Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Rescue Horse . . .

During my last post, I talked about Stoney, my first horse. I just found a photograph taken a few months after I purchased him and thought I'd share it with you.

Stoney--definitely not a rescue horse.

Once I owned my own farm, I was ready for another horse. When I drove out to look at Koby in the spring of ‘85, I didn’t really think of him as a “rescue horse,” but it seems everyone else did. He was extremely thin, but I’d seen horses like him turn around with the right care, so I had full confidence that Koby’s transformation would be no different.

After injuring his left knee on the track, he was sold to a young woman who didn’t have the knowledge or resources to give him the kind of home and care he needed to successfully transition from track to farm life. He was placed in a small, muddy paddock with three other geldings who denied him access to grain and hay as well as the run-in shed. He spent all of that first year off the track suffering under the brutal sun or standing in the freezing rain, scouring the ground for whatever wisps of hay or kernels of grain the other horses might have missed.

Despite the hardships he’d been through, he had a kind temperament, so I had a vet come out to perform a pre-purchase exam which he passed. I had a very strong sense that she was just hoping I would buy him and take him to a better place, especially after she took him into the run-in shed to examine his eyes in a darkened environment. She looked disgusted when she came out. Apparently, the shed was filthy, piled high with a deep layer of manure and crawling with maggots.

A couple of days later, he settled into my barn with my first horse, Stoney. Both horses had roomy stalls that opened to private paddocks, and after the two horses got used to each other over the fence, and Koby became accustomed to eating grass again, I turned them out each day in a ten-acre field.

Routine vaccinations and regular deworming, along with a gradual increase of grain and occasional beet pulp hot mashes, not to mention getting his teeth floated, all combined to put the weigh on and his coat blossomed. So did his personality.

I guess I never really realized just how emaciated he was until, several months later, when my farrier commented on how good he looked and confessed that he thought the horse wouldn’t make it when he first came out to trim his hooves. Here was a guy with undoubtedly lots of horse experience, and he thought Koby would not survive.

But survive, he did. In fact, once he regained his weigh, he was an incredibly easy keeper, and I actually had to watch his diet. He was a broad, bay horse with lovely conformation (this was especially evident once he filled out) and at 16.2 hh, he was an impressive horse. Way too big for me, I might add.

By the fall, Koby had picked up a good bit of weight, though his coat would not look healthy until he shed out.

I did wonder if he’d become difficult under saddle once he began to feel better, but except for a little testing early on, he developed into a wonderful mount. What I do love about ex-racehorses is that they are acclimated to a wide variety of sights and sounds and activities from their time on the track. He was easy to load and handle and was generally a levelheaded horse.

Koby being ridden by my instructor.

I used to load him by myself and trailer him to my instructor’s farm where I took dressage lessons in her indoor. He didn’t even blink when he went into the arena the first time, and I could leg him over to the wall to get a drink and he would stand so quietly. One of the nicest compliments my instructor gave me was when she said something like, “Why don’t I find nice horses like him.”

I remember the first time I took him on a long trail ride with some neighbors. Up until that point, all he knew was the track and my riding arena, but he just took it all in and was so full of confidence. The only thing he did not like, and never became accustomed to, was a herd of Holsteins that we had to pass to get home. He never could get used to the sight of those black-and-white cows.

When I moved to Indiana and had children, I often did not get around to riding until about midnight. This worked out especially well in the hot summer months, but I’d ride in the winter then, too. It was my time to just fool around, with no pressure or distractions. I’d put some music on, and we’d be out in the lighted outdoor arena, just the two of us. And sometimes the snow would come down, spiraling past the sodium vapor lights, and I just loved those nights. Often a herd of eight or ten deer would walk past in the neighboring field, and we’d stop and watch them. They had no fear of us and took their time.

I’m happy that our paths crossed and that we both enriched each other’s lives.

Happy reading and riding,

Monday, October 6, 2008

Favorite Horses . . .

During my last post, “Favorites . . .” (September 23, 2008) I talked about how writers feel about their books and how difficult it can be to answer: “Which is your favorite?”

It’s even more difficult to pick a favorite when friends want to know: “Of the horses you’ve owned, which was your favorite?”

How can I answer that? Each horse that I’ve had the honor of owning was special in his or her own way, and they were all so different, with varied and unique personalities, quirks . . . moods. Lots of non-horse people don’t really get that, either--the idea that a horse even has a personality! But, boy, do they.

My first horse, Stoney, was a 15.2hh, flea-bitten gray Quarter horse/Arab gelding. To read more about our adventures together, check out the post “Riding Adventures . . .” (March 25, 2008).

Stoney was such a hoot! He was personable and ornery and a veritable bulldozer on trail rides (Quarter horse attribute), but he’d spin me right out of the saddle if he spooked . . . at the sight of a deer, no less! Like he’d never seen them before.

He was my “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde” horse. When he was good, he was very good, and when he was bad, well . . . let’s just say, he was a challenge.

I remember the day I purchased him and took him home to the hunter/jumper farm where I worked at the time. He looked so out of place: at least five-hundred pounds overweight with a roached mane that was growing out and stuck straight up in the air; his Arabian blood hadn’t done anything to refine his head or thick throatlatch; his back was a little too long, or his legs were too short, depending on how you look at it; and to say he had solid legs would be putting it tactfully. But he was mine, and I was thrilled.

And boy; was he an alpha horse. In short order, he moved to second in command in a field of twenty-five to thirty geldings. Second only to Orion, a Thoroughbred/Percheron cross.

Stoney’s rather sheltered life, before I purchased him at age six, made for an interesting transition. Training-wise, he’d gone Western and had just stepped over a few baby fences. I doubt he’d ever been in an indoor arena. There was much he had to learn about his new world. In fact, I don’t even think he’d seen something as commonplace as a chair.

After he settled into his new stall that first day, I took him out to get him acclimated to the farm’s sights and sounds. We happened to approach a black, plastic chair located in the cut-through to the indoor arena. He lowered his head to take a sniff, and as he exhaled, his breath caused a puff of dust to mushroom off the seat. He flew backwards as if he’d been shot from a cannon.

Despite the fact that he wasn’t the best beginner’s horse, and he may have damaged my confidence at times, I loved him very much, and I swear; he knew it. After months of training and lots of work, he began to fit in and even looked the hunter part, albeit still a little chubby.

If Stoney wasn’t hyper on the trail, with some pretend spooks or healthy bucks thrown in--a barn-sour tactic he liked to employ with the hope that we’d go home early (and when he did manage to dump me, he got his wish)--he was just downright lazy. Normally, I worked for everything I got out of him by using my seat and lots of leg, especially when we worked in the ring on the flat. But one ride stands out from the rest. I went on a trail ride with my boss’s daughter. She was riding an adorable gray pony. A mare. Well, apparently, Stoney thought she was adorable, too, because he followed that pony down the trail in the most collected, elevated trot imaginable. Soft mouth, rounded back, no leg needed on my part. A ride made in heaven . . . but most likely born of hormones.

He was a great guy, faults and all.

Rather surprisingly, keeping his barn sour "afraid to be in the woods alone" attitude in mind, he did very well when I took him to some cross country events. He had lots of GO out in the open. I was the one holding us back. Here's an old picture from 1983.

I find myself thinking of him frequently this time of year, because autumn a few years back was his last. He’d grown arthritic to the point that I could no longer keep him comfortable. Even standing for the farrier was an ordeal, and I made the decision to put him down at the age of 31. But he lives on in my heart and in cherished memories, and he shows up in my writing from time to time.

Next time, I’ll tell you about my first rescue horse, Koby.

Happy reading and writing,