Horses That Made Me

1. The Intro Horse.
We each came into horses in our own way, but it was always with a horse leading us. This might have been a friend’s first pony, or perhaps it was a draft horse on a farm you once visited It might have been a real-life meeting, or an imaginary one. 
I honestly can’t remember why or when I started wanting a horse. My mother used to blame my father (only half jokingly) for putting me on a pony at a pony ride when I was a wee little thing. However, I do know what put my obsession into overdrive as a eight year old child. My grandmother, who wasn’t much of an animal person, gave me a few books for my birthday that year. I was still at age where toys were trumping anything else, so I was a little disappointed…until I started reading The Thoroughbred series by Joanna Campbell was ill written and completely unrealistic, but I absolutely LOVED immersing myself in the world of horse racing through the pre-teen protaganist. From that day forward, I wanted nothing more than to breeze Thoroughbred racehorses on the track. Obviously, my dreams changed over the years, especially as I grew too tall and my ass became way too wide to ride racehorses…but the driving force was the same: I wanted a horse, and I wanted the connection that Ashleigh had with her special mare, Wonder. I realize it now how completely unrealistic it was, but this book was the first introduction to the idea that horses and people could truly bond. I desperately wanted my very own Wonder: a horse that loved me as much as I loved her. I had that connection with GP, and on a different level, Image. I’m hoping to find it again.

I read this book so many times both covers fell off.  I had the entire series, but I lost them all one year in a move.

2. The Experimental Horse
Once you had crossed the line between “Darn, they’re big!” and “Wow! Can I try that?” you found yourself face-to-face with the horse that would suffer through your early attempts at figuring out the whole horse experience … wherever this horse came from, he probably didn’t benefit from the encounter as much as you did…

There were a handful of these horses, but the one that I really started to learn to ride on, outside of your typical beginner stuff, was a big, black and white spotted draft named Angus (no, I’m not kidding). Angus was a “hurry up and get it over with” kind of horse when it came to his job. He did it dutifully, without much fanfare, but didn’t love it the way I did. He tolerated my inexperience stoically, allowing me to learn how to sit the trot and canter without breaking gait or wiggling. He gave me my first ever gallop (okay, it was probably a fast canter, but whatever!). I went on my first solo trail rides with him, exploring the woods in southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. He put up with me braiding his mane, reading aloud to him in his stall, and spending hours in the paddock just leaning against him. He was the first horse I ever rode in something other than a pony ride or riding lesson. He wasn’t a demonstrative horse, but he was the first horse I felt any sort of connection with, even though it was one sided…unless I had a tasty snack, that is 😉 

Angus and all his adorableness!

3. The Connected Horse
The first horses we meet don’t really connect with us, nor do we with them. Those are experiences in survival and tests of endurance. The Connected Horse is the first horse you truly bond with. This is the horse that sounds a chord that lives so deep in you that you might never have heard it otherwise…

I could write about GP here, but I think he has a place further down this list. The first horse I ever truly felt a mutual connection with was a big, lanky, sweet as pie but opinionated mare named Snickers. Snickers was a loud colored Appaloosa with a trot that could send you into outer space, and an adorable bunny hop canter. She sucked her tongue after she ate horse cookies and had one hell of a buck to her when she was feeling good. I wasn’t much of an actual rider when I started lessoning on Snickers…I was a passenger who was mostly unable to be an active participant in a partnership with a horse. Snickers taught me very, very quickly that if you weren’t paying attention, you were probably going to hit the ground. Once she figured out that I wasn’t playing games and that doing what I asked was in her best interest, she melted into the absolute sweetest, most willing mare on the face of the planet. I would toodle around the ring to warm up, and then play in the field, cantering around gleefully. Snickers tolerated the ring (sometimes), but she and I were both more at home on the trails. It took us a few years, but when our partnership took hold, it was beautiful. I felt like we could hear each others thoughts — I would think “trot”, and off she’d go. She would even hug me after a ride: I’d hop down, and throw my arms around her neck as a thank you for a good ride…and she’d gently wrap her neck around me, . I don’t get to ride her much anymore, as my schedule and her owner’s schedule don’t mesh super well these days, but she earned herself a place on my “wall of fame” in my bedroom, right next to GP and Image. It wasn’t immediate magic with her the way it was with GP or even Image, but the partnership we created morphed into something truly awesome.

From 2007. I would do bad, evil things to be that weight again!

 4. The Challenger
Into each horseperson’s life, a little challenge must fall. You’ll have read that one final training book, bought yourself a clicker and heading rope, and there you’ll stand, arms crossed, assessing the situation as if you actually knew what the situation was. It might be difficult to believe, as you are flying down the aisleway on the losing end of a braided cotton line, but you actually need this horse in your life…

Image. ‘Nuff said. He taught me more in six months than I’ve learned in the past six years, and has been my biggest challenge as a horsewoman to date, both from a training and an emotional perspective. Image was my first foray into legal horse ownership, where every decision was mine to make. It was scary and empowering and exciting and overwhelming all at once. Of course, we all know how this chapter ended. I could whine and moan about how terrible the experience was, but the end of our story never overshadowed the precious time we spent together. I can still feel him wiggling his top lip in my hair and the warmth of his head pressed into my chest. I will always hate the fact that our time together ended so soon…but I will never regret one single second of his presence. He was one of the most special things to ever happen to me and I am grateful for the vibrant color he brought into my life.

You all know his story. I miss him every day.

5. Your Deepest Heart
There will come a time when you will look at yourself with a cold, appraising eye, and you’ll have to be honest about your continued ability to deal with The Challenger and other difficult horses. At that point, you’ll seek out the horse that will be your soul mate forever… You’ll have bought him the most comfortable, best fitting equipment… Maybe you’ll still go to shows and ride – brilliantly or barely – in the Alzheimer’s class. Maybe you’ll just stay home. Whatever you do, one day you’ll realize that after all the money you spent on animal communicators and trainers, you only had to stop and listen and you would have clearly heard your horse’s thoughts and desires…

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but sometimes my life sucks. There isn’t any real “nice” way to put that. If you laid all my shit out on paper, I’ve had some pretty terrible luck here and there. Thank God I don’t live my life on paper, right? That being said, some days are easier than others. I had a lot of days that weren’t easy when I was eighteen. A bad falling out with a very dear friend left me shattered in ways I wasn’t prepared to deal with. Shortly thereafter, my mother died. I was, in short, a wreck. Then, GP showed up. GP, an unassuming little Quarter Horse gelding with a twisted front leg and an arrow shaped snip, taught me to live again. People think I’m exaggerating when I say this, but I promise you, I am not: this horse saved my life. If it weren’t for him, I would have succumbed to my own demons that year. He nudged me up off my knees when I was sure I couldn’t take any more. He was the first horse I ever gave my heart away to without reservation, and may be the only horse. He was the first horse that I ever truly felt the sort of bond that you think exists only in fairytales. I trusted him with my life. I did things with him I would have never dreamed of doing with most other horses. Riding him felt like coming home. It was just right. He, too, wasn’t a cuddle bug but I knew that he and I had something special the first day he tapped my cheek with his muzzle. His own special brand of “hello, you’re mine and I’m yours”. Losing him broke me. I knew the day would come sooner rather than later, as he was 31 when I met him, but it still broke my heart into a million different pieces. I haven’t been the same since and probably never will be. There will be other horses, but there will never be another GP.

Rest easy, silly little red horse.
Upcoming this weekend: senior photo shoot with the cutest Pintaloosa mare ever, a trip to ME (again!) with my coworker L to see a spotty girlie mule (not for me, for her!) and CASTLE SEASON 6 PREMIERE EXCUSE ME WHILE I HAVE A FANGIRL FREAKOUT OF EPIC PROPORTIONS.
Happy trails — see ya’ll on Monday, hopefully with spotty girlie mule pictures to share!

8 thoughts on “Horses That Made Me

  1. Dom September 20, 2013 / 2:17 pm

    I need to do this entry some day…

    Also, the Thoroughbred books shaped my life in ways I can't describe! LOVED that series.


  2. Aoife September 20, 2013 / 2:18 pm

    First things first, I know I haven't been following your blog for long but i really want to give you a *BIGHUG*

    The wonderful thing about the human heart is that there is plenty space within it to love many things at the same time – you will undoubtedly find another horse to share you heart with all the while maintaining the love you shared with the others.

    While I love both my girls and couldn't imagine my life without them nor can I imagine parting with either of them as even on their worst days they have many redeeming qualities – i still don't think I have ever felt the connection with either of them that you describe in your lovely post above.
    Although I think this might be a little more to do with my being “selfish” with how far i let people into my heart. I think my self-preservation instinct was kicked into overdrive after a very hard summer where I tragically lost a friend amongst other things and I don't think I have properly opened my heart up to new things since then – sadly for my two horses who came into my life after this fact, i am not sure they will ever get the amount of love from me as they deserve – i think I am damaged goods to an extent.

    Gosh sorry, this is after getting very heavy and morbid! I didn't think I was this dark deep down! :/


  3. Aoife September 20, 2013 / 2:20 pm

    PS: As an aside and to lighten the mood after that other reply – i too loved the Thoroughbred series and read & re-read the 4 first books. I had no idea that the series went on beyond that until years later and actually have never read them all!
    I'd love to read them all now, but I think the innocent childs-eyes I had read them through initially are no more and I'm not sure I would be so forgiving of the unbelievable stuff that happens to kid/teen characters in horse stories!


  4. Amanda September 20, 2013 / 4:39 pm

    I'm also “damaged goods”. It's very hard to go back to who you were after a lifer altering tragedy. I have an easier time with animals than I do with people. I don't let people in, and I'm actually rather okay with that…they can stay on their side of crazy, and I'll stay on mine. Animals are honest and aren't going to intentionally break your heart. People lie and most have no qualms about tearing you in two.

    That being said, I was guarded with Image at first. Then we both fell in love. I'm not sure how things will progress with the next horse.

    *BIGHUGS* right back to you, friend.


  5. Amanda September 20, 2013 / 4:40 pm

    I am almost tempted to go eBay the Ashleigh series and the first few Wonder books, just so I have them. I'm sure my view of them would be much, much different now…but I could probably suspend my disbelief enough to read them again!


  6. SheMovedtoTexas September 20, 2013 / 7:09 pm

    Loved hearing about your horses, and I'm glad they were there for you in tough times. Also, i LOVED the Thoroughbred series!


  7. Lauren September 21, 2013 / 12:35 am

    What a great idea for a blog post! Reading it made me think back about all the horses I've know. Over the years and who have influenced my life. Maybe I'll have to write one of these sometime 🙂


  8. Amanda September 22, 2013 / 12:59 am

    This was circling the blogosphere awhile back and I never had time to finish until now…it was wonderful to reflect back on the critters that have influenced me since I started riding!


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