Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The New Kid on the Block

The morning of the day I went to Adirondack Foothills Equine Center to look at some horses for sale, Cass’ picture fell off my bookcase.

I’m not saying it meant anything.  I just found it interesting.  Take it as you will.

I’d been pursuing the online Want Ad Digest, Craigslist and Whinny.org in recent weeks looking at various horses for sale.  My heart was somewhat in it, but I was also very nervous about looking and riding and possibly making a bad decision.  I hadn’t ridden in any sincere form in several years; Cass and I just walked around the property and down the road a bit – but his feet had bothered him so much that even that had been limited.  Thunder had been allowed to goof off all summer as we got sidetracked by work around the homestead and other excuses.  But now a seismic change had occurred in our little barn with the loss of Cass and, along with other things that had lined up in the past six months or so which would allow us more time for fun stuff (read: riding our horses), a huge opportunity presented itself. 

It was time for me to get back in the saddle, literally and figuratively.  And, Thunder was lonely. 

Looking at all the horses online was exciting and exhausting.  I had an open-minded good sense of what I wanted and how much I had to spend.  It seemed like everything out there was too green, too old, too expensive, too questionable or too far away (I refused to go outside my area code).  Like Goldilocks, I was looking for one that was juuuuust right.  I saw two on Whinny.org which took me to ADK’s website and a listing of others they had for sale.  I emailed them, Jessica from the barn called me, and I made an appointment to go to Fort Ann for a couple of test rides.  Larry had to work so I recruited my non-horsey friend Judy to go with me.

We arrived at their beautiful facility – wide open, fenced-in paddocks and indoor ring - and met Cliff, an instructor/trainer and shower of horses for sale.  As we followed him into the barn, he asked, “So what kind of horses are you ladies looking for?”  Judy said, “Oh, I’m not looking for a horse, she is.  I’m looking for a boyfriend.”  Cliff said he’d see what he could for both of us.

Ironically, the two online that had somewhat interested me, I didn’t even ride.  Instead, he first put me on a beautiful mare named Nifty.  She was five, a little younger than I was looking for, but calm, pleasant to work around, well started and a dream to ride even if she was a little young, and as sweet as the day was long.  She also knew her job and expected me to know mine.

Next I rode a gelding named Legend.  He was a little older and wiser, and needed a little more “getting behind” to make him do what you wanted him to.  Still, he was well trained and it felt comfortable and familiar, because he reminded me of Cass in temperament.  I rode him much longer than I rode the mare.  Even though it felt great to be in the saddle again, I felt awkward and uncoordinated on both horses, like I was bouncing around and not giving clear cues.  I was in a Western saddle, not my usual English tack, and I was trying to remember and ride the differences.

I had told Judy that I was not going to make any snap decisions about buying anything that day.  This was purely a shopping expedition.  If I was going to buy something on the spot, I would have bought Legend.  He reminded me of Cass, and I thought, I know how to deal with this type of horse.

I asked Judy which horse she liked better.  She looked at me like I had two heads.  “The girl horse was much sweeter,” she said.  “All she wants to do is please you and be with you, and she’s absolutely beautiful.  The other one, he’s okay, but if you ask me it’s no question.”

The drive home was one of introspection.  Judy listened patiently as I basically justified why I wanted the gelding instead of the mare.  He was a little older, a little mellower (not that the mare was the least bit high-strung, just different), I knew his personality, he was a lot like Cass, I knew how to deal with it.  I was talking myself into it, but something felt weird.  I kept thinking about the mare.  Judy came right out and said she didn’t understand my attraction to the gelding, given how lovely the mare was, but being a good friend, she said “I don’t know anything about horses.  You’ll know what’s best for you.”

In my deepest heart of hearts, I was feeling like I didn’t deserve as nice a horse as that mare.  I’d ruin her.  She was a better horse than I was a horsewoman.  I’d gotten what I deserved with Cass, good and bad, nothing against him, and to think I deserved better was selfish and unreasonable, and disrespectful to his memory.

As I mulled all this over, I equated getting the gelding to being in a relationship with a certain type of man.  Even if the relationship wasn’t great, you knew what to expect and you tolerated it.  Then, getting out of that relationship, and jumping right into another relationship with the same type of man.  Did that make sense?  Why would I do that to myself?  Have I not learned something after all these years?

I was feeling pretty philosophical with myself and called Judy later that day.  “Do you think the mare liked me?” I asked, sounding rather sophomoric.  I told her about my analogy.  She said, “You know, the mare was so sweet and just wanted to be with you and work with you and be a partner.  Why wouldn’t you want to have the same kind of relationship with your horse that you have in your marriage to Larry?"
She pulled the rug right out from under me with that one.  I promptly started bawling because I knew she was right.  I was still grieving for Cass.  In a way I felt like I was being disloyal to him.  But she was right.  It was time to be kind to myself, to give myself this incredible opportunity to have a fabulous horse.

I'm A Nifty Jag (Nifty)
I did deserve her.

Three days later Larry and I went to the stable to look at her again.  I rode her for nearly an hour.  Cliff showed me how to communicate with her under saddle based on how she’d been trained, to get her listening and bending.  I felt much more comfortable in the saddle.  I quieted my logical mind and listened to her, felt her, gave her every reason to trust me.  I bought her.

Nifty now resides in the stall where Cass lived out his days with me.  The day she arrived she was in her stall, calmly taking in all her new surroundings.  With a teary face I took Cass’ nameplate off the wall, and she nuzzled my hand as I took out the screws.  When I put my hands on her, the trust is like a current between us.  My level of horsemanship has changed.

In two weeks, the stable is holding a tack swap.  I figured I’d go and liquidate some of the extra gear I’ve accumulated over the years.  Judy’s going to tag along.  Maybe we can find her a boyfriend.