I apologized to my husband. I don't think he understood. When I said "I was NUTS about horses as a kid," I think he believed the "as a kid" meant it wouldn't come back. Whoops.
Minnesota's great; it's like I'm an addict at a half-price crack sale compared to Connecticut, where I'm from. I couldn't afford horse-related stuff as a kid (with non-horsey parents), but I can here. After a visit home, when an airline offered us free vouchers and an overnight hotel stay if we bumped our flight until morning, Husband thought I had lost it when I turned to him and said "But, I'd miss my lesson!" I knew I had to pace myself. I had a semester of lessons or so under my belt. And, I needed to practice what I knew before investing in more lessons.
I found an ad on Craigslist: "Beginners to advanced, Five free lessons with a 6-month half-lease: 90 dollars/month." I was sold. Cheaper than lessons alone but with bonus ones! I called the woman up and asked if she had a beginner horse available. She did. I explained my level, I could get a horse from pasture, groom, tack, and safely walk/trot and was learning to canter and do teeny weeny jumps. She mulled over 6 or 7 possibilities. Did I want odd or even days? (Odd, of course, some months have 31 days!) I met her at the barn where the horse was boarded. I was directed to find her at the outdoor arena.
He was a sleek, black Arabian gelding, and they were whipping around doing tight circles. She told me how smooth he was. I got on. We did not click.
He was very responsive, and very small. I hadn't ridden anything that narrow, or jumpy. I didn't feel secure. How did he move so much just walking!? I have wide hips, and I still do not like riding narrow horses, even with a better seat nowadays. I probably could have worked it out with time, but was so self conscious with her watching me. What would I do if she said I was too bad to ride her horses? She said to never fear, she has the perfect horse for me coming back from horse camp. Come on Thursday. I showed up Thursday, still feeling like an intruder, and also kinda dumb. I failed at that horse, how bad was I? With 60+ horses on the farm, I kept waiting for someone to tell me I was unauthorized. I came around the old barn to see the largest horse trailer I've ever seen (to this day). I see her lead a very pregnant, grey Arab off the trailer, handing her over to an old farmer. She spied me. ”There she is, Roger, give her to Robyn!" And she hopped into the truck and drove away with how ever many other horses were inside. Roger handed me a cotton lead.
"Here you go." The Arab mare began to dance around me screaming for the 10 or so friends who just left and at the 60 strange horses around her. I held on, afraid I'd lose her, or she'd run right over me. "What do I do with her!?" I asked, frantic Did someone really just hand me a horse and leave? A horse that's throwing a fit? What do I do with it?
"You can put her in a stall for the night, she'll get a herd in the morning."
"Where?" I creaked out, not taking my eyes off the blowing, dancing Arab. I had no idea where anything was on the property. Which building had stalls? Which stall? Again, why had the owner just upped and left? What if I hadn't been early? Why is she screaming? Roger showed me to a stall, and his wife, the BO helped set it up. For all I knew at the time they were kind strangers.
"You can go in there with her if you want."
"Okay," I followed direction, but honestly was a little nervous jumping into a confined area with a large animal that was obviously upset, stamping in circles and hollering out her little window.
Someone handed me a brush, someone else found the light switch, and I sat with her for a couple of hours until she was calmer.
She was gorgeous. 15HH, typey head, ears alert, neck arched, nostrils wide. She had a large melanoma on one side of her face, and where she had scars on her butt, they grew in as black dots and squiggles. She kept looking at me. Her name was Jessie. Damn. My husband's name is Jesse. I couldn't do that.
"Off to ride Jessie!" "Jessie was being a pill so I had to use a crop" "This bruise? Oh, I fell off Jessie." No, wouldn't do. I showed up to be shown her stuff and to test-ride two days later. Her owner was tacking her up and I was taking mental notes, the differences from my lesson horses in the tack used. No baby pad and numnah, she had just the baby pad. How to bridle at a hitching rail instead of cross-ties. When she showed some resistance at being bitted, the owner punched her in the head.Wait, WHAT!? Yup. "I know people say you shouldn't hit a horse in the head because it makes them head shy but I do and none of my horses are head shy," she offered as a quick explanation.
Oh...kay. I didn't want to argue with someone more knowledgeable than me just yet, but secretly vowed I would not start hitting horses in the head like that. Surely, nobody would make me.
We went down to ride in the outdoor arena again, and I got on. Much better. I felt very secure on her large lumbering self. She refused to trot for me, continuing to stumble around on the rail, so the owner wanted to get on and school her for a minute. I had seen instructors school horses for being naughty before, so I hopped off, figuring she'd just get her to do what I had been trying. Nope, That poor, pregnant horse was galloped around the arena HARD. Stopped HARD, and turned HARD.
I was confused. Was this because the horse was normally ridden Western? "She needs a stronger bit, I'll bring one up next time," she told me, hopping off. I didn't like that. Seemed like the wrong answer.
"Okay," I said, again, not wanting to argue. I got back on and could sense her anxiety. She still wouldn't trot, started this half-walk half-trot stumbly pace. "Kick harder!" she yelled to me. I kicked. I didn't want the horse to be schooled again so instead of the squeezeing and nudging, the gentle cues I'd had to give school horses, I gave her a good kick.
"HARDER!" she yelled again. I gave a desperate fwap, having to raise my feet out almost to hip height to kick harder. We did this several more times. I hated it. Something just seems very wrong about kicking a preganant horse hard. I get anatomy pretty well but it felt like I was kicking the baby. She went into a breakneck trot that was at least wide enough for me to post well, and ignored the bit until we got to the gate where the owner waited.
"I love her, she's perfect," I called out, lying. At least she was slow and smooth. I didn't want her to get into more trouble.
"Good!" She smiled. I wrote the check.
Over the next four months I managed to never set up my lessons. I didn't want to ride that way, it didn't look right, didn't feel right. It looked fast and mean. I figured the horse wouldn't mind either.
Every time I came out, she would be eating. I called her "Piggums." I was in love. I would graze her and groom her for 40 minutes before riding, brushing and grazing her afterwards, too. I think she loved me a bit as well. If I was picking her feet and there was a tasty morsel out of reach, she'd go down on her knee to get it before taking that foot away from me.
I became increasingly annoyed with her owner. I would be told to tell the owner that she needed her feet done, needed a blanket (pregnant and not terribly hairy), and would relay the message dutifully.
Someone at the farm trimmed her feet out of pity for me, the BO found a blanket off one of her horses for her. I, who wanted a horse to learn to post and sit the trot on, and be practicing a balanced seat, found myself spending time getting her to stop when I asked since I didn't want to switch to the harsher bit that luckily never made it's way to the farm.
I just kept turning her into the fence until she stopped making me do that. I used a crop to gently tap-tap her on the shoulder to trot instead of wailing on her, until she didn't need even that, a simple shift in the saddle like the schoolies or a cluck.
I had to convince her that I wouldn't hit her on the head, because she was head shy.
She seemed sad all the time. She'd perk up every once in a while, but she kept burying her face in me, hiding from the world.
I decided to save some money, and discontinue my lease. I switched to a smaller grey, arab mare who was offered to me for a free full lease. A beautiful dressage kid's horse. Very funny, lively, and happy. Happy. It almost didn't seem right. She had her own physical problems recovering from an injury and had EPM years before, but was safe and sound to ride and free made more sense than paying.
She was so willing and smart!
Plus, I didn't have a clue what to do with a foal when it arrived. It made sense. I told myself this. Nobody else rode Piggums, or visited her, but since I ended my lease with her I didn't want to be seen getting her out without paying for the privilege, in case someone told her owner.
I would sneak into her paddock at night, or later her stall to groom her in secret or let her out roam around in the arena, to pet her and love her. I always found a carrot for Piggums. The barn owner knew, as I'm sure she noticed the piles of hair around the suddenly clean horse after knowing I'd been around the night before.
One day, someone left the arena door open to the stall area. I could see her little face pressed against the birthing stall bars, watching me mount the little grey arab. She looked even sadder than normal, her big eyes longing.
I rode on the rail, the little mare needed more of a warmup. I passed the door, and Piggums neighed. As I rode around, she kept neighing. Nobody else noticed that Piggums called out twice for each lap I made in the arena, once as I went past the door, once as I passed opposite of the door. Each time she could see me, she'd call. I felt horrible.
Another day I came out to ride the little mare, and I saw Piggums out in the round pen, with her little black arab baby!
The BO wanted to bring them back into the stall for the night, and asked would I lead Pig while she wrangled the little Piglet? In the stall the BO had me lay on/next to the foal to help imprint since Piggums liked me most and would resent it less, and of course THAT moment was when the owner showed up. "Hi." I looked up.
"Well," she smiled, mildly accusatory "What are you doing there?"
"Ah," I stammered a bit, then smiled brightly back "Here's your baby! She's gorgeous!"
I jumped out of the stall, out of the barn, and hid in the pasture for a bit "looking" for the little grey mare. By the time I got back to the barn, the owner was gone.She stayed long enough for a couple of photos and left. I tried keeping up my visits to Piggums in her stall at night. The foal was a terror. The BO was halter breaking her, to lead them out for the day, and in at night.
"Worst foal ever!" she declared.
“They're normally sweet and lovey. This one's a little shit!"
We picked her up, we laid her down, she was horrible. I stopped grooming Piggums in her stall, the foal had aimed both back hooves at me and clipped me in the kneecap. She bit me. I saw much more of her butt than I cared to.
The owner never came out. They were moved to their own paddock. Piggums hated her foal. She'd let her nurse, but the foal would then kick and bite her and chase her around. Piggums always called for me, abandoning her baby to run over if I so much as walked by. I visited her in the pasture while the foal busily tried to defeat the hot wire fence or strike out at neighboring horses.
She'd put her face in my chest and sigh. Broke my heart. I figured they were leaving soon, mom and baby. Where the owner had her other horses (and two stallions), she could keep them for much cheaper.
Turns out, she was behind on board. Very behind. I looked into my finances.
I decided: If she defaulted and the BO took possession... I would bail her out. I would keep her, and I would make her happy. No more broodmare duty. No more horse camp every summer.
I asked the owner how much for the horrible foal. Five thousand. No way. I waited.
One day I arrived to the farm, and they were gone.
The owner came up with enough money to bail her horses, probably short for board somewhere else, and just led mom onto the truck, with baby following loose, because she couldn't be caught.
The BO had refused to help load, I think hoping she'd have to stick around.
Piggums was gone.
It's been two years. I have a fat quarter horse, who I love. I still ride the little mare on occasion. But some days especially, I miss Piggums. I know where she is, kind of. The owner leased a field, sans any shelter (no shelter no blanket in MN winter) , not too far from the farm. I could drive around and find it, maybe.
Last I heard she was up to 64 horses. She lives in a rented room in some old lady's house, with her teenage son. She buys horses every spring and sells every fall, making money on the ones that go to horse camp.
She told me if she liked the horse, she finds them a good home. If she doesn't like them, then she doesn't care where they go. The last of her horses that she boarded at my farm was so skinny he had ribs and hips popping out like crazy, and people were upset.
I keep track of her website, waiting for the word "liquidation." I'll be there with a trailer and a wad of cash in a heartbeat, but she's one of her "favorite" mares, and not likely to go anytime soon. I've asked her offhand in an email how they're doing, and she says "fat and sassy." But I wonder...