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We Are Flying Solo

December 17, 2009

A Love Story

All girls dream of ponies. For at least a brief time in their lives. Some girls never stop dreaming.

That's me.

When I was growing up, every Christmas morning I would lie still in my bed, eyes scrunched tight shut, holding my breath, firmly believing that if I was just still enough & wished hard enough, the sheer power of my longing would make a horse wearing a big red bow appear in my window when I looked out.

Alas, it appears I was unable to keep my eyes closed long enough, for the horse never appeared.

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Yeahhhh, they didn't really have helmets back then.  Oops.
As a result, I begged & borrowed rides where I could. My mother did half-lease me a pony when I was 7 (that's Sassy below, circa mid-80's, half Welsh Mountain Pony & what you see is the grand total sum of tack that we had) & she bought me riding lessons from age 8-15. After that, I cleaned stalls, exercised what I could, schooled a backyard prospect or two.

And every day I dreamed of when I would be able to write my OWN horse's name on a bucket of brushes.

There were many gentle teachers & loving hearts along the way. There was the headstrong paint dressage gelding who ran away with me & knocked me out but taught me triumph when I could finally control him. There was the quiet chestnut who gave me my first real canter & jumped a faithful straight line while my arms were outstretched & eyes closed. There was the leggy thoroughbred who won me my first blue ribbon, when I was in college riding hunter equitation. The black ex-Rolex quarter horse who met my truck at the gate every day & despite his age & (unbeknownst to me then) intestinal cancer, always made me smile with his joie de vivre & finely tuned cues.

But none of them were mine & each I had to give up as owners changed their minds & life moved inexorably on. There were years when I couldn't even touch a horse; then I would pull my truck into random horse barn parking lots & sit there absorbing that special barn atmosphere with tears in my eyes because I missed it so much. I was 26 years old & I finally couldn't take it anymore; that horse-shaped hole in my heart had sat empty for too long. I didn't have any money -- I worked (and still do) as a state biologist & rented a house in a "transitional neighbourhood." But dammit, sometimes, it's just TIME. I wasn't going to get any younger, no CHANCE of getting richer, & I wasn't going to miss out on it any more.

I flipped the switch. I gave myself permission to horse shop. I gave myself a budget & started looking. I searched, I visited, I tried. A 3 year old black Percheron who was greenbroke (What was I thinking? Helloooo, I wanted to JUMP!). A beautifully built tri-coloured Appy (and I don't even go for Appies usually) who had learned to rear to dethrone his rider. A conformational trainwreck of a TB with uneven heels, mile-long pasterns & a limp but the heart of a saint.

Frustrated.

A few months earlier, I had coincidentally started dating this guy. This guy who in about four days I knew would change my life forever. And it turned out that this guy could make my life's only sure dream of horse ownership come true. He gave me a check & said, "Go find what you need." Hell, if you ever want to make a girl love you, that'll do it!

I revised my search with renewed hope of finding a horse that didn't limp & didn't have a death wish for humans.

Solo's first day - 6 June 2006
I was tired of driving around, but one final ad caught my eye: a chestnut Appendix QH named "Benson," with a little chrome. The pictures weren't great, but he looked to have decent conformation & he was a good age (10). I decided what the heck, I wasn't doing anything else, & I drove two hours to check him out.

I pulled into one of the million Carolina sandhills hobby farms & hopped out to meet the owner in the barn. As I walked in, Benson stood in quietly in the crossties awaiting my inspection. I looked at him. He looked at me. And something settled inside me.

I patted him on the neck & proceeded to look him over. He had the worst shoeing job I had ever seen with uneven gaps between hoof & shoe. Zero muscle tone. As I rubbed his lopsided white blaze his owner commented, "Huh, he trusts you. He doesn't do that for many people." So I asked to see him go & to ride him. A young European girl had been schooling him on the trails, said he didn't know a lot but seemed agreeable. She did a couple of circles at the trot & canter in the middle of the pasture (this is my actual video from that day, below) & then I threw my leg over.

video

He was crooked. He leaned hard on my left leg. He picked up the wrong canter lead. But he didn't fuss. And I felt safe. Which is a big deal to me -- due to aforementioned runaway Paint horse, I don't do bolters. Ever.

I loved him.

I brought a vet out a week later to do a Pre-Purchase Exam. Turned out not only was Benson criminally out of shape, he had bone spurs on his front coffin bones & if you pressed down on the right side of his SI, his back legs would buckle. His stifles popped & his back was lopsided.

I think I can fix that, I thought. "I'll take him," I said.

It was Memorial Day weekend 2006. I found a friend (N) to board him with. She generously drove with me to pick him up in her trailer. All the way there, I was buzzing with excitement, anticipation, & fear. What if the horse didn't like me? What if he turned out to be secretly crazy? What if he had some mysterious ailment/injury/handicap that would kill him six months from now? The horrible possibilities spun choking webs in my brain. I was stark-raving nuts.

He always knew he was sexy!
When we turned up at the seller's farm, I turned over my envelope stuffed with a wild array of cash & money orders that I had pulled together the night before. I signed the bill of sale & collected a Coggins certificate. Naturally, Benson had stepped on his own hind foot that day & ripped open his coronet band on his white hind foot. It was bloody with a chunk missing. I choked inside, I think my eyes rolled back in my head as I thought, "See, I told you he would be hurt!" I just wanted him on the trailer & out of there.


After a brief period of uncertainty, Benson agreed to step on the trailer. The seller proceeded to turn out the mare that was his best friend, who then ran up & down the fence calling for him as he rocked the trailer in a sudden panic. My heart broke for him & N was in tears for his distress as we pulled out. This wasn't starting well.

But we got him home with no further event, settled into his paddock, & let him inspect the place. "What do you want to feed him," N asked? "Ummmmmmmmm..." I knew nothing about horse feed, aside from the sweet feed we had when I worked at a boarding stable in the mid-90's. N, bless her heart, took over. Feed, amounts, hay, all taken care of. Farrier visit set up to rid us of those terrible shoes.

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Grazing on the first day home.
I was helpless to do anything but hang on the fence & stare. He was mine. Mine mine mine. Finally, no one could stop me from riding him whenever I wanted. I already had a shiny new halter & lead rope.

I just needed a new name because "Benson" was horrendous & untenable for this shining hunk of a horse. So he became "Solaris" & in my star-struck eyes, he shone brighter than his namesake. His nickname, "Solo," carried its own hidden meaning: he was & is the culmination of a lifetime of longing, my one true dream, my sole hope & goal come to fruition.

I drove home to write a name on my brush bucket.

16 comments:

  1. I was 27 when I got Denali. I totally 100% understand that hole in your heart, and that feeling of it going to burst until you fill it and get a horse. Beautiful story. :)

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  2. Thank you, Denali! Feels good to fill the hole, doesn't it?

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  3. Aw!!!! I had wondered what the Solo beginning story was! SOOO sweet! I have owned Rascal since I was 8, so I guess I don't understand completely, but if I didn't have a horse, I think I would die of sheer misery, and bc my guys were too old to ride, it was a little of the feeling I had when I got Bailey. So very sweet, what a cute sentimental way to start my day before exams, I want to go ride my pony lol!

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  4. I love love love this. btw-- you are a very good writer. perhaps a novel in your future?

    I love your story. It is so similar to mine. Years of once a week lessons, then working for riding, then fortune of having one of my own, then 3 years with no horses and a hole in MY heart. Now one of my own-- my life-long partner. I can't ride him yet (bc hes a baby), but I he's mine and I wouldn't trade him for anything!

    I'm so happy for you and Solo.

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  5. Thanks Rachel and Alana! I hope our story still has many chapters to come!

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  6. Love your story! Rach is right, you're a great writer! I have owned horses on and off since I was 13 and whenever I am horseless there is something very much missing in my life. I've tried to squelch it with other activities but I keep coming back for more! Come heck or high water I always figure out a way to be a part of the horse community!

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  7. I third, or fourth or whatever number we're on... that you're a really evocative writer. I totally got goosebumps and a tad teary at the last sentence. I've been riding horses since before I was born, my mom did a 4' jumper round when she was 6 months pregnant, and I've been hooked since then. Always longing for the day I could call one my own. I got my first horse at 19, with my own hard earned money. He ended up with navicular and I found a slow trail home for him, and now I'm on to my second, which I hope will last forever. It's just such a rewarding experience! I'm feeling a different kind of longing now with a broken ankle. Like stretching for the carrot dangling just too far away. My pony is waiting for me but I have to get better first!

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  8. Thank you both very much for your kind words. And thank you for sharing the magic that the love of a horse brings us.

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  9. I always find it incredible that some people are really just BORN to be with horses. To have a REAL heart-throbbing relationship with a horse that you will never forget. I love these kinds of stories :] You know, where struggling girl meets struggling horse and both work so hard and have a happily ever after? Makes me cry :] Bravo to both of you, hopefully y'all have MANY more years together. Just wondering, do the bone spurrs affect him in any way in his jumping? A horse at my barn had to be retired due to bone spurrs, so I was wondering what you did to make them go away/better? Thanks :]

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  10. Thank you, michelle! It's been an amazing journey so far...

    As for the bone spurs, as far as I know they are still there. I have not looked at them since. When it comes to things like that, that one can't change or control, I use the "ignorance is bliss" approach. He has not had any front foot issues thus far, so I will keep riding him until that changes. I saw the "spurs" on the xrays, they are very very small. They may have been there since birth, who knows. So, a calculated risk, I suppose.

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  11. Oh what a story....I love it. You're right, even if it's hard to afford, we must have a pony in our lives. I think Solo is gorgeous. I too had an appendix as a girl. His name was Charlie and he was the love of my life. He too was off the track. He was wonderful. And he too was sorrel. He had a star. He died when I was a senior in high school. No horse during college but would try to ride and ended up borrowing horses that were shall we say less than safe?!! Then finally got my Wil who seemed to be Charlie reincarnated. Except he was a buckskin. I only had him 2 years, he died of colic. So very sad. Then came Nightlite!!

    http://horsiechitchat.blogspot.com/

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  12. Loved your story :)I've ridden for 25 plus years and owned some as a young adult, but until recently it was always on projects ( that were sold) or borrowed mounts. Then along came my wonderful husband, who said it was time for me to have one of my own again. I spent my entire savings on a bargin basement, very much a diva in her own mind, but very talented TB mare. We do a little dressage, compete in hunter/jumpers and trail ride. She's my therapy, plan and simple.

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  13. I adore his nickname!! My story was similar in some ways and not in the others. I had dreamed about a horse since I was little, I *BEGGED* and cried for one on Christmas, birthday's, any holiday, pretty much. Mom at the time didn't have the money to get me lessons, and she saw it as useless considering we never thought I'd be able to have a horse anyways. But then came my stepfather, they married, he figured out along the way that we both had the bug and that horse blood ran deep and he told my mom for years, "Go buy a horse. We can keep it here or board." We never did buy that big horse we both dreamed about...I wanted a QH and she wanted an App. Then, we got a mini. Tiny little thing. Then, my aunt needed a home for her Quarter Horse and he was a gift to me, totally a surprise. He's my solo horse. :) My mom now has an Appaloosa herself, and she feels the same way about her horse. :)
    (Also, my horse was a skinny, kinda ugly horse with no mane or tail AT ALL. He was bald. And shorter than I wanted. But somehow he ended up being huge, muscular and hairy in just a few months. Woot!)
    Www.Sittinginthesaddle.blogspot.com

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  14. Thank you! Love your stories!!!! They are truly magical, aren't they??

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  15. What did your boyfriend think of the horse? Did it work out with him?

    What a great read.

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  16. Thanks, Adriane! BF & Solo were fast friends and both of them took excellent care of me. He became my fiance of 7 years, but I sadly lost him to health issues in 2012. But Solo always connects us & makes him an even greater treasure. <3

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