Most of the time I blog about things that I think will be interesting to you, my dear readers; because I want to contribute, and provide, and help … you. But today I’m just going to tell you a story – mostly because I want to write it and share it, the writing of the story becomes part of the process and the journey for me. Also because I want you to know who I am and what I’m passionate about. So today I’m talking about my journey back to horse love.
In part it’s an announcement:
“I bought a horse”.
Which I did. But to me it feels like more and goes deeper than that, and so, like one would write a birth story of a baby, I feel compelled to talk about my journey back to a childhood love of mine and what that has provided for me.
It all started 2 ½ years ago, a friend in our neighborhood owns a horse at a barn in Del Mar, and told me about Cookie, the 38-year old, completely blind pony that has carried many a horse-crazy child in San Diego. I got in touch with Diana, not Cookie’s owner per se but the owner of one of the barns at that location, and Valentina started having rides on Cookie every other Tuesday. I always loved horses as a child and rode whenever I could – and it felt great to share that love with Valentina, and get her connected to, and confident around, horses. As the weeks went by I felt a longing to take lessons too, and so I asked Diana to teach me, and she willingly agreed. For almost a year now I’ve taken lessons, at first once, then twice, a week. Riding Abby and Brad, I felt my childhood passion reignite. Diana teaches hunter-jumper style, but with me being older and not as bouncy as I once was, I have no desire to jump, and so we did walk/trot/canter lessons in the arena. It was my escape, my happy place, and I was having a blast.
It was all going swimmingly, except that horses are big, and things happen, and well, I had two falls. No ones fault, no horse was acting up, but they happened none-the-less – one at the barn, one at a private farm, one trip and stumble, one an injury-related sudden stop. But the net result was the same … the dreaded “unscheduled dismount”. I lost confidence; and my joy in riding, my happy place, disappeared for a bit. I was heartbroken. I didn’t want to give up entirely, but I started to look at how I was going about it.
Diana, who I absolutely adore and trust completely, met me where I was at in those moments. I continued lessons on Brad, on whom I had a major crush for a long time, and thought for a while might be “the one”. We just walked and trotted, we did ground poles, turns, transitions and building my confidence back. The relief of slowing it down allowed me to feel safe again – no scary cantering was going to happen and, knowing that, I loved those lessons.
At the same time, I heard about people who work with horses at liberty. That means no halter, no lead rope, horse and human both on the ground, with the horse being directed and following the human out of trust, willingness and communication. Immediately that resonated with me – I wanted to be around horses and learning more about them, but not in a way that made me afraid. I have enough pressure in my life without pushing myself to overcome fear in order to “achieve” something. That would totally defeat the purpose of what horses and riding offer me – a break from hard work, responsibility for a business, a practice full of chronically ill people, and a 4-year old. All things I love dearly, but that require a lot of me. I needed horses to not use up my emotional energy and in fact, to help replenish it.
I contacted a trainer listed under the Independent Liberty Trainers Network, an Italian lady named Alessandra, and started lessons with her once a week working at liberty with her horses. She is a great horsewoman, having jockeyed in Italy for many years, and being qualified as a vet, and now competing in endurance and dressage, she has been around horses her whole life. She is teaching me so much about who horses really are, their social languages and interactions with each other, and what those things mean for our relationship with them. She is teaching me about how to connect with horses using all our senses. It’s predominantly ground work and work at liberty – and I love it. I get to be with horses and learn about them, it’s not scary, in fact it’s building my confidence with horses in ways I could never imagine. I have played “soccer” with her horse, the two of us kicking a massive yoga ball around the arena; I’ve managed to get Rosalie cantering in circles around me without a lead rope to define the space, I’ve asked her to follow me around the arena and she has, purely based on connection and willingness and trust. Combined with my other lessons in Del Mar with Diana, which I have continued to do and love, it has been perfect. I also threw in some dressage lessons with a gal named Samantha who is a therapeutic riding instructor, and that was amazing too.
That’s a lot of the background. Of course amidst all of this I have yearned for my own horse. Don’t ask me how I even found out about this, but I joined the Aging Horsewoman Association facebook group, which has an odd thirty thousand people in it (you have to be at least 40 to join). I posted my experiences with my lessons to date, with my falls, and with my new found fears and the loss of confidence I’d experienced. They were so full of love and support, and really encouraged me to slow down and not give a hoot if I wasn’t cantering, or jumping, or doing any of the other things I felt I “should” be doing. So many of them own horses and just walk trails, or walk/trot, or even just do groundwork with their horses. I learned from them, and from my work with Alessandra, that a relationship with a horse doesn’t have any requirements, nor does horse-riding itself.
In the meantime, I was YouTubing Fresian horses after Valentina had fallen asleep at night. There’s one at the Del Mar barn and one in Escondido where Alessandra’s horses are. I love Fresians – they’re elegant and beautiful – and while it’s unfair to generalize about breed, color, age or history of horses – I was a bit worried that they are a bit feistier than I needed for my first horse. I needed a horse I could really build trust and confidence with.
That’s when my hairdresser’s mother told me about Gypsy Vanners. It’s a breed that was developed in England and Ireland – known there as Gypsy cobbs. They were bred to pull the caravans of the gypsies, derived from cobbs, Fresians, Clydesdale horses and one other thing that escapes me right now but I probably should know (I’ll google it later). Subsequently they’re not tall, but thick and stocky. Most importantly, they’re nicknamed the “golden retrievers” of horses because of their temperament.
Learning more about this breed I was smitten. Don’t get me wrong, I’m clear that a 1200 lb prey animal is always going to command a decent amount of respect, but these horses are known for being kind, gentle, people-oriented, flexible and willing. I wasn’t really meaning to look too seriously just yet, but for giggles I joined some gypsy “for sale” groups. That’s when I saw Otis posted for sale.
Otis has lived in Tallahassee Florida, he’s been owned by a lovely lady and her 8-year old daughter, along with the daughter’s pony Lollipop. He’s a 6-year old red roan gelding with massive feather on his feet, a long flowing mane and tail.
This is his sweet face:
He caught my eye and I inquired about his price, details, more pics and videos etc. With an upcoming trip to Australia, I didn’t think I could get to see him, so I just had to let it go that if he was supposed to be mine, he’d still be for sale after our trip.
Well. If you know me at all the next part won’t come as a surprise. The Monday before our last weekend in San Diego, I asked Dave if we could all fly to Tallahassee that weekend, to see him before we left for Australia. He agreed (gotta love a supportive husband), and the wheels were in motion. For whatever reason, I was incredibly drawn to him and didn’t want to wait.
We saw Otis both on Saturday and Sunday. By Sunday noon I was in love. He’s kind, gentle, sweet, non-spooky and just beautiful. Valentina has ridden him already. I rode him too, and to be honest, it didn’t feel like love at first ride, even if it was love at first sight. Otis has only ridden in a Western saddle so far, which I never have; we were in the round pen, which felt weird to me after a big arena. It wasn’t my finest riding experience. I sent the videos to some trusted friends and horse people for their insight just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything crazy. They all felt positive and liked the look of him and his movement. They saw potential with a lighter saddle and bit, and some training. My husband, bless his cotton socks, was also really supportive even though he is not really a horse person – he just sees how important horses have become to me.
He hasn’t been ridden much the last year, so he will need some training. But that boy called to me from across the country, and I said “yes” to him. His vet checks and x-rays all passed with flying colors- the vet I sent to see him said he was “well mannered, moved nicely and is a cool cat!”
He’ll be coming home to us in a couple of weeks.
I’m going to board him in Escondido with Alessandra – partially because of cost compared to Del Mar barns, but also because he’ll be able to socialize with her 3 mares; we’ll be able to trail ride into the mountains from there and ride into town, and there’s a round pen and an arena. She’s also keen to fox hunt with me next season. He (and I) will be in full training with her. My desire for the next year would be to enter an introductory level dressage show, and to fox hunt with the local club in the slow field group. It’s almost an hour each way to drive up there, but I love the versatility of the riding styles available there, and that he’ll have more space, be turned out all day every day, and have other horses to hang with.
I can’t believe I actually bought a horse. The commitment is a little scary, but I am so certain that this horse is the sweet boy that I can bond with and build a trusting, loving relationship with. He may be a bit on the slow side (his current owner told me repeatedly that he can be a bit lazy), but honestly, I’d rather that than the other way. And if in 2-3 years I’m ready for more he will be a beautifully safe mount for Valentina. Alessandra has also told me I can show her mare in dressage if my boy doesn’t seem suited for it and I still want to give it a go
I’m toying with the idea of changing his name, but haven’t decided yet. I know some people think it’s bad luck to do so – I don’t; but I do want to respect where he’s come from and his current owner. Otis isn’t my favorite, but “Oti” is an option; otherwise he’ll be Paddington or Marmaduke (Duke for short). Or maybe Tanglewood, which is a Noosa thing. What do you think? Post your name choice in the comments (or a new suggestion!).
It’s been such a sweet journey, at age 45, to find my love of horses again. As with any passion, there are people along the way who have been formative – Marisa, Diana, Alessandra, Samantha, Sylvia and Pamela amongst them, and I thank them all for the role they’ve played in my getting to this point. And also my new friends in the gypsy mom community, especially Kathy who’s gorgeous Mia was the first gypsy I ever sat on, and felt in that instant that I was “home”.
I now feel back in balance again. I have a hobby that is just mine and I’m sooooo excited for Otis to arrive. When I’m at the barn I can switch everything else off. I get to reset and recharge so that I can come home and be the best doctor/wife/mother that I can be. And now I can have that deep bond with a horse that I hear other people talking about and have always craved.
The last couple of years have had their challenges – 2-years of fertility treatment that did not result in a baby definitely took it’s toll physically and emotionally. After grieving that whole process I am now deeply content with our one beautiful daughter, but my heart strings are pulled every time she asks for a brother or sister to play with.
I also spent 6 months of last year trying to get clarity on a breast lump that no one seems to be able to explain even to this day – after 3 ultrasounds, 3 mammograms, an MRI and a biopsy where the radiologist actually “missed” the lump and biopsied normal tissue, adding a metal pin in there for good measure; it was decided just to wait and do 6 month follow ups on all those same imaging tests. Quite shocked that I’m not glowing in the dark from all of that imaging, and grateful that it hasn’t been diagnosed as anything malignant, it still was a frightening process, especially because I’ve known 2 mums in my circle who have lost their battle with breast cancer and left young children behind Valentina’s age. I couldn’t even fathom that whole process, it was terrifying. I still haven’t got a confirmed benign result, but nor do I have a malignant result; so I guess the limbo continues until repeat tests show the difference over time. I’m BRCA negative and instinctively feel like it’s going to be ok, but I can’t say I haven’t been terrified along the way.
Amongst those fertility and health challenges, it reaffirmed to me that there are some things in life we can control, and some things we can’t. I couldn’t create a baby for love or money. I couldn’t prevent, or make that lump disappear either, despite the healthiest of diets and lifestyle.
So I went for it. I seized the day. I got myself a horse to grow with and bond with and learn with, and I just can’t wait.
It’s happening. And it’s such a gift. It’s horse love.