Thursday, October 20, 2011

In which I tell the story of my life with brown horses (and some friends)

In the beginning, there was Midnight.
Midnight, a "pony camp" pony, circa 1976.  The world's best pony.
Midnight was the first horse I really rode.  "Pony rides" at the fair and the zoo don't count.  I got to take lessons on Midnight and her spiritual twin pony Tonka (no photos of Tonka survive, alas) for a few years.  With Midnight, I learned to sit tall, to walk, trot, and canter (they probably called it a lope in pony camp).  With Midnight, I learned to hop over some HUGE jumps (6 inches or so), and to conduct myself appropriately on a trail ride (3 miles?  Maybe 2.  It seemed to take all day, but it also seemed to be over much too quickly).

After Midnight came adolescence. 

For some reason, time and money for riding lessons went away the year that I turned 13, although I'm sure I begged and pleaded most ungraciously.  My parents were certain that I would "discover boys"...and I did.  I would rather have stuck with horses, to tell the truth.  I'm pretty sure that my parents would have slept better during my teen years if they'd kept driving me to riding lessons, but they didn't know that at the time.   My teen years were not graceful, and I shall not post any photos of them here.  Trust me: there were no horses, and it wasn't pretty.

In my mid-twenties, I started working for a friend-of-a-friend cleaning stalls and stuff, just for the chance to ride.  That's where I met Bo.
Bo.  16.1 hands high, Alpha all the way.  The world's best best boss mare.
Bo taught me the value of being ALPHA.  She never fought with another horse.  She never even argued.  She could walk into a long-established herd of broodies, twitch a single ear, and they'd all make way for her to pass.  She wasn't mean.  She was superior

The friend who owned Bo couldn't help noticing things about my life.  For example, she noticed that I had a husband, and that I didn't have a horse.  My friend facilitated the swap.

The husband turned out to be terrified of horses, and meanwhile, I was learning lessons from Bo about being superior.  Good stuff to know.   

In the meantime, there was a new horse in my life:

Story, me, and Merridog in the foothills, circa 1999
 When we went shopping for my very own, very first horse, my friend looked at all sorts of critters.  When we went up to the standardbred track to take a look at some horses who were destined for the slaughter truck, she picked Story out of the bunch.

"That one," she said, meaning Story, "won't leave you broken and bleeding on the side of a mountain."

Although my friend is a dedicated dressage rider, she recognized my need to get out and explore trails with a horse. She was determined to find a horse for me who had a fair amount of "taking care" instinct, rather than a lot of fancy training. The fact that Story was a harness horse who hadn't really carried a rider didn't bother my friend, and so it didn't bother me.  I had read The Black Stallion a million times, and therefore knew how to break a horse to saddle.  Right?

As it turned out, "breaking" Story to saddle consisted of putting a saddle on her, and climbing aboard.  The mare looked over her shoulder at me, with an obvious "Okay, now what?" expression on her face.  We walked and trotted around the pasture that first day.  No helmet, no spotter, nothing.  Sigh.  Don't try this at home.
Story, the world's best mare.
 When I started getting serious about endurance in the spring of 2000, a friend offered me the chance to train a young gelding who was literally bred for the sport--a CMK Arabian, the ultimate endurance machine--so that I (or rather she) wouldn't have to be seen in camp with my rather un-beautiful non-arab horse.  I didn't know any better, so I accepted the offer. 

The gelding had a perfectly lovely Arabian registered name, but I never once called him by it.  To me, he was and always will be, The Toad.
Toad on the endurance trail, circa 2001.
Note: no feet on the ground, reins clenched tightly and about 8 inches long.
 The friend who owned The Toad bought him based on his pedigree, after looking at a bunch of photos and video of him.  "If he has half a brain," she said, "he'll be incredible."

Famous last words. 

The Toad had exactly one-half of a brain.  For eight years I rode him, over 2,000 endurance miles, waiting for him to grow the rest of his brain.  It never happened.
The Toad on the endurance trail, circa 2004.
Reins still very short.
 In all those miles, The Toad never stopped spooking at stupid stuff, never stopped pronging me into the ground or into trees, never stopped, in fact, being a Toad.  We covered a lot of miles together, and he was a remarkable athlete.  I loved him dearly, but the ground does not get softer after birthday #40.  I have tested this rather extensively.

Toad taught me a lot, especially when it comes to keeping my butt in the saddle and my head off the ground.

Jim showed up in my life right before I started working with The Toad.  He started by riding borrowed horses: 
Jim and Blaze, circa 2001?  possibly earlier
but it didn't take long for him to find a horse of his own:
Jim and Hana, circa 2003.  Hmm.  Those reins are kinda tight.
Hana isn't nearly as excitable as The Toad was, but she does have Arabesque moments. 

She matured into a very sensible horse....

Jim and Hana, circa 2008.  Clearly nobody in this photo is worried about the reins.
(...sensible for an Arab horse, anyhow.)

Speaking of sensible...

A week after Story died, I got a call from the folks at Greener Pastures, the standardbred adoption agency.  "We heard about Story," they said to me.  "You were really brave.  You did the right thing..."   Blah, blah, blah.
Fiddle, December 2006 with me and Luna
 Then they got to the point of the call:  "We can't help noticing that you've got an empty stall." 

Fiddle had been adopted from GP earlier in the year, but her adopter had then developed some scary symptoms that turned out to be brain cancer.  She had to bring Fee back to GP...but it was December.  There was no room at GP.  That's when they remembered about Story, and that's when they called me.

"Take her for the winter," they told me.  "If you like her, keep her.  If not, bring her back in the spring when we've got some room here."

Fiddle was the equine equivalent of an angry toddler when I first met her.  She was a biter and a kicker.  Her first response to any request was  "*rude word deleted* NO!"

I gave The Toad back to his owner after a last season with him, and started concentrating my energy on this badly-behaved new mare.  Even when she was still glow-in-the-dark green and still an "angry toddler" she was more trustworthy than Toad ever was.
Fiddle circa 2008 at the Standardbred Games Day in British Columbia.
Long floppy reins and no feet on the ground.
I had learned, all those years ago, about being an Alpha.  Remember? And I learned how to stay on!  And I learned how to sit tall.

For almost 5 years now, I've practiced all that stuff I learned.
Fiddle and me at the Mt Adams 50-miler, 2011

I'm still learning.

Fiddle:  The world's best horse.
My life:  it's good, you know.  It's really, really good.

12 comments:

  1. I have no idea why, but this post made me absurdly happy. Like, beyond happy. Becky-crack happy. Thank you :)

    And I dug the photos of Mini-Aarene :)

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  2. Sweet Herstory. Love the pig-tails!

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  3. Great story! Thanks for sharing - glad you survived the Toad!

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  4. Note to self: do not eat soup while reading Haiku Farm. I about ruined my keyboard at your hysterically wry description of your divorce. Loved the pics - I can't believe anyone would think Story was un-lovely! :(

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  5. Excellent story. Pretty ponies.

    It's nice to see pictures of Toad finally. You've referenced him before, but I think this the first time I've seen pics of his Toad-ness. =)

    Your story about Story still sticks with me... and it's been years since I last read it.

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  6. Great post - thanks for sharing that. Good for you for sticking with the Toad for all those years. The photos are all great.

    I love STBs and hope to own one some day. I have a 1/2 arab right now and I'm wondering if I made the right choice!

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  7. I actually cried at the end of this entry. Fantastic post. Love all the photos and the stories. Not gonna lie... the Toad seems like my kind of horse. Hahaha.

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  8. Do you think the horse's gender plays a role in this story? I'm seeing a pattern.

    Think about all the horses you ride with too - do you see a correlation between sense and gender?

    I have a perfect memory of you and B (I cannot say "toad") standing on the side of the trail as riders passed you by. You said "I'm OK, no worries!" You were just having a discussion. He was a real arm muscle builder wasn't he!

    Today I saw a pirate fly mask (with black eye patch with skull/crossbones design) and thought of you. Your team needs these!

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  9. You have to stop writing these wonderful posts about how wonderful Fiddle is. Seriously. I am a die hard convert for the drafties. I am....
    But is is hard to do trail riding, let alone endurance, on a draft horse. So reading your wonderful accounts of how beautiful and safe and sane and an amazing athlete Fiddle is is making me reconsider. Rethinking hard too, as it's not possible to have the drafts in my life for the next two years, but maybe a light horse...maybe a Standardbred...argh! And you are not that far from me...

    (BTW, please don't stop writing about Fiddle. Us horseless gals need our fix)

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  10. I"m on Becky-Frequency. This post made me absurdly happy.

    I'd say you got the good end of the deal in trading husband for horse!

    Ah, the half-brained horse. I have one of those in my history also: half arab, half brain, but sweet as a child on a good day.

    Love the horse/herstory!

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  11. I love this story and all its many truths, especially this: "Trust me: there were no horses, and it wasn't pretty."

    It's never pretty if there are no horses. That is one of the Known Truths of the Universe.

    I'm so glad you got a horse and ditched the husband (and then found a much better model in Jim) and continued on and better yet, that you share it here because your story brings me great joy.

    PS You ride The Toad with great aplomb!

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  12. On a complete different topic, I wonder if you've seen the new disaster handout from the CDC? It's for a zombie apocalypse. It's advice for any real emergency.
    I thought you'd get a kick out of it since you used zombies in your safety posts.
    On another note yet again have you seen the pirate dog harnesses on the petedge website? Very cute, but they don't come in purple. I wonder if the pink would dye purple?

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