As nothing is really going on in my life besides moving dirt around, allow me to regale you the tale of my first horse.
My first horse was a quarter horse gelding. He was super sweet, super easy, and an all around good citizen.
He was also an older arthritic western pleasure horse, and all I wanted to do was jump. I got him because my friend’s mom told my parents about him and said that I should get him. Assuming that this was the only time my parents would ever agree to get me a horse, I jumped on that wagon, determined I had to have him.
Somehow, the heavens smiled upon me, and I ended up with Clay. Initially, I was thrilled. I had just left a terrible barn with an instructor that wouldn’t let me canter because I needed to work on “the basics” even though for years I had been taking lessons at a hunter barn, where I was jumping courses and cantering the to the point of exhaustion. But anyway, that’s when Clay fell into my lap, and I was cantering him to my heart’s content.
After a while, the novelty of cantering wore off, and once again, all I wanted to do was jump. Jumping Clay would have been unfair to him, so I was frustrated. I took a few lessons from a western trainer that my friend used, but I found them seriously lacking and declined to use her again. I was unimaginative at the time, so I didn’t know what kind of exercises to do on my own. I was bored, and also kind of lonely, as I boarded him at a friend’s house and they barely rode their own horses. They were more into watching TV.
I started giving my friends riding lessons on him. This irritated my friend’s mom (bringing people onto their property) and it also irritated my parents because they didn’t understand why I wasn’t riding my own horse. With my grades going down, they decided I didn’t deserve a horse anymore. With nearly no warning, they sold Clay to a girl who lived near the barn.
I was upset, but not devastated. I really didn’t know what to do with him anyway and I didn’t have any sort of plan. The main thing that irritated me was the girl they sold him to. She was a selfish spoiled child, and they didn’t have the facilities for a horse. The parents literally fenced in a playground to create a space for Clay. There was no grass, just playground mulch.
But he went to his new owners, and I continued on with my life. Eventually, I got another horse, Vintage, but I’ll tell that story in a different post. After a few years, my friend was asked to pet sit Clay and the other horse they had, and she found them in appalling condition.
Both horses were scary skinny with long paddle hooves. They lived in manure. Meanwhile, the family lived in a mansion not fifty feet away with a Viper in the garage (it lived in a plastic bubble to keep it clean).
My friend and I hatched a plan to get the horses out of there. As the girl who now owned him hated me (for reasons unknown to me, except that she was like 12 and spoiled), I wouldn’t be able to talk to her directly. My friend talked with her, and a few months later she finally decided she didn’t want Clay anymore and would give him away. She agreed to take the horse to my friend’s house, which was just a short trail ride away. (In case you are wondering, a few months later the other horse Clay was with was being ridden by the girl in the street, was hit by a car and died.)
My friend called my parents, as I was working at a riding camp at the time. By this time, my parent’s wanted Clay back very much, and regretted giving him up. She told them to come now to get him, and they left to retrieve him before they even let me know.
When Clay arrived at my friend’s house, her mom had a change of heart and decided she wanted to keep Clay herself. She called my parents, and reaching the voicemail, told them not to come. They heard the voicemail, but purposely ignored it. They were getting Clay back and nothing would stop them.
They showed up, and my mom described my friend’s mom as very upset they showed up, but she handed over the horse just the same. They drove him back up, stopping at my barn to pull him out and show him to everyone.
He was rail thin, with horrible feet, but his eyes were so sweet. Seeing him again was the most wonderful feeling in the world. He was still the perfect gentleman, and so trusting of everyone.
After introductions, he was brought back to my parent’s farm to began the long journey of recovery. It basically lasted the rest of his life, as he was never an easy keeper again. He required a crazy amount of food, and since I didn’t have fancy things like stalls, I had to either stand there and guard him from the domineering Vintage, or I had to take him out of the pasture. This led to several occasions where we literally left him standing in the yard while we did something else, only to come back and find him exploring the farm. But he never went too far, and was easily brought back once he knew we wanted him. Hilariously, he would willingly leave Vintage while she screamed for him not to leave her.
His personality came out in a way I never knew before. Even though I knew he was sweet, I didn’t realize the extent of it. He was kind to all animals, and would graze and sleep with the sheep. He just liked standing and being pet, and was never nervous or fretful. He just enjoyed his people. He could be trusted to take anyone for a ride. I put all sorts of people on him, toddlers, boyfriends, friends, parents, rode him double, took him through water, and took him everywhere.
He was such a doll that my trainer asked to use him as a camp horse, so one summer he lived at my barn and tootled around all the girl scouts. I, being the showoff I was/am, decided this was the perfect opportunity to ride him around the fields, bareback and without a helmet. Hopefully the girl scouts learned from my frequent falls that wearing a helmet really is for the best. I can honestly say that I think I’ve fallen off Clay more than any other horse, and it was due to him cantering along and then being like “ehhhh, I think I’m done,” and dropping to a walk. Since he’s super slow whether he’s walking or cantering, so the falls did no damage. But, really, I just got lucky I didn’t fall on my head.
Eventually I grew up and had to get a job. I moved off the family farm, and just visited on occasion. I should have visited more, and spent more time with Clay. I’m now a believer that riding a horse does keep them young, as Clay’s health steadily declined once he was no longer being ridden. He lived quietly, with just his sheep friends, as my parents had given Vintage away. At 27 years old, he died, 7 years after I first met him.
I will always be a believer that old horses are still good horses. As Vintage gets older, I want to work with her more, not less, and hopefully she’ll be one of those horses that lasts until her 30s.