Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Horses Who Made Me: Stanley


I could honestly write a book on the things I learned from this horse. He has been a part of this blog here and there since I've been writing. My years with Stan really finished off my foundation of experience with horses. He was the solid finish to what I'd been establishing to build the rest of my life with horses from.

Stan became a project horse of sorts for me while I worked at The Pony Garage. Sonya's boyfriend bought him as a 4 year old prospect for trail riding. Her boyfriend is a tall guy with LONG legs, so a bigger horse was a necessity. Stan is an Appendix QH who stood at 15.3hh - perfect for someone with height and leg.

I began riding Stan shortly after they purchased him. His early riding career had consisted mostly of him being confined to a stall or a ring - much like Mack - so his knowledge of trails and outside elements was minimal. Everything was new. He didn't even know how to properly canter with a rider on uneven surfaces, as he'd only been asked to do it in arenas.

I put an endless number of miles on this horse. Every time I went out to ride, I rode Stan. Every. Time.

It was sometime in 2006 when I started my adventures with him. We'd hack down the road to the 4-H arena and fool around. We'd pair up with Carly and her horse and race large circles around the hay fields behind the 4-H arena. We'd hack through the woods hither and thither on established trails and others that we'd create. We'd set up jumps with deadwood and jump them. We even rode in a horse show - I though it was 4-H but I remember adults with fancier horses being there (Stan's breeder in particular) so it must have been some other show - and we managed to get English high point! We rode in the sun, the rain, the snow, and everything in between.

A different horse than he'd been
By March of 2007 - my senior year in high school - Stan was a different horse. He'd learned how to move efficiently with a rider at all gaits. He really came out of his shell when I was aboard. His owner would ride him on a trail ride here and there, but I was his primary rider. The difference when I was riding Stan and when anyone else did was stark. It was obvious that Stan had chosen me as his preferred human. He was apt to be an asshole to a lot of other people.

One of my favorite things to do with Stan was to SPRINT up the first third of the driveway when we returned from the trails and arena that we accessed from that side of the property. I knew not to run a horse home, but that first 300 yards of the long driveway, straight uphill, was always so much fun. And Stan would always stop at the top and walk home on a loose rein after. At the bottom though? Ohhhh, he anticipated that gallop like nothing else. He'd try to rush it every time. I'd have him on a tight rein to hold him back. Refusing to release him until we'd set foot on the gravel. And then I'd give him his head and we'd take off up the hill, slowing to a stop at the apex.

Stan never danced or sped up in anticipation of this hill with any rider but me. It was our thing and he knew that.

Stan was always for sale from the moment Sonya and her boyfriend got him. They were never 100% pleased with him, but he was never *truly* awful either. They never actively advertised him, but if someone were to ask he was most certainly "for sale". The time I put into him made him better and better. The show upped his sale price. They put him through cribbing surgery to fix that nasty habit (yes, it did fix it, and was very, very worth it), which also upped his sale price.

When spring 2007 rolled around, Sonya proposed an idea to me. Ride Stan in an endurance ride. She'd ride with me on Kix - a little Arabian gelding who'd come into her possession that she wanted to train.

Endurance? Huh? What's that?

Sonya had printed off a training schedule she'd found online for me. She knew the way I was already riding Stan was perfect conditioning for endurance. A local rider - Jen - was planning to put on a ride in our area for the first time. The original route for this ride included trails that I had access to from the barn Stan was at. I could train on the actual course! Perfect!

Sonya went through the kind of riding (lots of trotting) I'd need to do and the quantity of riding per week I'd need to pursue in order to get Stan in great shape. The fact that he was a QH and the fact that QH aren't typical for endurance was never mentioned. We honestly knew NOTHING about AERC, endurance, training, or proper mounts at this point in time. We just knew how to get a horse really fucking FIT.

And so I rode. I rode 5 days a week from March until August.

I rode in the woods, I rode on the side of the road, I rode in the arena. I jumped, did marches up and down mountains, and bushwacked through chaos. I rode in the sun. In the rain. In the snow. Nothing stopped me. When I went to summer 4-H camps, Sonya rode Stan for me. She rode him in the sun and rain, night and day. (She rode Kix, too, but not like I was riding Stan.)

Finally the first weekend in August rolled around. The ride wasn't on the trails I'd been training on due to a snafu with the National Forest and endangered species concerns, but the trails it was on were comparable. Easier in several aspects, even!

The Ride Between the Rivers was born.

Stan and I and Sonya and Kix entered in the 30 miler.

The woes of then-ignorant-to-endurance folks aside (issues with ridecamp and ride management), it was a crazy awesome atmosphere. I loved and hated it. Loved because it all seemed SO wonderful. Hated because of the negative attitude I received from SO many people at that event because I was in my hand-me-down Crosby saddle on a non-Arab.

Stan was a superstar though. And the husband of one of the big-time NE region riders (she was heavily involved in endurance both nationally and abroad) complimented me on how wonderful Stan looked and moved. He said he could really tell the time I'd put into the horse and the bond between us.

I've discussed my woes with this first ride and my first experience with AERC on the blog numerous times before, though I cannot find the *exact* entry where I covered the details.

The nitty gritty of it all is this:

Sonya was supposed to ride with me. We were quickly separated at the start when Kix pitched a bucking fit. She yelled for me to keep going - she knew I could do it without her (she would later get lost and give up to just sit around and drink beer with some of the number-takers).

I slipped Stan in with a group of riders as politely as I could, doing my best to keep proper, polite distances from everyone around me amidst the chaos. I was very uncertain of the pace I should keep.

Finally, a lady on a grey Arabian I'd been trailing behind let me know it was okay to pass her if I wanted. I confessed that I was new to this and so was Stan and we didn't know what kind of pace to keep! She asked what kind of training we'd been doing and I succinctly informed her about riding 5 days a week for 5 months on trails that were typically more difficult than this. With a grin, she told me to let him go his pace and head off ahead of her.

And so I did. We did. He did.

We passed person after person, bit by bit. Stan adored every moment of it. His ears were always forward and happy. We rode most of the ride on our own. Ride your own ride? I was doing that before I even knew such a concept existed. I was listening to my horse and doing what he told me was best.

The morning of the ride. Oh Stanley.

The day soared by. The middle vet check was a bit of a chaotic mess - people suggesting we do different things to get Stan's pulse down before the nice husband-of-the-good-rider came over and helped us by taking AWAY the grain, taking stressful stimuli AWAY from Stan, and helping us to sponge him and scrape him.

We left that vet check well within the top 10.

But then Stan pulled a shoe in deep mud.

I noticed a few miles out, once we were on a gravel road and not a dirt trail, that he was off and that he'd lost a shoe. I thought about going back, but I wasn't sure if that would disqualify me so I didn't. I wanted to find Sonya or another ride management person (most were my friends) and get an EasyBoot. Sonya had them with her on Kix. I had none!

Awhile passed before we came to the first helper. I asked her to watch him walk and see if he was okay. She watched him move, then picked up the shoeless hoof and assured me he was fine, he'd just be tender on the gravel was all. She told me if I thought he was in pain anywhere but the ouchy gravel and I said no. She suggested that I keep going then, just stick to the soft places as much as I could. Continue as long as Stan wanted to.

And we did.

Eventually we came upon two other riders. They were the two front runners. I was completely oblivious to this fact. I was riding my ride, following the ribbons, just trying to get to the end. I didn't understand points, placings, best condition, or anything! I just wanted to ride 30 miles on my horse!

Well, one of these ladies had a nasty look on her face from the get-go when I wandered up behind them. She saw Stan gimping on the gravel surface (why, oh, why did we have to meet on gravel and not in the woods?!) and immediately lay into me with a piece of her mind, "Your horse is lame." "He pulled a shoe. He's happy on anything but gravel." "You have no business being out here on that horse. Its none of my business, but if I were you, I would dismount and walk him in." I looked meekly at the lady, scared and uncertain what to do. Thankfully at that moment, Stan dropped his head to eat.

I let him know it was okay to stand a bit and eat. I wanted those ladies to keep going and be far away from me. They scared me and angered me. I knew my horse. I knew he was happy. It was just the ouchy hard gravel that hurt him. He was plunging ahead on all the other surfaces. We were even riding on the edge of the road where there was no gravel most of the time! I still had SO MUCH HORSE under me that late in the ride. He was happy and alert with bright eyes, a great appetite, and drinking well!

Ultimately, I ended up trailing aimlessly behind those ladies for the last few miles of the ride (I caught up to them near the end). Stan asked so, so, so many times to plunge ahead of them and keep going. I did my best to just redirect him to eating some grass instead. I didn't want to pass that woman and have her verbally accost me again; she'd been shooting me dirty looks over her shoulder the entire time I was behind them. The second woman ended up trailing behind at some point when the other woman kept going. She was silent as I passed her, still trailing aimlessly behind the mean lady I was afraid to pass.

Stan and I crossed the finish line in 2nd place. I was nearly in tears.

No one told us once we'd finished that it would be okay to slap an EasyBoot on prior to the trot out. Stan was A-Okay other than that sore foot. The trot out area had some stones in it, so he predictably gimped through it and we were pulled. The farrier slapped a shoe on him right afterwards and he walked away sound as could be.

I was in tears. I was hurt and confused about the whole process of things. The ride volunteers - my friends - were all upset, too, that people had been so rude to me. It was a really crappy experience, but it is what it is and I can't change it.

Bottom line though - Stan was so awesome. So, so awesome. So fun and game for the whole ride. The time I'd spent with him prior to the ride really, really prepared him.

After our foray into the world of endurance, I headed to college. I would ride Stan whenever I was home, but it became more and more difficult to do with my schedule.

A barn fire happened where Stan was kept the second year I was in college. It freaked me out in a bad way. Stan was okay, though one of the mares I knew was consumed in the blaze.

I still made it out to see Stan whenever I could throughout the rest of my college years. I felt I owed it to him go to out and spend time with him. He loved our rides so much and he wasn't getting any use without me.

I still foster dreams of buying Stan to have as my own one day. But that reality is far away. I know he's safe and happy in his field right now. The place he's almost always been. I don't have time for three horses and I really don't know what I'd do with him right now. But one day, perhaps he can be mine again. He's certainly taught me so much and been there for me when I felt like no human understood me. I owe it to him to step up and help him out if he is ever in need of a home. For now though, he's got that, and I've got my two to keep me busy.

Stanley horse, you helped make me more than you even know.

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