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We Are Flying Solo

August 21, 2009

Home At Last

It was Memorial Day weekend 2006. S.O. was away on business, so I could not drag him with me, but at least I had something to do now! 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, and 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.

When we turned up at the seller's farm, I turned over my envelope stuffed with a wild array of cash and money orders that I had pulled together the night before. I signed the bill of sale and collected a Coggins certificate. Naturally, Benson had stepped on his own hind foot that day and 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 and 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 and down the fence calling for him as rocked the trailer in a sudden panic. My heart broke for him and 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, and 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.

I was helpless to do anything but hang on the fence and 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 and lead rope.


Grazing on the first day home.

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

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

August 20, 2009

A Meeting of the Minds

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 and he was a good age (10). I decided what the heck, I wasn't doing anything else, and I drove two hours from to check him out.

I pulled into one of the million Carolina sandhills hobby farms and 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 and proceeded to look him over. He had the worst shoeing job I had ever seen with uneven gaps between hoof and 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 and 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 and canter in the middle of the pasture (this is my actual video from that day, below) and then I threw my leg over.

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 and if you pressed down on the right side of his SI, his back legs would buckle. His stifles popped and his back was lopsided.

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

Mission Impossible

I flipped the switch.   I gave myself permission to horse shop.  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.


A few months earlier, I had coincidentally started dating this guy (yeah, you know who you are!).  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 makes you happy."  Hell, if you ever want to make a girl love you forever, 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.

The Real Beginning

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 apppeared.

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 my 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 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.

August 19, 2009

Why Not Start At The Beginning?

I'm going to tell the story of us. Of me and Solo. Because I think it might help me to clarify not only where we need to go next in our training, but also because it might help me understand where we are right now by reexamining where we have been.