Michele asked if I had any photos of myself on a horse, in response to my comment about his daughter the Duchess, who looks so naturally comfortable astride. So, I went through my Google Photos which go back to when I rode my friend’s horses. My own mare was gone before the advent of the cell phone, which has made keeping a photo journal so convenient. I probably posted pictures of my beloved Sunny on my Xanga page.
My oldest friend, Stephen (I’m a few days older than he is of which he reminds me at every opportunity) bought two Andalusian yearlings years ago, while he was still working long hours at his private medical practice. I thought it was ill-advised as he already had two Quarter horses that were seldom ridden. When the youngsters matured, he placed them with a local trainer who turned them into lovely show horses, on which she won many trophies and ribbons. When they came home from the trainer, they were a pleasure to ride…in the confines of a show ring. Steve rode them occasionally on trails, and he sometimes allowed others to ride them, some skilled and others not so much. After about ten years of erratic handling, they had lost their good manners and were almost impossible to ride.
Gemela was a silly beauty who would not stand to be mounted. While she had a gentle temperament and a calm nature, she had learned long ago that she could do as she pleased and she was pleased to avoid capture when turned out in the arena.
Florentino was homely and affectionate and chewed on anything within his reach. Both were bomb proof by nature which made them easy to handle, especially when the kids would come roaring through the barn on their ATVs or the gardener would run the tractor or other noisy implements. They had raw patches where the flies had irritated their sensitive skin and sores on their fetlocks from having to lie down on hard dirt or rubber mats.
I worked, with my sister’s and cousin’s help, cleaning up the barn, creating drainage in the corrals, and grooming their knotted manes and tails. I added shavings to their stalls for bedding and sand to the corrals to soften the footing. With a clean barn and some fly control, they began to heal, though the knot on Florentino’s fetlock never went away.
The work of restoring their manners was time consuming and exhausting. Before I could even begin to ride them, I had to teach them to stand quietly while being saddled and mounted. They had obviously been cinched up carelessly by ignorant riders and tried to sidle away when being saddled and cinched. I gently snugged up the cinch (or I guess they call it a girth on an English saddle) repeatedly, day after day, until they trusted that they wouldn’t be hurt. Steve was paying me $10/hour and I figure he spent $100 just to have his horses learn to stand still to be saddled.
The next step was to teach them to stand quietly while I mounted. Andalusians are good sized horses so I used a mounting block. Naturally, even tied in cross ties, they stepped away from the mounting block as soon as I stepped up. I spent what seemed like hours mounting and just sitting quietly, in the barn. Then I’d dismount and mount again. Again, I’d sit still until they got the picture that we weren’t going anywhere. Finally, I repeated the procedure without the cross ties. These were not new ideas for these middle-aged horses; they had just been badly handled for many years.
Then we began some work in the arena. They seemed to appreciate the diversion and the subsequent bath. Keeping two white horses white when they live on red clay is a Sisyphean task. Weeks rolled into months and, we began to expand our areas of exploration. Horses are herd animals and normally don’t like to venture away from their territory without their companions. Gemela initially whinnied plaintively as she was forced to leave Florentino behind. He didn’t encourage her by replying and never looked back when he was the one leaving the barn.
Each of these bold horses had qualities that made me enjoy riding them. Flo had the smooth gaits that could lull you to sleep in the saddle while Gemela had the showy leg action that could bounce even a good rider off her seat. Initially, Gemela wouldn’t step over a crack in the pavement but over time, came to trust my judgment in almost all cases. Flo would go anywhere he was asked, uphill or down, clear trail or flowing water. Flo would lope evenly on a loose rein while Gemela always showed eagerness to pick up speed, though neither of them were inclined to ever actually run.
When I had reformed the miscreants, I invited Stephen to go for a ride with me. I had both horses shining white with flowing manes and tails.
I think I cared for Flo and Gemela for about 4 years until a real job found me. I continued to supervise their routine veterinary care, feeding, and hoof care but I turned over the responsibility for keeping the barn clean to the gardener. I’d grown as fond of them as if they were my own and it was difficult to watch their health decline and have no say in their veterinary decisions. White horses are prone to melanoma and Flo had a tumor on his rectum that made defecation increasingly difficult. He eventually was put down but it was considerably later than I thought was humane. Gemela became sick and the vet speculated that she too had a cancer that wasn’t immediately visible. She died within months of losing her half brother, with whom she had been barn mates her entire life.
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t horse crazy. To this day, the sight of a horse triggers a visceral sensation of pleasure. But, age has made my heart too tender to take on the responsibility of caring for an animal that can’t share my home. When the winter nights turn cold, and the wind blows through the barn, I don’t worry about my horse anymore. When the summer heat beats down and no breeze blows through the barn, I don’t worry about my dear equine friend. I can rest easy with my dogs and cats beside me.