After two and a half years of jumping around teeny courses, practicing circles and serpentines, riding sand dunes, mountains, through lakes and neighborhoods our faithful and loving gelding pony was finally moved to “Mascot” status. The signs came upon us suddenly. Returning from a ten day trip out of state in early Spring to see relatives we found he had a reluctance that was surpassed only by his willingness. Something did not feel right. I watched him closely over the next few rides and understood that it was time. Through tears we vowed that he would take up his new post immediately.
Thus began the very lightest of arena work for Smoky and the consideration of a not replacement. No one could ever replace him. Our daughter was devastated by the idea that her beloved friend had become unable to accompany her on every moment of our adventures. He was everything to her. She pondered not getting a new horse, so great was her pain. I even put her up on my mare on the lunge to keep her spirits afloat. With great care Belle eyed her lightweight charge and accepted the position, understanding full well her cues were coming from me.
After much discussion and contemplation the desire to ride alongside me on an equine of her own won out. Our daughter needed reassurance that when a new horse joined our family she would never have to go through that pain of loss again. At least not until she was emotionally able to. I thought perhaps sometime in her twenties. Maybe thirties. Very late thirties. In the roll as both her Mommy and “The Experienced Horsewoman” I somehow had to make it happen.
As we set out, history was to repeat itself as it had a few years back. Life would have its little cosmic giggle on our family yet again. In the previous case we had set out to search for a doggie companion for our first pooch, Cinnamon. It had become evident that after several failed attempts on her part to get the cats to play by bringing them her toys and their “piss off we’re busy contemplating the world you young upstart” response, that we had to step up our timeline for a second dog to join our household. Off we went to comb the neighborhood adoption agencies for a mature one to two year old, small, short haired dog. Back we came from three weeks of looking with Wookie. A mid sized, very fuzzy puppy.
As we launched into the horse search the initial objective was to find one that was young enough that it had about twenty years of good riding ahead of it, yet old enough that it was attentive. So, breed dependent, 4 (really 5) years old to maybe, 8ish? It had to be tall enough that our daughter would never grow out of it yet short enough that she could get on and off now and enjoy the autonomy of grooming the critter herself while we still measured her height in inches. As my husband is 6’3” and I am 5’9” that meant aiming for a horse of at least a 15H with a good barrel, but no taller than 16.1H… Ish. Unless it could kneel like a camel.
To top it off, due to being a novice rider gaining experience and confidence, it also had to be impeccable in its demeanor. It had to be a sensible, well started, forgiving horse, absolutely sound in mind and body with no vices. Oh, and get along famously with our current horses, Belle and Smoky. Thank goodness, although she had her favorites, our daughter did not care what color it would be. Otherwise I would have been contemplating hair dye or buckets of paint.
I certainly wanted to steer clear of the hotter pure breeds like Arabians and Thoroughbreds. Although I grew up riding Thoroughbreds myself as they were the show horse of the day (generally the ones that couldn’t run could jump) unless I could find the right Man ‘O’ War or Secretariat bloodlines it could be shooting in the dark as to overall long term attitude and durability. But we live in a traditionally more Western environment now. Cattle dot the landscape. Mustangs, deer and antelope roam the adjacent BLM lands. People keep livestock in their backyards. In other words, Thoroughbreds aren’t exactly falling out of trees. So that more or less took care of that.
As for Arabians, considering herself more of a rugged outdoorsy kid and having mostly seen pictures in magazines of excited show Arabians with flying tails, oiled up overly emphasized googley eyes and muzzles, declared that she definitely didn’t want one of them. Brought up in the wrong hands they could tend towards hot and not very sensible anyway. We would look for something crossbred and well boned. A sturdy creature, well mannered with good solid movement and a nice quiet jump. And not too expensive. The Goldilocks principle of horse buying.
Fast forward to seven torturous weeks later. After driving all over our state and the next seeing what was advertised as this or talked up on the phone as that yet would wind up being complete compromises what did we bring home on trial? A pony of course. A 14.2H sixteen year old Egyptian Arab pony that looked like a roughened china teacup, underweight and so spindly I was afraid it might break in the trailer on the three and a half hour ride over the mountains to our barn that had not been ridden in five months nor shod in at least twelve to fourteen weeks with a sore back who looked like a perfect candidate for a Thelwell cartoon. To put icing on the cake, the mare was terrified. Of everything.
So why did I with all my experience training “problem” horses (mostly it was the people’s quirks) over decades make this choice? Because in spite of my “perfect list” of intellectual “shoulds” I saw what could not be denied, a perfect match. A girl with an excess of love spilling out of her heart and a horse that just needed filling, someone to love her and be fair.
Though I had set several horses through their paces at the consignment barn that day there was no denying when that pony and our daughter locked eyes they were destined to spend time with each other. Call me crazy, but I signed the papers. Besides, if it didn’t work out I could take her back in a couple of weeks. I had performed miracles in shorter time. We’d cross that bridge when we came to it.
As I handed the end of the weather worn rope to our daughter my husband, knowing next to nothing about horses but having great faith in my judgment, gave a sigh of relief. In his mind the quest was over. We watched as the scrawny little mare, following her new little person, walked without hesitation into both the trailer and our lives.
Six month’s later she has undeniably turned out to be the best Mothers Day gift I could ever have wished for.