"To live in the world without becoming aware of the meaning of the world is like wandering about in a great library without touching the books.".....The Secret Teachings of All Ages

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Equine Madness and the Art of Staying Young

I’ll say it straight away. I love horses. Always have, always will. When I was a child, I drew horses, pretended to be a horse, and when I could coerce her into it, hung an old bridle and put a McClellan cavalry saddle that used to belong to my grandfather, on my next youngest sister, and turned her into a horse (that never lasted long).

I didn’t get my first horse until I was in my thirties. Tristan was a five month old Arabian and completely untrained. I had never trained a horse before. It was a classic case of the blind leading the blind. However, over the nineteen years we were together, we learned from each other, eventually trusted each other, and managed not to kill each other. We also had a heck of a lot of fun.

While I still had Tris, Poet came along, a half Arabian, half quarter horse filly I watched being born to the quarter horse mare I briefly had. Poet (full name Poetique NRG) came at a time when I was going through a lot of life issues, and when Tristan died a few years after Poet was born, most of my enthusiasm for riding died with him. Poet, and my husband’s mare, Roxy, paid the price by becoming not much more than spoiled yard dogs. We loved them, and they were well cared for, but rarely ridden.

Three years ago we decided to downsize (we have twenty acres), move into town, travel more, and get out from under the chores of keeping horses and also a very large garden. So, although it nearly killed me at the time, I found homes for those last two mares. I cried for days before their new owners came to get them, and cried for weeks afterwards. Then, one weekend, we held a giant garage/tack sale, and for two days I watched strangers carry away twenty-five years worth of horse equipment, right down to our last hoof pick.

The only thing I couldn’t bear to part with was my old Stueben English saddle. At first I added it to the other saddles we had put out. But as I walked away, I totally lost it, and burst into wracking sobs. Not just for that saddle, but for that whole period in my life when horses were the most important thing in the day-to-day existence of both myself and my husband. We did trail rides, poker rides, Mediaeval horse games where both the horses and ourselves were dressed in costume, and I did low level dressage just because I liked the discipline of it. That saddle stood for all that, and a million more emotions I couldn’t explain, even if I tried. A part of my soul was being ripped out, and although I felt sure it was the right decision to make—after all, I was one year away from sixty and figured my riding days were over—in my heart-of-hearts, I probably knew it wasn’t.

We went on a fifteen day cruise through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal. I loved it. Seeing the canal had always been on my “bucket list.” Cartegena Colombia was stunning, and I’d love to go back. Then we came home. We did a few four-day weekend trips, and still did our pirate reenacting, but didn’t travel as much as we thought we would. At the same time, the housing market tanked. Our house didn’t sell. No one even came to look at it. We changed realtors, hoping. Same results. We just couldn’t compete with all the foreclosure and short sales. After two years, we gave up.

So, there we were, still in the same place, with a big garden and an empty barn. Then fate stepped in. My husband and I attended a local Renaissance Faire. We watched a young woman do mounted archery, and met a man who headed a small group called Company of the Warhorse. He was there giving a demonstration of the type of Medieval horse games we used to do twenty-five years ago. As we talked (he from the saddle, me on the ground) he asked if we had horses. I explained that we used to, but because of the whole age thing, I had thought it best to stop riding, giving my patent rationalization, “Cause if I fell off, I don’t bounce so good as I did when I was thirty.” He looked me up and down, and said, “You look perfectly able to me.” That was the spark that lit the fire.

Finding his web site, I e-mailed him that we would be happy to be ground crew for him at his next event. We did that, and had fun, but that’s when it really hit me. I hated being on the ground. I wanted to be on a horse, having fun. The spark flared into flame. I wanted horses again. And why not? I was fit (okay, maybe a bit out of shape), healthy, and eager. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been on a horse in probably seven years, and for my husband closer to ten.

I had the bug. My husband, always more cautious than I, got the bug as well...with reservations. When we told people we were getting back into horses, some looked at us as if we were insane. Others thought it was great, if that’s what we really wanted. The catch? Other than my saddle, we had no tack, not even that proverbial hoof pick. What we did have was a barn that had become a storage unit full of junk. Undaunted, I started trolling the Dreamhorse web site. That’s where I found her. My new mare, Delight, an Arabian and saddlebred cross.

And, fate stepped in again. When we went to pick up Delight, we were told of another horse for sale not far away, so we went for a look. That’s how we ended up coming home with two horses instead of one, and Little John (a BIG quarter horse) became my husband’s horse. We were excited, and scrambling to pick up the basics like halters, grooming tools, stall bedding, and feed (now that the junk was out of at least three stalls), and my husband managed to buy back the custom Australian saddle he’d sold to a friend.

Then we had to ride. That’s when the “new horse issues” set in. These were horses I hadn’t raised and trained myself, and both were twelve years old, and pretty set in their ways. Delight had been shown, and LJ, for the last three years, had been used as a schooling horse. Both have interesting habits that need work. We have riding skills that have atrophied, but are slowly coming back. In the end, with time, I know all will be well.

What I do know is the first time I walked out to the barn, saw those two happy faces, and heard the “Oh, goodie, it’s breakfast time” nickers, I burst into tears. I knew in that split second that we had made the right decision in bringing horses back into our lives. That empty part of my being was complete again. Yes, they are work. Yes, they can be a royal pain in the ass. Yes they are expensive to keep, and have a knack of getting themselves into trouble. I don’t care. For me, it’s all worth it when the bond starts to form, when they follow you around the pasture, when they watch you do chores, when you rub their special grooming spot and they groom you back. And I love the fact that I am back on a horse, and feel happier and fitter than I have in years.

Oh, and did I mention Delight and I have the same hair color? Ol’ fate can be pretty funny, doncha know.