Friday, February 11, 2011

Horses, dolphins, & unicorns

I love NPR.  I love that the types of things they report on.  I love that they cover musicians that aren't as well-known.  I love that they are more grass-roots than most news programs.  It really makes me feel more at home with things.

I was just reading this article on there about horses, dolphins, and unicorns and why little girls love them.  I felt as if I have something to add...being as I am one of those girls.

I was quite the sketcher as a kid.  I still can be, but it's just not as important to me as it once was.  All of my drawings were colorful in the early years.  As many colors as I could find.  Later they turned into pencil sketches mostly, the occasional pastel portrait.  But always they were of horses.  Sometimes dolphins.  Sometimes unicorns.  But always horses.

I've loved horses as long as I can remember.  I started taking lessons when I was five.  I continued taking lessons until I was thirteen when I began just riding for fun.  My lessons were never those ritzy things that you see in movies though.  Usually just working on proper generic form in the saddle.  Balance and all.  Things to know so that I didn't kill myself or the horse in a fall.  I've only ever been in four shows.  Western in three, English in one.  I've never owned my own horse.  I've recently obtained my own English saddle.  It was a wonderful Christmas gift a few years ago.  A beautiful Crosby that's seen better days, but is in phenomenal condition all things considered.  I love it dearly.  Despite never owning my own horse, and until recently not owning my own saddle, I've always found a way to ride.  Its what you do when you love something.

Getting out on the trail in the woods is an amazing thing.  Summer of 2006 I started training a horse named Stan.  An Appendix Quarter horse who hadn't seen much of the world outside his stall or field.  He was afraid of EVERYTHING at first.  That's how horses are in the beginning.  They've got to get out there and experience things to realize they aren't going to attack them.  He was terrified of bridges, blowing leaves, road cones, cars, trucks, trash cans, fire hydrants, trash bags, bicycles, dogs, cats, cows, geese, and about anything else you might encounter on a back country road or in the woods.  So I would go out and ride him a few times a week.  I helped him learn that its not so bad out there.  Back in those days he didn't even know how to run with a rider on his back.  He was so hesitant about everything!

March of 2007 I started training him for a 30 mile endurance ride.  I never expected to fall in love with a horse the way I did over those months.  Five days a week for an hour or three a day I went out and rode Stan.  Just the two of us usually.  Up and down mountains.  Through the woods on paths that were rarely traveled by people.  Down roads looking at all the farmsteads.  Everywhere we could get on foot from the barn we went.  Just the two of us.  It was a lot of work, looking back, but I loved it.  And he learned to love it.  He learned to love running.   He learned to love getting out.

The endurance race was August 11th.  He excelled.  He was the only full QH there.  The rest were Arabs or part Arab.  People resented us for it.  More than his breed, they resented that he was in better shape than any horse there.  A gentleman whose wife was a part of the USA Olympic endurance team helped me out a lot.  No one else would.  But he did.  He was a god-send.  Stan did beautifully the first fifteen miles.  We came in for our break in second place six minutes behind the leader.  Striking out for the last fifteen miles he lost a shoe in some deep mud.  I didn't notice still he started going lame on that front foot whenever we were on a hard surface.  But he didn't want to stop.  I knew him well enough to know that he was ok.  So we continued.  We stayed just off the trail in the grass/woods most the time.  He loved it.  But some really snotty older women thought I was being awful to him.  Women whose horses looked like they MIGHT get ridden an hour a week, MAYBE.  They didn't know me or Stan, they didn't get it.  In the end we got disqualified because he trotted out lame during the last check.  We didn't know we were allowed to put another shoe on before the check, no one told us.  No one wanted us to win because we were beginners and he was a QH.  I haven't done another endurance ride since.  I hope to one day though.

I still continued to ride Stan as much as I could after entering college.  To this day I still go up most visits home to see him and ride.  He's a completely different horse when I'm on him.  He doesn't run as fast or respond as well to any other rider, even his owner.  We've even practiced some unofficial jumps in the ring, the only part he likes about riding in a ring.  He HATES being in a ring.  That's why we only ever did one show.  He simply hates riding in a ring.  He's lackadaisical about it all.  Uncaring and apathetic about everything he's asked to do.  But get him in the woods and that boy goes.  Jumping logs, racing through fields of waist high grass at break-neck speeds, tearing through the woods on old logging trails, exploring areas where there are no trails at all, seeing bears, red-tail hawk fledglings, deer, and so many other things.  He's hardly afraid of anything any more.  The school bus and logging trucks are the only things that scare him - with good reason - and white geese terrify him for some unknown silly reason.  \To him they're big monsters with gnashing teeth and claws.

A girl's bond with her horse is like none other.  You don't need words to communicate.  There is a sixth sense about it all.  Sure, I have voice commands with Stan, but I don't need to talk to him to have a conversation.  When we run together I've never felt like we were completely out of control and that I would die.  Never.  If I just sit hard and say, "Whooooaaaa" in a low calming voice and apply a little pressure he slows down in seconds - no matter how fast or hard we're running.  His ears flick and swivel constantly.  I watch them often.  It tells me everything he's noticing and helps me to notice things too.  If he is cautious about something in the woods, I take note of the location he's concerned with.  9 times out of 10 there's something legitimate that's moving.  Rarely is it anything of concern, but I've seen a lot more interesting things from taking his cues.

I never dreamed I would have a bond like this with a horse.  I'd read about it, of course, but didn't realize how real it was.  The feeling of being on a horse itself is spectacular.  But being able to trust in that horse is even more phenomenal.  Knowing that when you're sitting upon his back, nothing but a bridle on him, sailing across a field at top speed, the wind whipping through both your hair and his mane and tail, that with just a tiny bit of pressure and a low calming noise, he will slow down to a lope, a trot, and finally a walk.  Its just freeing.  Sure, here in America we value our freedom, but I don't think anyone can truly understand the meaning of freedom until they have the chance to borrow it from a horse.  When you're riding a horse, you're borrowing freedom. 

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