Monday, January 11, 2010

Mouthy Mondays

I am guessing some of you have noticed, my blog is becoming a little more commercial. If it bothers anybody I hope you will be able to ignore it and just read the content. I heard from a friendly little bird there is $$ to be made off these blogs, so I'm trying to figure out how. I can always use some extra hay money.

Here is a story which really applies to my next post. It's kind of a dose of reality kind of thing.....

Becky writes along my train of thought exactly.

Get out the box of tissues........

Don’t get me wrong--- I loved Catarina. She was my first horse. How could I not love her, especially after all the years I spent hungering after a horse of my own?

From the time I was able to talk, I was obsessed with horses. Breyer ponies, my little ponies, plastic horses of any no-name brand... the memories of my childhood circle around the times I spent living life through their plastic, unseeing eyes. They each had names and personalities, and the Barbies in my household only existed as a backdrop for the endless, ongoing dramas I always created for my herd: Would the new foals survive the harsh winter? Would Apache fall in love with King? Oh, no! The new stallion Dark Magic was captured by the evil humans! But, wait! He jumped the 9 foot enclosure and escaped back to the herd!)

When I was 8 years old, my parents told me that if I kept up my straight A’s until the time I was 16, they would buy me a car. I immediately shot back, “What about a horse instead?”

I don’t think they really thought things through when they said yes. Maybe they thought I would grow up, grow out of my “horsey” phase?

Yeah, right.

Don’t get me wrong, when 16 hit, I knew how lucky I was to be able to have a horse. Living in the city, owning a horse was more than we could afford. But somehow, we managed.

After countless hours on the internet researching exactly what to do, and how to avoid being sold a lemon, I bought my first horse. She was beautiful—an 8 year old liver chestnut, quarter horse mare that was sweet, willing, and completely beginner safe.

By the time I got her off the trailer to our new home, she’d turned into a 13 year old mare of unknown breeding (Quarter horse/arab/morgan/pony?) that had severe neck and back problems and had probably foundered severely in the past.

She was also completely apathetic about my existence. The only thing I did luck out in was that she was the most bomb-proof, forgiving horse I’ve ever met. Nothing phased her, and I went from being a complete beginner to being able to doing everything I could dream of doing--- sidepass at a canter, riding with no reins, riding for hours bareback… she was even trained to stop and stand still whenever I fell off.

In retrospect, I think she might have been charro broke, which accounts for her lack of interest, and completely emotionless, indifference to the passionate love I had for her. Even worse, she was unsound/completely lame more often than not. After years of the frustration of owning a horse and rarely riding, I decided it was time to get a new one.

Enter Jubilee.After so much time staring at a hobbling, hurting, horse, I did the only thing I knew how in order to avoid purchasing another broken-down horse: I hunted for a horse with the floatiest, free-est, non-limpy-gate I could find.

With all that I could do on Catarina when she was well, I knew I could handle anything in terms of training. A four year old thoroughbred (gelding) with only six months off the track, Jubilee brought me back to reality. I thought I was an experienced rider--- it turns out that my mare was just an experienced teacher, and I was still completely green. It only took 1 day for me to realize just how little I knew.

I approached him in my normally hasty manner (forget a leisurely grooming! I was going to get a chance to RIDE!) and whipped out the flyspray bottle, starting with his face. He immediately pulled back, setting back and snapping his leadrope, then hitting the back of his head on an overhanging roof behind him. He began slinging his head from side to side, the horse-equivalent of, “OUCH!”

I was horrified. I didn’t even know that such a thing as “setting back” existed, and I didn’t know what to do. I froze, and then sidled up to him carefully, fully expecting another explosion. I placed my hand on his neck, speaking softly.

He stiffened his skinny neck, holding it stiff and high, almost perpendicular to his ridiculously high withers. I continued talking softly, giving him a chance to think. He stared at me with bright glassy eyes for a few moments, then licked and chewed, dropped his head, and pressed his forehead flat against my chest. My first horse hug. “Fix it,” he seemed to be saying.

My heart crumbled.

I’d like to say we had a perfect relationship after that, but life doesn’t really happen that way. He was still 4 years old and fresh from the track, and I was still a beginner rider. In fact, we never got along all that great in the saddle. He was a stereotypical thoroughbred in all the best and worst ways--- one day off, and it was back to square one. He was sweet, but not the brightest crayon in the box when it came to retaining information.

But when it came to an on-the-ground relationship, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel about a horse the way I did about Jubilee.

Maybe it’s because he was did such a terrible job at being a horse--- when turned out with a herd, he always stood about 20 yards outside of it, pathetically uncomfortable and vaguely lonely. He was just as socially inept as I was, and something about his inability to feel like part of the crowd clicked with me.

I spent hours just hanging out in his stall, reading books, feeding him hay one stalk at a time, braiding, braiding, and re-braiding his mane and tail. I learned that while his high withers made bareback riding impossibly uncomfortable, they created a little hollow, right where they met his shoulders that fit my face perfectly, and whenever I cried there, I felt comforted. I’m surprised I didn’t wear that little patch of hair away from all the hours I spent leaning into him, breathing in his healing scent.

Jubilee was there for me when my grandfather died. My grandma and I had been able to give my grandpa his wish--- he died at home, surrounded by family. But dying is rarely as clean as it is in the movies, and after months of round-the-clock care and a heart-wrenching final week of listening to him slowly drown from smoking-induced emphysema, I felt fragile. Brittle. Empty. Unable to cry. Unable to sleep. So I did what I’ve always done when I’m troubled. I drove to the stables.

I’ve always loved the stables best at night. There’s a peace and a quiet that just can’t be found during the day.

Jubilee was long-since used to my unusual hours, and he came out to greet me. It was cold, and his breath curled out in plumes from his nose. I buried my hands beneath his mane, trying to warm them. Then I buried my face in that niche, and felt myself release whatever it was that was holding me back. I cried. I cried. And then I cried some more. I think my cheeks even went to sleep, I cried so long and so hard, and I don’t know how long I would have continued if I hadn’t heard something.Jubilee nickered.

I’d heard him beg for food before, but this sound was different. It was the same sound a mare makes when calling to her foal. Deep, warm, and filled with reassurance. Startled out of my sobs, I pulled back, and saw him staring at me, ears pricked. He lipped my sleeve, and nickered again. Something about it made me laugh through my tears, and regain my composure. “I’m fine, Jubie. I’m fine...”

That was the only time I ever heard that sound from him, and frankly, it was the only time I ever needed it. I ended up having to sell him a couple of years later, and it’s something I still regret. I wish I had the money to keep him. I hope he’s okay. He was an idiot, but he was my idiot thoroughbred, and I miss him.


  1. I know that connection you speak of.....and once you have it with any horse, you are always greedy to have it with EVERY horse.

    Well written, Becky, well written!!!

  2. I love your blog and all the heart warming horse stories...I'm such a horse dork.

    I had a similar incident when I bought my first horse (a 4-year-old). I was used to old school horses who were perfectly content in a Grayson was not used to a stall.

    On the first night I had him, I brought him inside to feed him. Not even thinking about it, I left his halter on him. Well the spastic little thing got his halter snagged on the stall door latch. His head was practically glued to the door. He thrashed around...made a ton of noise. We finally got him off the door. I felt like a horrible horse mom for days.

    Needless to say, I never leave a halter on in a stall, paddock, etc... learned my lesson :)

  3. Wow I love it. Sounds like you as a kid and me as a kid could have been great pals. I played with my plastic horses endlessly until I got my chance with real ones. Your writing made me glad I had a box of Kleenex on my desk!

  4. Beautiful memories...if only all people could know that feeling. If only they could understand what animals give back to us in return for their care and companionship. I have that bond with my horse Boo and with my little corgi Miley. I love our other horse Bay and our collie Poko...but the bond is stronger with the first two. Don't know just is.

  5. Great story! Thanks for sharing.

  6. That was a great story, the mix between description and story telling was perfect.

    Everyone has 'their horse', I'm lucky enough to still have mine, I've only just recently come to that realization, and I hope I never lose him.

  7. Great story Becky, you have a knack for storytelling!

    Mugwump, Mouthy Mondays are such a great idea, I look forward to them every week.

  8. Aw, damn. I totally didn't think I would tear up. Great storytelling, as usual, Becky.

  9. I've read this before, becky, but loved it just as much the second time around!
    I have had a few very special to me horses, not all of them ones I had the honor of owning... I mentioned in the Sonita Epilogue comments thed other day my oh-so good (if two inches butt high) Swedish/TB cross, and that I never wanted to rehome a "special to me" horse again. Enter Bif, my Nokota, who I love dearly, but can't do much with due to a bad joint (not genetic)... One day, I'll have money AND a rideable horse! ...everyone needs a goal...
    My version of our story can be found on my December 31st post, inspired by Mugs! =D

  10. I just signed up as a follower incase that makes your going commercial more profitable!

  11. I am so sorry that you had to part with such a good friend.

    I finally gave my collection of plastic horses to one of my bosses, but they were a great form of escape when I was young.

  12. Whywud- Thanks! I have no idea if it does or not. I can't even keep my passwords straight....

  13. I still have my box of plastic horses...

  14. My Breyers? Some of them can be found as decorations in my living room...

  15. My daughter just packed away our Breyers. Some of them 40 years old now. They all have been loved to death. She's saving them for her children....

  16. Great story... thank you for sharing it. Sorry you had to part with your horse.

  17. Ok, so I'm a bit new to this, but I've been reading and catching up on the "Mugwump Chronicles." I really find your stories interesting and your training advice practical and have a question you may be able to give me some advice on.I'm looking to buy a horse, but how do I know that this is the right horse for me? Are there any tips you have for seeing how we get along aka making sure he's not gonna spaz out on me when I get him home. I have been riding consistently for the past 4yrs and I'm in the process of buying my 1st horse. I would consider myself a novice rider. I learned western first but have been riding English for the past 3-4 yrs. The horse I'm thinking of purchasing is an 11yr old Saddlebred/TB? cross, bay paint gelding. He does WTC no problem, is very sweet, accepts both western and english saddle, snaffle bit,ties quietly, picks up feet, loads great, no bad habits that we've noticed. He has been with the same owner for 3yrs, and she wants a "lump" to ride around and says he's too good for her. He was a trail horse before she bought him and used to go on 20mile rides so I think he's probably fine on trails. (Haven't got to take him on one yet) He also has had some dressage training sometime in his life because my friend rode him and he was performing 2-3 level dressage moves for her. This is a discipline I am interested in pursuing so I was very happy with this discovery. When I rode him he was very smooth and had an amazing canter, but was a bit lazy. I think this might be due to lack of actual hard work for the past 3yrs.He's never had any health issues with the 2 previous owners either. lol I apologize for such a long story but I wanted to fill you in on the details. I was just wondering if anyone had any tips for making sure he's a good horse for me since I'm a first time horse buyer. Thanks!

  18. Shelley, do you have a trainer that is familiar with you and your riding ability? That would be a great start. You are certainly in a good position right now. Nice horses can be had for a fraction of their value these days.

    One warning, I would not assume that the horses behavior on the trail is similar to his behavior in the arena. Some dressage horses get regular trail riding, some get none. A horse that is lazy in a familiar arena for a novice rider may have a completely different disposition out on the trail. just something to think about.

    The fact that the horse has been on 20 mile rides may suggest that he is used to getting out, going forward and covering some ground. It is possible that what is normal for him may feel a bit too forward and perhaps a bit out of control to you. Just a thought.

    The fact that he appears to be better educated than you in a sport that you would like to pursue is a big plus =)

    Just a few thoughts. Best of luck to you. Look around, and remember it is really a buyers market right now. Especially with it being the beginning of winter. If you have a trainer that you trust and who knows you get their opinion.