Posts Tagged ‘Equestrian’

King7King is the closest I’m likely to come to having my own horse.  Though I’ve always craved the special relationship between horse and human, my lifestyle isn’t suited to the responsibility of owning that majestic animal.  Days are busy and, because of career choices, my husband and I have moved a lot over the years.  So early on we decided to have no kids and no horses.

As a child I rode with my father along the Wissahickon near Philadelphia.  He rented our horses and later treated me to lessons to gain confidence on the animal I loved but was intimidated by.  When I started earning a living I continued those lessons, progressing to an ‘advanced’ beginner – able to trot, canter and jump small fences riding English saddle.  But I worked constantly and had only weekends to practice on the variety of horses designated for lessons.  There were favorites, of course, but because I didn’t own anybody I couldn’t always have my choice.  Then came King.

King3Driving around my newly relocated town one Sunday I happened on a barn and impulsively pulled into the driveway to explore.  The familiar, delicious smell of horse and hay greeted my senses.  So did the proprietor who wondered why I was walking around her facility.  Minutes later she introduced me to King, a handsome bay colored Arabian with a gorgeous, attentive face and warm, trusting brown eyes.  I fell in love.  And we arranged for me to lease King and ride him each week.

Sundays were designated King days for me and they were sacrosanct.  I looked forward to opening the barn door, turning on the lights and hearing King whinny his hello from the other end of the stable.  It was usually just he and I at the farm and he knew who was approaching; he’d been waiting.  Our ritual started with grooming as I led him out of his stall to the cross ties, smiling while he would strut – head held high, tail twitching – bragging to the others that he was getting groomed, not they.  Then he’d get playful, bending his neck around to nibble on my shoulder – or my, ahem, butt – while I reached down to brush his legs.  He was a flirt even though he knew he had me at hello.

King6We’d run through gait and direction exercises in the arena – work on our trot and canter, move left, right and practice figure eights.  Occasionally he’d act silly, frightened to death by a new weed that had sprouted, certain it would gobble him alive until he went to sniff to determine he was safe.

Each Sunday I’d arrive at the barn frazzled from a long, hectic week and within minutes of burying my nose in his neck and looking into his eyes, the tension would lift from my shoulders to be replaced by the sheer joy of communing with King.  We belonged to each other, there was no doubt in our minds.

King and I spent four years of Sundays together, until I quit my job and took a months’ long cross-country trip with my husband.  We lost track of each other until four years ago when serendipity once again brought us together through Horse Haven of Tennessee.  Turns out that this horse rescue was now located in King’s barn and when I signed on to volunteer there I’d get to see King each week.  Though he was now too old to ride, he was not too old to remember me, and our special bond.



KingFinal1Yesterday King suffered a terrible accident in the pasture.  Somehow he tore tendons in his rear left leg.  Prognosis was poor and his pain was intense.  At age 37 he was not a candidate for surgery.  So his family made the gut wrenching decision to send him across “the rainbow bridge,” as it’s called.

King lived a most fortunate existence as a horse; he spent his whole life with one family and sired his own family who lived with him in the same barn and the same green pastures.

King&MeFinalWe got to say goodbye yesterday – me with my nose buried in his neck followed by kisses on his nose and apples to fill his belly.  He, with the familiar nibble on my shoulder and deep look into my eyes.

I love King.  I miss him already.  And in many ways he was my horse.

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Winston is prancing around his paddock this morning, hungry and impatient.  My arrival signals breakfast and he wants it NOW.  He kicks the lower board of his fencing as though he needs to get my attention.  Hey – do you see me?  I said NOW!

He’s a dark brown or “bay,” feisty stallion – about 16 hands tall and, these days, close to 1300 pounds.  And as a young four-year old he’s full of himself and is mostly interested in finding a mare to do, well, to do what stallions do best.  Make babies.  But we won’t let him.  He’s alone in his paddock because he’d attack another male and mount any female within smelling distance.  Because he’s so feisty few people will handle Winston or go into his paddock, for that matter, cautious about his unpredictability and tremendous power.

Photo of the eye of a young Arabian horse

Image via Wikipedia

And I love him, tearing up each time I visit his feeding window to scratch behind his ears and rub his long, thick neck.  I particularly love kissing the end of his nose as he nibbles at my shoulder and looks into my eyes.  He knows we saved his life.

I remember when he arrived as a weak sorry-looking animal, evidence in a court case that Horse Haven of Tennessee is charged with safe keeping.  Some six months ago he was taken from his owners as a starving fellow who just hung his head and had to be shown there was food in his feed bucket.  He walked slowly and carefully through the barn to his turn out paddock while we gasped at his emaciated frame, a perfect specimen for horse anatomy 101 with each rib clearly delineated and his rump bones protruding due to muscle deterioration.  Under our care he’s gained hundreds of pounds.

Horse and Rider

Image by Istvan via Flickr

Who knows why owners neglect their animals?  Some actually don’t know better.  They think that plopping a horse in their backyard as a lawn mower is sufficient.  It’s not.  Others are just outright cruel – dragging horses behind their trucks, beating them if they don’t obey or hauling them to mountaintops and abandoning them.  These days some owners are just running out of money to take care of themselves let alone their horses.  Their equine are left to winnow away to mere shadows of themselves, ultimately dropping dead from starvation.

Group of differently coloured Finnhorse stalli...

Image via Wikipedia

There are a lot of horses in our country – about 4 percent of American households have a horse; that’s more than 9 million horses.  The horse industry is a multi-billion dollar business.  We love our horses.  But with the trend for unwanted horses growing, the Rescue industry needs about $2300 per horse for food, meds and hoof care.  At the rate it’s going, the price adds up to some $26 million a year!  All donation based.

Wild stallion Lazarus and part of his band in ...

All my life I’ve longed for my own horse, started riding lessons at 13 – compliments of my father. They’re incredibly sensitive, soulful creatures with timid temperaments and acute flee impulses since they’re prey animals. Their first instinct is for self-protection.  And yet they want to please humans.

Winston is a success story and my heart sings with joy each time we visit and snuggle.  One of these days his court case will be resolved and, hopefully, he’ll be released for adoption.  Our local college equestrian team have their eyes on him.  They should; he’ll make a gorgeous hunter/jumper, being the thoroughbred he is.

Meanwhile we’ll feed him his full bucket of grain twice/day and his minimum 6 flakes of hay twice a day.  And care for his teeth and feet.  And love him the way he deserves.

You can visit the website at Horse Haven of Tennessee or watch a video telling its story where more than 60 volunteers take care of the horses during twice/daily shifts.  It’s a love story.  One that requires money to keep going.

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childhood memory

Image by AlicePopkorn via Flickr

Recently I find myself revisiting memories of my childhood that laid the foundation for who I am today and the direction life is taking me.  Back then is when I discovered a love for animals and a palpable need to commune with them.  That bond occupies a large part of my life today and can trigger flashbacks to earlier days.

Take morning walks with my dog Pogo for example.  He dances for joy each time we leave the house as though this tour of my wooded neighborhood is the first in his life.  Actually, he knows every square inch of it because during his month as a stray he foraged for food among our trees until the day he decided that I’d be his mom.  Though I’ve always longed for a dog, he’s my first one and the love of my life.  Believe me, it’s mutual and he loves our daily excursions where we visit with neighbors and fellow canines.

As Pogo and I reach the crest of a hill, I catch my first glimpse of Marley who’s already thumping her tail in anticipation of our visit.  She’s a beautiful Lab mix that belongs to a neighbor but she’s adopted us as family members too.  She can barely wait for me to sit down before plopping herself on my lap for hugs and kisses. Together we enjoy the beautiful view of the Tennessee River and the Smokey Mountains beyond. And I’m transported back to that nine-year old child who used to visit the collie around the corner.  Together Bow and I would crawl into our fort in the bushes and snuggle.  She helped me through some tough times back then, laying her head on my lap and cooing soft sounds as I cried out my troubles and accepted her soothing licks on my face.  We loved each other and it broke my heart when she died.  While I silently reminisce Marley looks up and smiles.  I think she knows.

There’s also a real familiarity at the barn where I spend Tuesday mornings with rescue horses.  They’re very sensitive creatures and have always tugged at my heart.  Maybe the seed was planted when we kids went with my father to his business and visited Murphy, a gorgeous Palomino gelding.  He’d jump on that horse’s back and take off as though the two were born as one.  My father was happiest on a horse and we went riding many Sunday mornings along the Wissahickon River into Valley Green, outside of Philadelphia.  We’d walk and talk while my father oozed vitality and a freedom of spirit that was contagious.  I fell in love with horses too and now when I’m at the barn feeding, grooming, turning out and mucking – I think of those days and smile.  And they look at me with those soulful, knowing eyes as if to acknowledge an understanding of our bond.

Over the years so much has changed while so much of me has stayed the child I used to be.  I guess that’s what it means to realize your essence.

What events trigger memories for you – and what are those memories and how have they defined who you are today?

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