Twice Blessed

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Things have been up and down with Dharla. Basically, she’s doing great. Me? Not so much. I worry. I fret. I get impatient, mad and frustrated … mostly with myself. The negative-speak in my head often overtakes rational thought and I’m embarrassed to admit that I hit an all-time low last week when my trainer caught me quietly riding my horse in tears. Yeah. Just a combo of being worn out and tired of trying to be patient with my inexperienced and very forward horse and my own stupidity and incompetence.

That moment aside, Dharla is making progress. She’s not the same horse she was when I put her in the trainer’s hands two months ago. That’s not to say she’s turned into a push-button, totally compliant mount. She’s still feisty, stubborn and apt to turn downright pissy when things don’t quite go her way. But she’s not nutty or dangerous or willing to go to battle just to prove her point. She never has been. Basically, she’s just a horse who hasn’t been properly asked to work, and the idea of having to do so now rubs her somewhat the wrong way. So she throws a few hissy fits and looks for any opportunity to squirt forward or move faster, even when she knows that’s not what’s being asked.

But Dharla’s momentary fits of indigence are often intermingled with moments of breathtaking brilliance, strength and beauty. When I watch the trainer put her through her paces I’m literally mesmerized. This horse can (and will) be pretty amazing some day. And she’s still the most sweet, compliant horse to work around when she’s not worried about being ridden or the trolls hiding in the corners of the indoor arena.

Problem is, I miss riding. Oh, I ride Dharla almost every day, but that’s not the kind of riding I’m used to doing. That’s schooling, and for now schooling isn’t FUN, it’s work for both Dharla and me. And most schooling sessions last only about 45 minutes or so because it’s  mentally and physically exhausting for us both. What I miss is spending a couple of hours a day out on the trail and not thinking every minute of my ride about what me or my horse are doing and if we’re doing it right. I miss having that quality time with my horse. Consequently, I end up going over to the barn and riding, then finding any excuse I can to just hang around and be with my horse. Which is kind of strange. I mean, she just wants to go back out to her paddock and eat or take a snooze.

This conundrum has led me to explore other avenues to scratch my horsey itch. Avenues such as taking additional lessons or half-leasing a horse from the barn, neither of which I’m particularly excited about. I mean, one can only absorb so much instructional information at a time. Enter, Facebook. I joined a couple of regional and local horse pages about a year ago and I freely confess that I’ve been scanning the postings about horses for sale or lease with a growing interest. While I’m not particularly interested in buying another horse, the idea of leasing one has definitely grabbed my attention.

A week or so before Thanksgiving I read a post about a Quarter Horse that was in need of a new home. The owner was in college and in a difficult bind. This was her first and only horse. To give you a little back story, at age seven and after much pestering, her father agreed to buy the girl some riding lessons for her birthday. She took to horses like a duck to water and it wasn’t long before she was mucking stalls and doing odd jobs at the stable to pay for more saddle time. Naturally, the girl begged her father relentlessly for a horse of her own, but it wasn’t until she had shown considerable commitment that her father caved. When the girl turned ten the father bought his daughter a very young, predominantly unbroken Quarter Horse. She called him Rascal.

I know you’re wondering what on earth was the dad was thinking when he bought such an inexperienced, young horse for his daughter? Let’s just forget that for a moment. The girl was tough. She’d spent several years fighting tooth and nail to have a horse of her own and she wasn’t going to give up the chance to have her own horse just because she had to start from scratch with it. And so she did.

Can I relate to that? Yes. If you go and read about my early history with horses you’ll see this young lady and I have much in common. We both learned via the school of hard knocks. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Flying by the seat of your pants and learning things the hard way can impart a certain amount of confidence and a rapport with horses that many people spend a fortune and a lifetime to get.

So the young horse and girl grew up together. They did things that fearless young horses and girls will do, like go everywhere and anywhere together and just have fun. Life is never simple, but the horse helped the young girl weather all kinds of storms, including her parents divorce and her mother’s remarriage. Through it all they rode on beaches. They went camping. They entered some horse shows. You name it, they did it. I saw the photos. But I saw more than that. I saw a young girl who morphed into a young lady who simply adored her horse, and the father who made all her dreams come true when he bought his daughter this horse.

Unfortunately, children grow up. When the girl reached college age she chose to attend a university that was only about an hour away from home, but the distance between school and her horse grew worrisome. Too many weeks began to pass between visits and so she pleaded her case with her father. Although her father wasn’t a horse person he knew the importance of a strong bond, so he agreed to help his daughter move the horse closer to school and he picked up the boarding tab to boot. Thank goodness for loving fathers!

All went well until June 2013. Suddenly, without warning, tragedy struck. While changing a tire on a tractor trailer that was stranded on a major highway (his job) the girl’s father was stuck by another truck and killed instantly.

Gone.

And if that wasn’t enough, four months later the girl’s step-father was killed in an auto accident.

Gone again.

I can’t imagine being 20 and losing two fathers in four months. The emotional and financial implications of both these losses were huge and they had an immediate ripple effect on everyone in the family. I saw the first posting on Face Book the week before Thanksgiving. No mention of the tragedy, it simply stated that the poster was looking to free-lease her horse in exchange for it’s care. The post was accompanied by a photo of a little bay horse with a soft eye and a cute face.

I was instantly drawn to the photo. After all, Beanie was a bay and the similarities between the two horses were striking. I went on to read a bit more about the horse. It was small (a plus), it was a Quarter Horse (a plus), a gelding (perfect!) and he had been there, done that. (HUGE plus!) I kept reading, thinking I’d eventually come across something that would rule out this horse as a possible candidate for our farm. Much to my surprise, the post didn’t mention anything that sounded the least bit iffy. I shot off a response hoping I might be able to contact the owner before the holidays kicked in and the weather went south.

The girl sent a quick reply to my inquiry and we decided to talk on the phone. It was only then that I learned the sad story of the reason behind her need to place the horse. Her composure while telling the story was nothing short of amazing. She wasn’t going to beg anyone for sympathy or use her sad loss as a means to find a quick fix to her problem. That said, she was in an incredibly tight jam. Not only did she not have the funds to pay for room and board for the horse, but the small private farm had recently changed hands and the owners wanted her horse out immediately, if not sooner!

With the holiday right around the corner it was tough to set a date to see the horse. The girl didn’t put any pressure on me to do so and much to my discredit, I kind of let things slide. I dunno. It’s easy to get all excited about something, but another thing entirely to work out all the details and make it happen. I got a bit overwhelmed thinking about what it would take to actually bring another horse to our farm. Would my husband even get on board with the idea? We’d gotten used to the simplicity of having only one, sometimes two horses, instead of three. Days slipped by until another week or two had passed when I saw the post again. Pleading. Begging for someone to take this horse. Not buy the horse, but lease it for free.

I contacted the girl (again) and this time I actually made a date to drive out to meet her horse. The weather forecast was awful so we chose the only day that it wasn’t supposed to rain or snow. I think I was prepared to discover something majorly wrong with this horse, something the girl had either overlooked or had purposely left out of the description in hopes of placing him. But I was wrong. What I found was an adorably kind, patient, gentle little gelding with gaits as smooth as butter and an owner whose humble strength moved me to tears. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the girl ride her horse around in the semi-frozen, greasy pasture. He was obedient and willing in spite of not having been ridden in a couple of months. No buck. No head tossing. No fussing. Just a cute-as-a-button ride. I hopped on, got the same response, and in that instant I was totally and thoroughly sold on taking this boy home with me!

We only had one problem. Well, maybe two or three. First of all, I had to convince my husband that we needed a third horse and second, neither the girl nor I owned a trailer. I pretty much figured we could find (read as: hire) a means of transportation, but I wasn’t so sure that I could (sight-unseen) sell this horse to my husband. What did know was that time was of essence. The clock was ticking and this girl had to get her horse rehomed as quickly as possible or risk his getting kicked off the property. The girl had literally been driving around with two bales of hay and a bag of grain in her car because the farm owner refused to let her bring any more feed or supplies to the barn. I’d like to think they were ignorant of how difficult it is to rehome a horse at the start of a New England winter, but even that said their cruelty and lack of compassion was totally uncalled for. They made it pretty clear that time was of essence.

I won’t bore you with the details, but obviously we overcame all our obstacles. It was an incredibly challenging and stressful week of pulling strings and calling in favors, but in the end Rascal was delivered to our farm the afternoon of Friday, December 13th. (Thanks Dawne!)  Rascal’s introduction to Bullet was uneventful and relatively calm and both boys settled into an uncomplicated partnership. The weather took an immediate turn for the worst and we got several inches of snow the day after Rascal arrived. It would have been nice if the new horse had a few days to get the lay of the land first, but it wasn’t in the cards. However, Rascal has turned out to be the easiest horse we’ve ever had. Nothing phases him.

A week later I did a maiden, 2 hour ride on Rascal. First time out on the trail and he just took everything we saw and did in stride! He has a champagne jog and super light mouth. Nothing bothers him … not the huge icicles hanging off rock ledges, not seeing frozen Salmon River up close, not being lunged at by an out of control German Shepherd on the Airline Trail, not being passed by several cars on a short segment of road, not having my riding partners go off on a different trail leaving us to finish the last 1.5 hour of our ride alone. Even when snow suddenly came crashing down from the ledges along the trail this boy just stood still for a second or two, then went on his merry way like it was just another day in the woods for him! Rascal’s going to be a great little trail partner for sure!

 

I’m feeling twice blessed: Once with the arrival of this amazing little horse and twice with the new friendship of his mom. I can’t thank Danielle enough for trusting me with her Little Rascal. It’s somewhat bittersweet to feel so good at the expense of Danielle’s loss, but I know she’s happy that we’ll be taking good care of her boy. So I’m going to let myself enjoy this giddy feeling for a while. I think I deserve that much.