I have tried to start a post all week. And every time, I delete it.
I really don’t write well when I am in a negative or sad mindset. I don’t want to let out my woe and angst in a negative way here. I want this small corner of the Internet to be a motivating and thoughtful place. One that lets me share my trials and such, but in a way that has a positive outlook moving forward.
I don’t like the bitch and complain (unless to do so humorously).
This week, I had a hard week. I’ve had such weeks before. The emotions are not new ones, but ones I don’t relish working through. Thankfully, the events causing the grief and pain are very rare. I won’t say it was horrific, because it wasn’t. It was a week of sadness, grief, moments of extreme mental pain, perhaps some anguish. But in the end, I am feeling much more peaceful and at rest than I was at the beginning.
Hence, my fingers can now move on the keyboard. It may take me awhile to get this posted, but I want to get it onto “paper”. It is a more personal post than some I have done. Click below for more.
Some folks know that from the age of four, right up until the age of 28, I was heavily involved in horses. I started showing at the age of six. I knew I wanted to make horses my career by the time I was ten. I lived, breathed, and loved horses. I did go on to teach, train, show, ride and eventually gallop race horses.
It was my world, my life, and something I never expected to leave.
All this from such a young age, in a family who knew nothing of horses until I became a horse-crazy girl. As a teen, my parents finally relented, and we bought a horse. Of course, we aren’t made of money, so we looked at places most new horse owners shouldn’t. Meat barns, sales rings, brokers and the like.
The day I saw her for the first time, we were driving past a local dealer who would buy horses from the meat sell-off rings, and re-sell them into the backyard horse community. He had a small paddock off the side of his tiny house, and in there, you would see what he had to offer, right beside the road.
“DAD, STOP!” were the words out of my mouth as we drove past, on an overcast Fall day.
Standing in that grass-stripped, tiny paddock was Flash. She was a cream coloured fuzzy thing, dark mane and tail, and brown spots covering her rump and shoulders. At first glance, I thought she was a buckskin, or a dun, but upon further investigation, it turned out she was a full-blooded Appaloosa. She even had papers!
I was in love from that moment when she turned her big doe-brown eye at me and trotted away with her tail in the air.
She was a nicely built horse (what did we know about dinner plate feet, bull necks and post legs?). She was appropriately priced (aka not a fortune), and a project for a fairly experienced young rider (never do this, fyi. Always buy a safe, trained horse as your first, people). Not a flashy TB or warmblood that would have won me countless ribbons “off the rack”, but hey… We were always adventurous with our horse purchases, and it started with Flash.
$695 later, after a rudimentary vet check, my 5 year old untrained, ill-mannered, semi-dangerous horse was loaded onto my then coach’s stock truck. With with the back rocking to and fro all the way to the barn, I watched expectantly as MY horse leapt from the back, snorting and sweat soaked. We took some pictures of me standing with her that day, in the barn yard. You could not have wiped the ear-to-ear grin off my face.
Then she bit me. I didn’t care. I was a horse owner! That day stands in my memory as crisp as if it was last week.
What followed was a lot of time, tears, bumps, and bruises… But eventually, Flash and I clicked. I rode her until the beginning of the 90’s, whereupon I moved to my next horse, one who could foreseeably take me further. Flash, never sweet, stubborn and ill-tempered, proved to be a fantastic jumper and we evented and Pony Clubbed happily (once we got through the crazy phase where every tester I faced with her said that she would likely kill me if I continued to ride her). She bog spavined, she had constant sole bruises in summer, could Houdini her way out of any sort of temporary stall, could kick with exact aim, and was completely and utterly herd bound.
But I could fit her up for show season in a month, pointed and steered on course, and could count on her to go forward to a jump where other horses would suck back and look. Clinicians loved her heart, testers used her for kids to point out conformation faults and stymy them on her official colouring. Judges thought she was “something else”, and many a comment on test scores was “is she actually able to flex at the poll?” or “More forward on the bit” written after every movement, or “Good control of a difficult horse, kudos to the rider” (which meant “your test sucked but you stayed on and in the ring, so good job”).
Striding on jumper courses was optional, because she was such a tight wee thing. I never bothered to count, because it wouldn’t matter anyways. Often we would bucket over fences with little to no form, turn in the air, or chip in and still manage to make the second in a combination without crashing. She impersonated a giraffe in dressage tests, but you could (eventually, except if we met dogs) not phase her out on a hack. She had a huge chest, pounded the ground like an elephant, had a mouth of concrete, and could swish her tail and hit my head with the tip. She was a sucker for pears, loved her hay so much don’t you dare get in front of her if she saw some, and of course, if you were to scratch her ears, she would let you cuddle her for at least half a minute before she laid them back and shook you off. There was eating to do, go away!
Even at her fittest, she only needed a cup of grain. Easiest keeping horse I ever had. Ever.
I braided that lopsided, frizzy tricoloured mane so many times I could likely do it in my sleep. Big, funny braids, since her hair was like a brillo pad mixed with a hedgehog. it sparkled in the sun like faceted glass when it was washed. She always looked stunning all kitted to go into the ring. Dark points on her ears and muzzle were always shining with baby oil. She always made sure to rub that on my white breeches at the most inopportune moment, of course.
She would follow me around in the pasture to attempt rubbing her eyes on my back, and sometimes, if no one was looking, would let me hug her for even longer. I cried many teen angst tears into that crazy brown and cream coat. I would lie on her back while she grazed (or slept) and talk to her about nothing and everything. She kicked my front tooth out when I was feeding her and her pasture mate. She dumped me unceremoniously into the dirt more times than I can remember.
I loved her so much it wasn’t possible to quantify it.
We sold her on to a riding school, who, from all accounts, loved her immeasurably. I missed her. I missed the excitement of riding her, the sheer will it sometimes took to get through her stubbornness. She was so different from my new horse, who was sensitive, exacting, much less bold, and frustrating.
In 2006, the school we sold her to asked if we wanted her back. She was retiring, her front knee now too arthritic to continue on. I had lost my big TB gelding the Fall before, and was desperate to fill the complete and utter void in my heart, from losing a horse that, if you wanted to compare, meant as much if not more than Flash.
So she came home.
My fuzzy, cranky, tank of a mare was home again. To stay this time. I rode her a couple of times, but it was evident she had one speed (as always), which was “gogogo”, and her knee had another, which was “nothankyou”. So she became a happy retired pasture ornament, and for the past seven years, lived with her pasture mates, grazing, getting fat, and being happy.
She was 28 this year. Her knee was the size of a softball, and it was obvious it caused her great pain to get up and down.
My father had looked after her and her mates for the past few years, now that I am in the city with two kids, a full-time job and a husband, loved her just as much, and was happy to do so. I knew she was happy, and well-cared for, so my heart was at ease. But my Dad isn’t a Spring Chicken anymore either. It is a lot of work to keep horses. I sometimes felt guilty about not being able to spend more time at the farm, but I also have a life with a busy family, and a budget that won’t allow for back and forth an hour away in the car.
My father and I talked about it, fearing she would slip and fall this winter and not get up. He wasn’t sure he could handle the physical needs of caring for them through the winter. I asked him to get a vet consult for her, but in the end, we really didn’t need one. I looked at her knee, bent it, and realized it wouldn’t flex when she grunted and pulled away. I looked for alternatives, maybe someone could take her and her companion Ginger, but no one was able to, with Fall being a hard time of year to place horses, most rescues full of race horses and folks giving up their extra stock before they have to budget hay out for winter.
It was time to do the right thing.
So this week, on October 16th, with heavy emotion, we laid her to rest, along with Ginger, at the farm on a wee hill beside their pasture, overlooked by a couple of big pine trees. It is peaceful, and quiet.
It was heart wrenching.
Also relieving, releasing, and immeasurably gratifying knowing we gave her a chance at a great life, helped her live it, and gifted her with a peaceful, pain-free voyage over the Rainbow Bridge.
She was the best horse. She was my first horse, and I will be forever grateful to her for setting the standard. I know she touched so many lives (in ours as well as in her school horse years). She taught so many kids how to ride, and there are countless ribbons on walls to attest to her, including mine.
Love you, you cranky old thing. Rest well, you deserve it.