I wrote this last fall and published it as a Facebook Note, but I thought my non-Facebook readers might like to know what my equine experience really is. So, here it is one more time.
My grandmother, Fleeta Finnegan, had horses. I always loved grandma’s first name, Fleeta. It even sounded horsey. She and my grandpa Charles leased a farm and covered it with hot wire stalls, several ramshackle sheds, and even an arena filled with jumps. And of course there were the horses. Some were hers, some belonged to boarders, but in the stories that I would weave as I sat in the dirt near their pens, they all belonged to me.
I know now that having a little girl helping her was anything but help. I would follow my grandmother around racing ahead to open gates, tote buckets filled with grain, and push the alfalfa-laden wheelbarrow from paddock to paddock. I can still hear the clack ...clack ... clack of her electric fence humming and see the big green and red light bulbs that adorned the front of that machine. It hung on the wall of the screened in porch on the back of the house. It had a thick pile of dust over it and often times I would wipe the dust off the bulbs to check which of the bulbs, green or red, was lit. I learned that fence stung if you forgot which bulb meant “fence on.”
Grandma Fleeta gave riding and jumping lessons to little girls and ladies wanting to ride. Her arena was filled with brightly painted jumps, white cavelleti poles, and even a dingy old mirror mounted to a wooden frame. She would sit on a jump painted to look like a brick-wall drinking Diet Pepsi and call out instructions to the ladies riding. To me she was beautiful in the tan breeches, sleeveless tops, and tall black boots that she always wore.
For a very short time, my mother arranged for me to take riding lessons with Grandma Fleeta. And even though she was my grandmother, my mother refused to take anything for free. After taking a lesson, I was required to clean pens with a wheelbarrow and a big metal shovel. And while I enjoy cleaning my horses’ stalls today, as an eight year old, the wheelbarrow and shovel that I was assigned were both heavy and clumsy. I resented the work, but I would have done anything to be around those horses. The lessons didn’t last long however, since spending money on gas to drive all the way out to grandma and grandpa’s house for a weekly riding lesson was just not a priority for my single mom.
My mom’s brother and his wife lived a bit closer so we spent more time with them. My uncle was a horseshoer, as were his two other brothers. It seemed as though everyone had something to do with horses, everyone except me. Even my cousin delighted in tormenting me with the fact that she had a black and white pony named Joker and I didn’t. She never wanted to ride him of course, and worse, would never let me ride him either. I spent many afternoons on the fence daydreaming about what it would be like to ride Joker. I never did.
Then at twelve years of age, all of that changed. I moved north to live with my dad and suddenly, I had a horse. And then there was another, and another, and my days were filled with riding with no one saying I couldn’t. The only rule was that I be home by dark and that if I got hurt it was my own fault. It was as though the very doorway to Heaven had been opened to me. I spent every afternoon, and both weekend days, exploring the Coast Mountain’s logging roads and meandering the Eel River’s beaches.
The first horse that found me was a lovely little Arabian mare named Sassy. I found her on my daily search of the newspaper’s classifieds and bought her on the spot. I had no place to keep her, no tack with which to ride her, and I hadn’t mentioned to my new husband that I was even purchasing a horse! As it is with horse people, help arrived almost immediately. A co-worker contacted her stable’s manager and arrangements were made for the mare’s transport to her new barn. And once again I was exploring dirt roads through rolling hills and trails that lined a meandering river.
And as always happens, one horse became two, and life with horses continued.
I am not sure that it was any one thing. It might have been losing Montoya to colic in 2010. Or maybe it was the 15 years of having to ride three to four hours every Saturday in order to condition the horses. It might also have been Speedy G’s less-than-enthusiastic attitude about riding 50 miles in a single day. I didn’t plan on quitting endurance riding, but I went to an endurance ride in early June of 2010, and I didn’t put my endurance saddle back on a horse for five months.
During the summer of “no endurance riding,” as I called it, I took twice weekly dressage lessons and accidentally found a new love. After each lesson, I counted the hours until the next one. I quickly went from dusty, dirty endurance rider to a black coated, white breech wearing dressage rider! Even though we weren’t quite ready, I took Speedy G to four, one-star dressage shows over the summer of 2010 and loved every minute of it. That same fall and winter I took Speedy G to a triple-rated show and a schooling show where we did well. Or well enough. As with endurance riding, we’re riding to improve over our own previous score, not so much in competition with other riders. At least for now.
And as long as I am around horses, on horses, near horses, and sometimes even under horses, I will continue to be a horse person.