Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Little Lamzydivy

My Dad's plan completely backfired. At the time, Mom had gotten a horse after more than a dozen years of non-horseownership. This one was a big Appaloosa gelding she named Chief. She tried to share him, but he was really her horse. Not too much later after getting Chief, she and Dad agreed that I could get a horse on trial. The local horse dealer, which provided most of the area Summer camps with their horses, needed places to house those camp horses over the Winter. The deal was, people could take a camp horse on lease from September to June. In June, the horse would return to the dealer and go back to camp. This was an ingenuous plan on the part of the horse dealer. Not only were they off the hook for caring for hundreds of horses over the Winter, but a lot of the time, the leasing family ended up buying the horse before the Spring after becoming attached to it. Suckers.

My Dad agreed to let me get a camp horse for the Winter, being very sure that having to take care of a horse when the weather was cold and snowy and windy and not very good for riding, as well as pay for all of its expenses, would be a quick cure to my Cerebral Equuscantagium. Hahaha! Dads can be so funny!

Off we went, my Mom and I, to look at horses (they were all still at the camps at this point) and I found just the horse I wanted. She was almost an exact replica of a neighbor's horse that I had been riding except that instead of palomino, this one was a liver chestnut. The camp horse was named Bailey and I already loved her. One other horse caught my eye, probably because she was bright white in a ring full of brownish horses.

This white horse was being ridden by a teeny-tiny girl wearing a not teeny-tiny enough helmet. As the horse cantered around the ring, TTG would, every few strides, drop her reins, readjust her helmet, pick up the reins and carry on. The white horse never broke stride or left the rail. Now, I can appreciate just how special it was that the white horse didn't take advantage of TTG's distraction. I just thought the TTG was funny. I did not want the white horse because Mom had told me about how hard it is to keep them clean. The nice, dark brown horse suited me fine.

On the day of retrieval of Bailey, we went to the camp to meet the horse trailer that was transporting her to the barn where we were boarding Chief. When we entered the barn, there on the cross ties, stood Bailey. But there was a bucket under her neck (gross part coming up - I will warn you when it gets here). Before we could get closer, the camp staff advanced on us and hastily explained that Bailey couldn't go with us because she had Strangles. The bucket under her neck (Here it comes!) was to collect the pus that was draining out of her abscessed lymph nodes.

"Take Ivy!", the teenaged camp staff chorused. "She's great, you'll love her!" Ivy was, as you probably have guessed, the white horse. I did not want her. But I did not want to complain in front of these older, horsier girls and so, grudgingly agreed to take Ivy.

Any one of the experienced horsepersons reading this will be horrified by the thought that I took any horse from a barn where there was a horse acutely afflicted with Strangles. It should never be done. Strangles is highly contagious. The fact that Ivy never came down with it and didn't pass it on to any of the other horses at our barn is just another eery indication that our pairing was meant to happen. Also, one should never take on a horse without trying it out first. Also, never dismiss a horse based solely on color. Also, even though TTG survived, always wear a helmet that fits when you go riding. That is all.

So Ivy came home with me. The first time I rode her was down the side of the road behind my Mom on Chief. Okay, one more... Also, I do not recommend that someone try a horse out by riding it down the side of the road. Now I'm done. Within the first few steps that little white horse took, I was smitten. I knew she was the one. I felt like I had been riding her my whole life.

Not only did Dad's plan of making me sick of taking care of a horse by letting me have one for the Winter fail, as the kids say, epically, it made my obsession worse. MY plan was, although I couldn't buy her before the Spring, to work all Summer and save every penny I could earn and buy Ivy at the end of the season when she was done with camp. At 14 years old, my job opportunities did not abound, but I babysat quite a lot and had no other temptations. Other than Breyer horses, but I could resist buying them knowing that Ivy was the alternative.

My determined little 14 year old self was pleasantly surprised however, when one afternoon, my parents called me downstairs and told me that I did not have to send Ivy back. As an early birthday gift, they were going to buy Ivy for me. BUT, they admonished as good parents, I would still have to work for all of her expenses and take care of her myself. If they had told me that in order to keep Ivy, I had to shave my head and stand on a streetcorner in a chicken suit playing "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window" on the kazoo, I would have been at the junction of Cottage and Main Streets, bald and feathered, faster than you can say Cerebral Equuscantagium.

Ivy was my horse until the end of her life. I had her for 15 years. To tell the story of all of those 15 years would fill dozens and dozens of pages, even if I used a really small font. Even though people told me I needed a taller horse (Ivy was 14.2, with her shoes on), I never once considered trading her in. She was perfect. The world never looked sweeter than when it was viewed through her little white ears. I've looked through hundreds of other sets of ears now, but I can still remember the sound of her hooves on a dirt road, the feel of her neck under her mane, the swing of her back when she trotted and the way that everything seemed right when I was riding her.

I will never say that I'm glad Bailey contracted Strangles, but I will say that I am forever grateful to those teenage girls that said, "Take Ivy! She's great, you'll love her!"

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weather Or Not

Today was cold; bitter, windy cold, the kind of cold that freezes your eyelashes together. I did not go riding. I barely left the house. Even if I had wanted to go riding, the footing is terrible and my horse would have been quite unhappy. We've gone from mud to frozen, rutted mud to a shallow layer of frozen snow and ice on top of frozen, rutted mud.

My new horse and previous horse are vastly different yet have both been cursed with tender feet. I don't remember my first horse ever having any hoof issues. Ivy had hooves of titanium, I guess. Her feet did chip and crack a little but she never minced around the way that my current horse does. I rode Ivy on all kinds of footing, being completely oblivious to whether it would have any effect on her hooves. The exception was pavement. As much as possible, I kept her off pavement and if I had to ride on it, then only at a walk. Most of my riding was alongside the road with some trails and fields. We rode on the gravel, over the rocks, through water and galloped on dirt roads and through belly high grass. Very little of our riding was in a sand arena. My new horse and previous horse, need shoes to go riding IN the sand arena. Without them, they tiptoe around like they are trying to sneak up on someone.

Not only are my horses sissies, but I feel myself morphing into one as well. As a teenager, I went riding in all weather. For Winter rides, I often rode bareback to take advantage of my horse's body heat. Then it was layer upon layer of clothing until I resembled poor Randy from A Christmas Story ("I can't put my arms down!"). The assemblage went something like this: tights, jeans, sweatpants, socks, leg-warmers and Winter boots for the lower half and up above, t-shirt, turtleneck, sweater, vest, Winter jacket, scarf, gloves, mittens, hat and helmet. There were no fancy thermo-synthetic-polar-fleece anythings. There were no made-for Winter-riding boots, breeches or gloves like these kids have nowadays. The capper was when I went off to college and had regular riding lessons for which a uniform was required. That meant tall boots, breeches, a school sweater or jacket, helmet and gloves. In a feeble attempt to stave off the New England cold, we would buy the biggest wool socks would could find, put them on over our leather boots and then put rubber overshoes on over them. It didn't work.

I still ride in the Winter, often bareback, and with new-fangled weather appropriate riding gear, but it has to be at least 20 for me to get on a horse. Even then, I'll whine about it. It's funny though, how relative temperature can be. No matter what, 3 degrees Fahrenheit is dang cold. But when it's been 3 for a few days and then goes all the way up to 20, it can feel like Spring time. If it's been 75 degrees and dips to 4o our teeth start chattering and we fuss and carry on like the Ice Age just returned. But let the thermometer soar to 40, after temps in the teens, and we will dance around in our short sleeves like loons.

There are times when I have gone riding, under no duress or obligation, in the pouring rain, blistering heat, driving snow, pitch dark, wind, fog, and all manner of Mother Nature's manifestations. I'm glad I did. That doesn't mean I'm going to necessarily do it again, but I am glad for the experiences. Now I'm more cautious and considerate of my horse's comfort and well-being to not going riding in certain types of weather, or at least that makes a good excuse for being sissy.

If you are the type of rider that competes, there are going to be competitions held in less than ideal weather, so training in less than ideal weather only makes sense. The show must go on, and all that. If there is a danger to me or my horse, then I certainly will not risk my horse's or my own well-being to go riding, competition or not. Lightning is one of those circumstances. Dangerous footing would be another. Being older and wiser, I do feel as though extreme heat and cold classify. Some times, weather may not be conducive to a full out training session, but a modified one would be suitable. A walking ride in high temperatures or a short one in frigid temps. is certainly sensible.

No matter how much whining I may do about weather and often having to ride in disagreeable conditions, I am always glad, at the end of a ride, that I did it. The reward outweighs any discomfort, and the discomfort is usually forgotten as my horse and I start working together. However, I'm still going to be on the couch watching a movie when the temperature dips into the single digits, despite thermo-synthetic-polar-fleece anythings.