My new colt is too much horse for me right now, and I am so very glad.
Let me explain: My decision to buy this colt came about after much deliberation, including a flight to another state to look him over, a vet check and many conferences with my trainer, vet and friends.
I went into this situation knowing that a) the colt was very green, and would require a lot of work, but luckily I live near cowboy trainer Larry Fleming, b) what little training the colt had already received had created a brace in him, which Larry would have to undo, c) that the 16-hand colt wasn’t done growing yet, and since he also needed to gain a considerable amount of weight I could expect this Great-Dane-puppy-of-a-horse to keep getting bigger, and d) that this colt was more sensitive than any horse I have ever owned, meaning I would need to up my horsemanship skills and develop more of a soft feel to be the partner he needed me to be.
So Larry began working the colt, coaxing him to move forward without shutting him down in order to remove the brace put in him by a previous heavy-handed rider. We fed him a fortified fat supplement and alfalfa hay, and he began to pack on much-needed pounds over his ribs. I spent every available hour I could at Larry’s ranch, doing groundwork with the colt under the trainer’s watchful eye, riding him for a few minutes here and there after Larry had worked him first, and riding other horses to further develop my seat and hands to get ready for the day when I would graduate to riding the colt full time.
The colt was a fun diversion in my busy life; my own personal Olympics. I even cheekily wrote about my bucket list goal of riding him bareback and bridleless.
But now suddenly that’s changed, and at the risk of putting too much emotional pressure on his 1,300-pound, platter-hooved frame, I can honestly say that this colt is no longer enjoyable recreation.
He’s my lifeline.
The turning point happened a couple of weeks ago, as I lay on a table in a radiologist’s office. There was no need for me to look at the image on the screen he was scrutinizing, because I knew the results by the grim look on his face. Sure enough, a few heartbeats later he turned to me and said, “This looks like breast cancer.”
In the days and weeks that followed his diagnosis would be confirmed by more tests and more doctors (having cancer, I’ve discovered, is practically a full-time job), and my particular kind of breast cancer would be given the ugly adjective of “invasive.”
As the denial, shock, anger, fear and sadness wane in and out, one steadfast thought remains: the stubborn, determined resolution that dammit, I’m gonna ride my horse.
After getting the news from the radiologist, I called my husband, who immediately came home from work. He walked in the door, gave me a long hug and said, “What do you want to do?”
Without hesitation, I said, “I wanna go see my colt.” An hour later the blistering sun was starting to slide down the big, blue Colorado sky as we pulled up to trainer Larry Fleming’s ranch, and as I walked up to the gate of the back pasture where all the geldings reside, my colt Freddie saw me, nickered and swung his big body around to walk slowly and deliberately to me, leaving his evening hay and the herd to do so.
How do they know?
I haltered him and my husband gave me a leg up on his bare back, then led me around like a kid on a pony ride while I leaned forward and hugged the colt’s thick neck. Freddie walked calmly and carefully, and Larry, who was tossing feed to other horses at the time, would later say that he thought about objecting to the whole thing (the colt was a stallion only two months ago, and had never been ridden bareback), but once he saw the peaceful picture he swallowed his protest.
Since then, I have been poked, prodded, scanned and biopsied, and as soon as the latest appointment is over I high-tail it out of the sterile environment and to the much healthier, dirt-and-manure-filled one, happily accumulating grime under my fingernails and not once complaining about the sweat that trickles down my neck as Freddie and I bumble around in our attempts to learn to dance together.
He requires my complete focus, and that state of being–where I’m free from any other thought–offers a sweet relief that is addictive.
My apprenticeship has taken on a whole new urgency. I told Larry about my diagnosis, but in the next breath, I waved a finger at him as I emphasized my point.
“Don’t you treat me any differently,” I said to the trainer, whose only outward sign of distress was the fact he took off his cowboy hat and ran his hand through his hair. “When I screw up, I expect you to tell me so, just like you always do.”
And he does. A few days later Larry allowed me to ride his own personal horse, Mick, and when I gave the gelding he’d nicknamed “Ferrari” too much leg (quickly finding out why he’d earned that moniker), Larry bellowed, “GET YOUR FEET OFF HIM!!!”
Yet the hard work is starting to pay off. On a recent Saturday, when Larry “allowed” me to ride Freddie in one of his clinics, my heart sang when the cowboy rode past the two of us as we worked a serpentine pattern and said, “Very good.” Coming from him, that’s high praise, and I’ll be clinging to that memory in the days and weeks to come.
After hemming and hawing about buying a new saddle, I finally ordered the Julie Goodnight trail-riding saddle I’ve been eying ever since I borrowed one during her May clinic and fell in love with it. Life’s too short to procrastinate.
I’ll be having surgery this week. And as soon as I’m able to walk, whether it’s doctor-approved or not, I will be heading back out to see my colt; even if someone else has to drive me, even if I can’t sit on his back but can only lean my head against his and breathe into his velvety nostrils and promise him that soon, I’ll be back.
Because as you and I both know, horses are the best medicine.