Tuesday, October 11, 2011

All the Pretty Horses

Over the years I have been lucky enough to ride nearly 70 different horses (yes, I've kept a list).  I've wanted my OWN horse through ALL of these long 17 years I've been riding, but realizing it now, this has been a blessing.  I'm a million times better a rider having ridden all these different horses than I would have been otherwise.  I never had an opportunity to "get comfortable" with a horse.  I always had to adapt to their differences.  Stan was the closest I came to "getting comfortable". 

This is the story of my lessons.

My journey began as a five year old with a local farrier's pony, Rocky.  Maybe this early experience has led to my preference for bay colored horses later in life...  Its hard to say.  Rocky was a patient pony, he was good with me and my naïveté.


Another horse, the first full-size horse I was allowed to ride on my own, was Skip.  I only rode this horse one time, maybe twice.  But I'll never forget that first taste of freedom, getting to be alone and in control of guiding him around the ring.  Granted, he was experienced and probably just did his own thing despite my urgings, but he was good.  My childhood best friend Chelsey and her dad knew the people who owned him.  Chels and I got to ride him and his pasture-mate Cricket, a buckskin mare I regret not having a photo of her.


Demo (dee-moh) was one of my greatest teachers. I began taking lessons with a high school girl (Phoebe) while I was in 4th grade.  Once a week she would meet us after school (the HS and elementary were across a road from each other) and my mom would drive us to Phoebe's house (30 minutes away) and I would trail ride with her.  Phoebe didn't push me too hard, too fast, but I wasn't coddled by any means.  She would basically go on a trail ride she liked, and I tagged along.  I was expected to keep up or catch up.  If she was galloping, I could either hold Demo back at a trot or go with.  He was a great horse.  Got me through a lot of my first woodsy horseback adventures.  We encountered all the same kinds of things I encounter nowadays.  He was a remarkable horse.

A very serious me (in a turtle shirt) on Demo
Demo and I - note my epic coat around my waist & denim vest, a sign of the 90s!

Jewel, the appaloosa gelding in the below shot, was the first horse I ever fell off.

I would ride Jewel when Demo needed a break for whatever reason.  He was okay, but he was no Demo.  One particularly raucous ride we were running the horses home (yeah, I know, idiot decision).  Phoebe was leading on her black horse Ebony and Jewel and I were following.  I was way out of control and not balanced on this horse's back.  Je was so un-Demo and he was also cantering which was something I had minimal experience with at that point.  I lost balance, got bumped far forward, grasped his neck in desperation, slipped slowly forward and under, and then I fell underneath him cracking my helmeted head against the gravel drive and watched as four steel-shod hooves sailed over my body and face.

As a result I wouldn't ride a horse above a trot - without tears - for another three years.

Part of my long hiatus from cantering/galloping was due to the fact that there was a year in there when I didn't ride at all.  Then I began weekly lessons (45 minutes away) at a riding stable where Chels and a couple of my other friends were riding.  I rode many horses while I was there.  When pushed to canter, I would always break into tears.  One day a horse broke me of that, I don't remember which horse, but whoever he was (I almost ALWAYS rode geldings there) he showed me that disaster didn't have to strike. I'm grateful for whichever gelding that was and my riding instructor for pushing me outside of my comfort zone.

And so I continued learning, and slowly fell in love with speed.

With time my abilities to sit just about anything had advanced to the point where my riding instructor let me "train" (read: I was the only one who rode him) a particularly unruly gelding she had, Yogi - or by his appropriately registered AQHA alias, Buck Destiny (PS, if anyone in the world has met this horse or knows where he is now, I'd love to hear!).

Yogi - the buck-meister

Yogi, as his registered name suggests, had a bucking problem.  He was an angel until you'd put in into a lope, and then the fun began.  I never really got to see how high he threw them, but judging by the images I've seen of other horses and the way the rider was seated, it looks similar to what I was experiencing.  Honestly, I never had an issue with his bucks.  I never, ever came off.  I don't even recall coming close.  Since he only threw bucks in the lope, they just seemed like an extra deep part of the motion to me - he was so polite about it.  I didn't even notice what was going on.  My mom and riding instructor would always joke that I must have Velcro between my ass and the saddle.  Yogi did get much better with time and eventually quit bucking when I rode him.

The first horse to teach me real speed was a little Appy X mare named Misty.  We jaunted around on a few trails and at a fun show.  Little lady loved to boogy.  And while I found it terrifying to go so fast at that time (my first experience truly galloping), there was something thrilling about it.


By this time, I was in 7th grade.  My three best friends all had horses of their own at this point.  One was kept at the riding instructor's place, and the other two were kept (one still IS kept) where I had Orion originally.  I began going out with my friends and trail riding on one of their horses, or one of Linda's - the lady who owns the place.  These two horses, a leopard Appaloosa named Apache - featured earlier this summer on here - and a Polish Arab named Luke (RIP buddy, 2010) taught me even more.

Luke, and his person, Barbara

These horses were the first I experienced a full-out gallop on.  They learned with us as we learned on the trails.  We got lost and found together.  We gallivanted and probably did a lot of things we shouldn't have (i.e. trespassing), but you seriously couldn't ask for a better learning experience! In hindsight, it's a miracle I survived these years...

Sophomore year of HS another horse showed up at Linda's while his owner was in Alaska for a year or so.  Sipapu (sih-pah-poo), another Appaloosa, was the horse I'd fallen off the most until I met Q (hahahahaha).  Most of my falls were for silly reasons, but one was very epic. 

We were cantering along a gravel back road - where we did a lot of our riding - and we slipped.  He slipped.  For those of you not familiar w/ a back mountain gravel road, they're built into the side of a mountain.  One side of the road is a small ditch and then uphill, and the other side typically falls off quick and sharp and goes for awhile.  And no, there are no guard rails.  Well, horses who are barefoot (all of these horses all their lives) like to be on the edges of these roads where its softest.  Sip got too close that day, he slipped and started going over the edge, so I bailed.  Epic fail on my part.  He regained himself, his feet scrambling.  I was on the road lying on my back through his scrambling and he used MY CHEST to stand up on.  His hoof and his 1,110-pound body putting pressure directly on my chest.  Luckily for me, he placed his hoof directly over my sternum which protected me from any internal damage.  Nonetheless, it was definitely the scariest moment of my equine career to date!

Sip and I and my magical hair cut

 More adventures with these horses continued through the years.  Sip went back home after a wonderful year of him as "my" horse.  I sadly discovered that he died the following winter after he left due to ingesting too many dried maple tree leaves.  He was a good boy.

The adventures slacked off for a year-ish though.  And so I sought out other options because unlike my friends at that point in life, I couldn't be swayed with other activities. My mind was all horses all the time.

"Another option", Halflingers!  So hard to keep my seat on such a broad back!  I love my facial expression here.

With time I ended up at the [then] Pony Garage.  Sonya, the lady in charge of the barn, is like family to me now.  We're still very close.

Sonya started me riding on her two mares she'd owned most of her life.  Brandy, the bay, was a speed lover.  She'd been a barrel racer for many years of her life, damn good too.  She made me realize I could never run barrels though.  We did it a couple times.  Knocking a barrel over forcefully with my shin once did it for me though.

On Brandy

It was only a short time before Sonya realized I was capable of a greener mount to challenge and hone my skills more.  And so my adventures with Stan slowly began (a lengthy story chronicled throughout the blog). 

But there were be many occasions when I could ride another horse still. This horse was one of those experiences:

Mack had never been outside of a stall or field or ring, and I took him on a 6 hour trail ride.  He was at the barn for training to become a very spiffy western pleasure show horse.  I got to show him that life could be a little more than walking in circles though.  He went from "OH MY GOD OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT!" at the beginning of the day to "Oh. My. God. Is. It. Overrr?!" by the end of the day.  Horse wouldn't walk over a culverted  pipe under the road, was afraid of trash cans, birds, cows, trees, leaves, lines painted on the road, fire hydrants, other horses, flags, trailers, and some people.  But not by the end of the day! It was a pivotal point for me watching what time and miles could do for a horse.

A few more horses interlaced these years in my life, but my adventures with Stan really began to take over.  I became very accustomed to the 15.3hh QH.  We were learning together.  His quirks and mine began to match up.  We started to get really in sync.  Needless to say, the opportunity to try my skill on a lesser (ONLY IN HEIGHT!) horse was an opportunity I couldn't resist...


Ferdinand, affectionately called Ferdie (a Section B Welsh Pony), taught me a quick lesson regarding my view towards ponies though!  I schooled him a handful of times and never had an issue.  And then one day he came to the show (little guy had some HUGE national awards jumping) with his little girls.  They were done with him for the day and so I got to take a ride on him to help him burn off some energy.  It went well, I mean, other than the fact that everyone and their brother was laughing their ass off at me on this little pony.  After the ring work (even some jumping!) we went out back into the big field to run off some [more] energy.  Well, little man got a little hyped up and flew into a bucking rage.  I did pretty well...until the seventh buck.  He got me off on that one.  And proceeded to frolic away from me through the field.  Little snot.  Never under estimate size, I never will again! 

The Arab mare behind us was the first Arabian I had a lot of experience with. She was more like Q than any horse I've ever met

My time with Stan has [perhaps] ended.  It is significantly less than it used to be.  And I'm back to schooling on many different horses on many different days.  Its fun, but I do miss the connection.  I know I'll find it again someday.  When I do, I hope I still find time to keep my skills up-to-date on other horses though.  Its really a phenomenal thing, riding and experiencing so much.  I honestly wouldn't trade it for the world!

"In riding a horse we are borrowing freedom"

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