out of being that horse obsessed teenager — I like to hug my horses and kiss their noses and just spend time in their presence. Cuddle ponies are best ponies. I love horses with a sense of humor. I love horses that wiggle their lips happily when I get their itchy spots. I could forgive almost anything else if the horse’s personality is right. I don’t need a horse that is insanely goofy (my barn already has enough goofy…yeah, I’m looking at you, Gus and Ray!) or uncouth, but one that at least tolerates my attention is important!

The things listed above are ideals, but the horse that has the foundation to be these things with the correct training and riding? That’s good too. Nothing is really set in stone, outside of the physical attributes and the sanity! I don’t overlook potential. I’m okay with green, I’m okay with goofy, I’m okay with new to the trails, provided the temperament is there.

OTHER STUFF

I should probably scribble down some info about me, and my riding career. 15 years in the saddle, 20 years of being horse obsessed (probably would have been more if I had been introduced to a horse before the age of 2).  I would consider myself an intermediate/advanced intermediate rider. I have soft hands, an independent seat, and decent “feel” for the critter underneath me. I have go, whoa, back, left, and right down pretty well after fifteen years of riding, and can even make it look pretty sometimes 😉 I am not perfect and would never claim to be, so while I strive for good equitation, I prefer effective over pretty. I am balanced in the saddle (for the most part, a good couple of bucks send me flying, but let’s hope we don’t end up in that predicament again any time soon!) and if I do get knocked off balance, my go to is mane or saddle as opposed to yanking on the poor critter’s mouth. I have basic knowledge of asking for proper collection and bend through a horse’s body, and can teach those basics from the saddle. I know my limits and know them well, especially in the saddle. I am not a trainer and there is a LOT I have left to learn…thankfully, with L on my side and a whole crew of amazing horse people in my life, I have enough backup should I run into something I can’t comfortably handle. I am not afraid of turning to someone else and saying “aaiiieee help!” when things are beyond my knowledge. I’m not willing to risk my horse or myself just because of pride.

I’d like to think I’m a fair pony mama. I don’t tolerate bad behavior in any way, but I pick my battles and have a good sense of when enough is enough. I do think ground work is an essential part of laying the foundation for a good relationship between you and your horse, but I don’t subscribe to any particular “trainer”. I don’t like drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid, so I take bits and pieces from quite a few different big name “natural” horsemanship trainers, mix it with some common sense and horse psychology, and call it a day. There isn’t a “every horse” formula, so I’m willing to step back and re-evaluate if something isn’t working for the horse I’ve got on the end of my line.

I’m rational when it comes to care and feeding — my horse gets the best, but there is no “over doing” it. If a horse needs a supplement, I’ll research it and put them on something, but I’m not going to do six different ones just because. My horses are pampered in the sense that they get the best care that is right for them. I don’t like going overboard on anything (well…except maybe coat care products, but that’s another post for another day). Logical, sound care is key in my little world, as well at the horse’s well being coming first.

I am a “one and done” kind of girl. I don’t get a horse without doing a thorough evaluation, and I’ll be doing a vet check. I want the situation to be right for myself, but more importantly, for the critter. I’m not one to make snap, impulse decisions just because something tugs at my heartstrings. I also won’t get an animal I can’t lay my hands on first, and with my limited budget, that means my search is kind of confined to the northeastern coast — Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.

Speaking of budget: my budget is hovering right around $1,500 at this very second, but thankfully, due to many little side jobs, that is slowly increasing and I may luck out to around $2,000 come winter. I am in NO RUSH. None whatsoever. I want the right situation for all involved.

I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve forgotten. I’m sure I’ll be back to edit this. That being said, I’m curious: what are your “must haves” in a horse? What are your deal breakers? If you’ve sold horses, what did you look for in a new home? If you’ve bought horses, what put you on edge when speaking with the horse’s current owner?

Sidenote: if you read all of this, you deserve a cookie…or two. Or maybe even ten.

Silver Linings

When I write, I don’t expect or require an audience. It’s nice to have, and fun to get to interact with people, but it’s not something I “depend” on. Not here, anyway.

However, when I share thoughts on a relatively busy regional bulletin board, I expect it to be read, at least by a few people. It’s possible that a conversation will start and a new friend will be made. That’s the nature of a public forum.

I don’t, however, expect to be contacted by a major equine magazine for an interview.

Last week, I was idly browsing the regional bulletin board called EquineSite. I poke around on there occasionally, but I’m not a regular poster/commenter at all. EquineSite has always been pretty good to me — it is, after all, how Image came into my life. If it weren’t for a post I made there, B and I would have never connected. Anyway, I happened upon a thread discussing when you know the time is right to euthanize your horse. This obviously struck a chord with me. I opened the thread and read about the original poster’s dilemma, sympathizing with her distress over a horse that was suddenly going downhill. The thread was full of responses, but I replied anyway, throwing in my own two cents about the situation. It sounded like the critter’s quality of life was declining, and that it was probably time to let him go. I made the comment that it may be in her best interest to not stay for the actual euthaniasa if it were her first. I don’t want to say I regret being there for Image’s final moments, but because Image was my first euth, it was a little bit traumatizing. It’s also the last picture I have of him in my head. It was an amazingly quiet thing to watch — it honestly looked like he was lying down to take a nap — but it’s something else entirely to look into his eyes and find them devoid of the soul you once knew. It was unsettling, to put it lightly. I’m not sure I’d make the same decision again, knowing what I do now, but it is what it is.

The second thing I touched on was to make sure you have a clipping of your horse’s tail. When GP died, and L handed me his halter and a chunk of his tail, it was absolutely heart shattering…but the bracelet I had made was worth all the money and the heartache in the world. I’ll be honest here: I had a gut feeling the day that McGee came out for that original exam that things were not going to end well. I took a chunk of Image’s tail that day, right from the middle, so it went unnoticed. L chastised me, but I’m grateful I did that because I didn’t have to think about it when the time came. I will have a bracelet made from his tail hair as well, and will wear it daily, the same way I do GP’s.

Anyway, my comments were short, sweet, and not exactly well written — I kind of just threw them out there, along with gentle internet hugs to the OP for her heartache. I left the post and didn’t think much more of it.

The next day, however, I had an email sitting in my inbox from a journalist from Practical Horseman. I did a double take and it took me a minute to comprehend the fact that a major equine publication had contacted ME for my perspective on planned euthanasia. Um, what? I cannot brain. I haz teh dumb.

Once I got over it a bit, I wrote her back letting the journalist know that I was game for an interview if it would help others deal with this situation, and gave her my phone numbers. She called me at work a few hours later, and we had a lovely conversation. She asked quite a few questions about the whole situation, and was appropriately sympathetic for a stranger with a shared love of horses.

Hopefully, I said something quote-worthy and didn’t just ramble aimlessly for a half hour (the girls at work assured me I sounded professional and intelligent…they may be biased, though!). I didn’t ask when the article was going to be published, but I’ll be keeping my eye on the Practical Horseman magazine for a bit to see when it drops. I’m not even sure I’ll make the article, but I don’t really care — I was flattered that I was even contacted because of an impulse response to a bulletin board thread.

It’s a little bittersweet. If I do end up being quoted, I really hope something that I said helps another person in my situation. Nothing was easy about last month. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However, it’s an inevtiable part of owning a horse: eventually, you are going to lose your best friend. It sucks, but thinking about it in advance and having a “game plan” in place for when that day comes will make the whole process go just a little more smoothly. So, if there is a silver lining to be pulled from losing Image, I guess this could be it for right now…I’m sure I’ll realize more as time goes on, but the wound is still too new for me to think anything other than “this effin’ sucks!”

So, my little potential claim to fame was a neat way to start my week. There are a couple of other “neat” things going on, but no spoilers just yet. 🙂

Changes

I’ve been thinking on the future of this blog for the past few days. I know, it’s trivial, but honestly, it’s kept my mind busy.

Sara Bareilles, who is fabulous and talented and one of my favorite musical artists on the planet, titled a song on her recently released album The Blessed Unrest “Chasing the Sun”. Image was still alive when the album dropped, so when the meaning to the lyrics sunk in, I sat and cried. It’s absolutely asinine to think this way, but I felt like he was the one playing me this song, telling me to just listen and everything would be okay. He was going to be okay and so was I. I could sit here and wax poetic on the lyrics and what they mean to me, but instead, I ask that you take a minute to just listen to the song.

With Image’s legacy on my mind and having the influence of this beautiful piece of music, I feel that my little corner of the internet may need to expand and become a bit more “universal”, for lack of a better way to put it. His name will stay the blog URL, but I’ve changed the title to “Chasing the Sun”. If it weren’t for Image, I wouldn’t have learned that allowing yourself to be happy, even for a little while, even if it’s going to hurt in the end, is so much better than stashing yourself away to avoid pain. I think it’s important to live life as vibrantly as possible. I’m not going to be perfect at it, and it’s not always going to be fun, but happiness does not come by sitting idly by. It’s a work in progress.

I’m a work in progress.

Rebuilding

It has been a very long couple of days.

It’s amazing how quickly you forget how this song and dance goes. The past five years of my life (okay, maybe most of my life) has been riddled with loss, and every time, I am shocked at how breathless it leaves me. You’d think that it would get easier with the amount of practice I have.

It doesn’t.

I spent so much time worrying about the actual deed, that I didn’t even spare a thought towards what life would be like once I didn’t have Image’s shoulder to lean against. I feel a bit like I’ve lost my way. My life had so much purpose and direction when I had Image to focus on. Now? Well, now it’s just me…and, like most people, I try very hard not to be the main focus of my thoughts.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. The point is to extend a huge and grateful “thank you” to everyone who has reached out in the past few days. I have received numerous Facebook comments, private messages, and wall posts expressing sympathy and kind words. Add in the texts, calls, emails and blog comments, and I was a little bit overwhelmed. I hadn’t realized how far Image’s story had reached. I’ve had messages from strangers, who fell in love with him as much as I had, saying just how heartbroken they were to find out what happened.

I am so grateful to have so many amazing people in my life. I can’t even put into words how incredible it is to know that there are so many hands for me to hold, all over the world. The support grounded me enough to be able to see a little light through the fog. I could not be more thankful for your support, kindness, and sympathy. It will be something I look back on when things look a lot bleaker than they really are.

I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s next. I know that I will continue writing, though the blog name may end up changing sooner rather than later. I’m not sure when the next horse will come along. I can’t imagine that another situation like Image’s falling into my lap again, so I am beginning to gather my pennies up. In the meantime, I’m not sure what I’m going to do to fill my time.

Time to try and rebuild from what’s left.