This is no April Fool's day joke--this horse owner is embarking on an exciting new journey.
The older I get, the less I say the word “never.”
Things that were once black and white have now morphed into a lovely shade of gray, and I’m finally starting to realize the full beauty of that line offered by Buck Brannaman’s foster mom in the documentary “Buck,” –that is, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape.”
This was recently pointed out to me by my oldest son, who saw me let the youngest get away with some minor infraction that in years past I would have pounced on like a cougar.
“Wow, the ‘old you’ would have killed me for that,” the eldest noted with a mixture of admiration and envy.
So I’m learning. Toward that end, there have been some significant developments within the past year in my horse life, and I’m sharing them here because you might find them helpful:
1. I don’t feed treats by hand anymore. For those of you who are groaning right now, yes, I used to, and every time a trainer would see me do it and fuss, I would shrug it off, because MY horse would never become rude or pushy as a result. Until he did. Freddie the colt, who has a bit of an arrogance problem anyway, started mugging me, and even Yukon, my husband’s sweet, giant black-lab-of-a-horse, developed an air of entitlement, sort of like a lazy teenager who expects to be catered to for just breathing.
Now I show them the treat and either drop it on the ground or in a bucket. Freddie still tries to mug me on occasion but he’s met with a block instead of a cookie.
2. I ride in a Western saddle. This is a biggie, because I grew up riding hunter/jumper, and that barn was rather snobbish toward the folks who rode Western. I used to say, “I will NEVER ride Western,” because the saddles seemed so cumbersome that I thought there would be no way they’d be comfortable or allow close contact with the horse. And then last year at the Julie Goodnight clinic in Granby, Julie offered to let me try one of hers, and after riding in it for two hours, I was a convert.
So now I own an all-black Julie Goodnight Circle Y Wind River Trail Saddle. What I love about it:
It has a narrow twist, which makes it more comfortable, especially for a woman. If you don’t know, the twist is the part of the seat immediately in front of your crotch and to put it bluntly, a wide twist makes you feel like your legs are being wedged apart.
It has memory foam in the seat, which will come in really handy on long trail rides.
It DOES have close contact–the whole saddle is narrower so you have a closer contact with your legs. Much of the skirting is cutaway under the leg; also, the sheepskin underneath it is gone (it’s the first thing to wear out on a saddle and the bottom of the saddle has gel pads sewn in between the horse and tree).
The tree is a Flex2 tree, which is comfy, allows for a better fit and fits a bigger variety of horses than a rigid tree.
In my Aussie saddle, my legs were put into a forward position, and this saddle puts me in the correct position.
Plus it’s made from Hermann Oak leather and is just beautiful, so much so that I didn’t want to take it out of my house when I first got it.
3. I own–and ride in! –a pair of chaps (again, see ridiculous attitude from #2). I had no idea how a nice pair of chaps will help you stick to the saddle so much better, until my friend Bernadette gave me a pair she got at a 4-H yard sale for $15. They are rust in color, have fringes and a large decorative silver snap and are about as far from a pair of breeches and tall boots as you can get. And I just love them. I harness my Inner Cowgirl every time I put them on, and that feels like more of a fit to me now than Breeches and Tall Boots Rider.
4. I pay closer attention. As much as I hate to admit it, I have had useful coaching in years past from different horse trainers, and it just didn’t gel. Maybe my life at the time was too busy–it’s hard to learn when you’re also spinning a half-dozen plates in the air. Maybe I needed to get older and wiser and learn by trial and error. Or maybe (ah, the really difficult one to admit) it took a bout of breast cancer last year before I fully appreciated the gratifying fullness of living an attentive horse life. You don’t realize how much you will miss your horse until treatment tethers you to the bed.
I get it now. And the lessons I’m given are finally sticking, and making sense in a way they never did before. This builds my confidence to try new things. And that led to #5.
5. I’m going to help raise a foal. Before being diagnosed last year, I told you about my horse bucket list, which included just that. It seemed like a daunting but lovely endeavor I would attempt someday…but again, there’s nothing like a little chemo to kickstart the process of fulfilling of your dreams.
I took my idea to fellow horsewoman Julie Oelman, and when she agreed to a partnership, the planning began. Armed with a low budget (we both already have a horse) and high hopes, we started looking at mares currently in foal (my criteria) who had already been started under saddle and were good jumping prospects (Julie’s criteria).
Somewhere along the way of perusing dozens of horse ads, we realized our top dollar wasn’t going to be good enough to get a quality mare who had been well bred, so we took a deep collective breath and went higher.
And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with a blue roan Friesian cross mare in South Dakota, named Sapphire, who was in foal to a stunning purebred Friesian stallion named Ice Man. I had actually met Ice Man, on the same day we found Yukon.
And something about the mare, Sapphire, resonated very deeply with me, as if I already knew her, too. And perhaps it’s because she reminded me of my beloved steel-gray Appaloosa mare, Sophie, who I lost just before being diagnosed with cancer last year and whose death left such a wound in me that I could not bring myself to mention it until now.
Sapphire hadn’t been started under saddle, but I still hopefully emailed Julie a link to her page on the breeder’s website.
“She’s lovely…for you,” Julie said. “But she’s not what I’m looking for.”
I conceded a point to logic, and Julie and I ultimately chose to buy a lovely Canadian Sporthorse paint mare by the name of Faberge Farah from JMR Pintos. Faberge is in foal to a stunning Oldenburg stallion named Banderas who comes from jumping lines.
It was my husband who figured out that Faberge had been born on the same horse farm Yukon came from, called Whispering Hills Friesians. I immediately let breeder Dawn Boyer know I was the co-owner of yet another one of her wonderful horses. We marveled at the odds, and she told us the mare’s barn name was Spot (she has a perfectly round spot on her chest).
All the while, I couldn’t get Sapphire out of my mind. I continued to correspond with her owner, and in desperation even made her a lowball offer, which was exactly the amount of my tax refund and all I could afford on my own (yay, medical bills).
Rightfully so, the woman said no, she couldn’t come down on price. Finally, I conceded defeat…even while still holding onto hope.
“My heart is just stubbornly set on Sapphire,” I wrote her owner, “so I’m asking the universe to have all the planets line up so that it works out. I’m a big believer in that.”
And she wrote back:
“I’m so glad that you have the attitude that if it is meant to be, then it will happen. When I first put out the ad for Sapphire I expected her to sell very quickly…But when she didn’t, I adopted the attitude that it meant that the right person had not come along yet and the delay would just mean that the very best future owner for Sapphire was out there and our paths just hadn’t crossed yet.”
Stubbornness is at once one of my best virtues and worst faults.
“It could still happen,” I told my ever-patient husband, who nodded in the understanding way he has every time I brought up the blue roan mare.
“A big gift could simply land on our doorstep!”
And then, miraculously, it did, in the form of a family member offering to buy Sapphire for me. Stunned and grateful, it took me all of 30 seconds to call Sapphire’s owner and leave a half-laughing, half-crying message on her voice mail.
So now there will be two mommas-to-be at Larry Fleming‘s ranch, where we board our horses, and we’re busily researching supplements and feed for pregnant and lactating mares. They are both due in June.
I feel incredibly lucky to realize the miracle of life in a year that follows one haunted by thoughts of death. My sense of hope for the future, once shaky, is now strong, and I’m vowing to never let it go again.
“If Sapphire has a filly,” I told my husband while marveling at the chain of events, “maybe we should name her Faith.”