Category Horse Girl

An Introduction to Mounted Archery

Even before I bought Navani, I knew that I wanted to get into playing mounted games, and having had some practice at and aptitude for archery, it felt like an ideal place to start. I signed up for a two day intensive clinic with Heart Horse Industries in southern Washington, and resolved to become a good enough rider by the time it rolled around. 

June came so, so fast. In the intervening 8 month period between signing up for the clinic and driving to the clinic, I had come to learn that owning a horse and riding your horse are two distinct hobbies. I also fell off Navani in late December (my first fall since returning to riding) which did a number on my body and my confidence. It was hard to practice riding when I felt anxious about falling and hurting myself again and being anxious on the back of a horse is essentially asking to fall or be tossed off, as they are a half ton of empathetic nerve endings waiting to fire. A horse takes its cues from its rider, and if you’re afraid, they will also be afraid, and if they’re afraid, you’re going to have a bad ride which isn’t going to help your confidence any. It’s a feedback loop of fear and inadequacy*. So I’ve had to do a lot of mental and emotional work since then to deal with my anxiety and build my bond with Navani to help me get my confidence back. Unfortunately, that meant that I hadn’t made nearly as much riding progress as I had anticipated, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t even be allowed to take part in the riding portion of the clinic when my inexperience came to light. As there was nothing I could do about that, I determined my best course of action was to go in as confident as possible, and to that end, I borrowed the mare on which I’d learned to ride and rode her easy trot hands-free up and down the arena, turning my torso left and right and pantomiming drawing a bow. It must have helped, because I had a couple of good rides on Navani after that, and managed to stay aboard when she was startled on our most recent ride by that noted danger to horses and public menace, a butterfly.

It’s a three hour drive from my neighborhood to Brush Prairie, give or take, and so I elected to spend the weekend in nearby Vancouver at an Airbnb in the Hough neighborhood in order to be fresh for class and fresh for the drive both ways. The drive from my accommodations to the clinic wound past all manner of homes–mansions with great lawns situated across the road from run down trailer parks surrounded by debris. Several homes in a row had signs advertising the potency of their CBD oil (“with 0% THC!”), one behind a chainlink fence with a pointy Doberman stalking the yard. Almost everywhere had horses grazing nearby.

Our group of learners was small: four women. We took some time to discuss our riding and archery backgrounds and how we came to be interested in this fusion of two highly specialized sports, and it all essentially boiled down to wanting to be horseback riding warrior women, to claim power and space for ourselves. “I’m just tired of women being diminished,” said the woman seated next to me, and that is how I came to know and admire Kim, because I feel very inch of that sentiment. My other classmates were Kristi and Magalyn, two fierce women whom I also came to admire over the course of the weekend.

Introductions made, we were each issued a hip quiver, the side effects of which include at least 50% additional swagger in one’s step, and a heightened sense of both competence and coolness. We were introduced to the principles of loading, drawing, pulling, and releasing on the bows, and I learned that the technique is very different from the recurve three-finger archery I learned at Next Step Archery. In mounted archery, the arrow goes to the outside of the bow, you twist your draw arm to stabilize the arrow, you thumb release, and the arrow rides over the thumb of the bow hand. I also learned firsthand that you can crack your arm with the bow string if you hyper-extend the elbow in either form of the discipline. 

After we learned the basics, we started playing shooting games, like walking at a consistent pace on a track around a beam on the ground, loading your arrows without looking at them (because your eyes should always be seeking targets), and shooting at the targets as you walk by. We also practiced shooting at moving targets (rounds of duct-taped sound board rolled across the arena). After we broke for lunch, it was time to mount up. Magalyn and Kristi rode Ronan and Columbia, both Lipizzaners, and Kim and I rode Tuffy and Tommy, both American Quarter Horses. Our position in the lineup also reflects our horse’s status within the herd: nobody likes Tommy. Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, it’s because Tommy is kind of an old curmudgeonly jerk, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. When we would wait in lineups, Tommy would constantly be trying to fidget with Tuffy, rubbing his face on Tuffy’s hindquarters, wanting to just groom and be in Tuffy’s space. On our way into the outdoor track, Tommy tried to take a bite out of Columbia’s butt, and on the second day when Ronan was watching from the sidelines, he made it clear that he would love nothing more than to take a chunk out of Tommy. Tommy was also the only horse who necessitated the wearing and use of spurs, something I have never worn or done before. With those spurs jingling on the back of my boots and the hip quiver combined, my swagger became almost unbearable, because every time I walked, I felt like I was off for a showdown at the O.K. corral. 

Tommy knew I was bluffing, however. He could feel my reticence to use those spurs and took full advantage of it, attempting to cut through the track and crack my knee into walls and other objects and this continued until I finally did bump him with the spurs on the second day, because I had tried and tried and tried to ask him with a strong leg and no spur and treat him like a fragile egg and he told me again and again that he wouldn’t unless I got more assertive.

I also had some struggles with the saddle on the first day–the stirrups had been adjusted as short as they could go, and still my left foot kept sliding out which makes it difficult to impossible to be in the 2-point position, where you’re standing in the stirrups, because with one foot out, it’s more of a wobbly 1-point-I’m-gonna-fall-off-this-horse-in-front-of-everyone-and-either-I’ll-die-or-I’ll-wish-I-had position. I’m sure it was also challenging for me because I’ve not yet learned to post the trot, which is the thing that I think marks me most as a very beginner rider. Posting involves rising from a seated position into a 2-point and settling back down in time with the horse’s gait to compensate for the bounciness of the trot. Going from not having that piece of the puzzle at all to having to learn to do it in front of an audience while clapping my hands overhead and/or juggling a heavy ball hand to hand, combined with my need to be immediately good at something despite never having done it before was almost too much for me. It was one of those times where I manufactured pressure for myself, and that self-generated pressure was making it harder for me to be successful. Another negative feedback loop. Thankfully I recognized it and self-corrected. 

At the end of day one, I was exhausted from four hours of drawing a 25lb bow and three hours of riding with strong leg cues while also drawing a 25lb bow. Exhausted. It was 5pm, and I drove back to my Airbnb, walked to the nearby Vancouver Pizza Co where I guzzled ice water on their patio and devoured half of a calzone stuffed with mozzarella, spicy Italian sausage, goat cheese, and cashews, served with a creamy garlic sauce, and I maintain that this meal had just barely enough fat and protein in it to keep me alive as all I’d eaten that day was a croissant. The other half of the calzone I saved for my lunch on day two, and I decided that a successful day of riding a horse I didn’t know hands-free while juggling a ball at a trot deserved some ice cream, so I walked down the street to Ice Cream Renaissance. It was a hot day and they were jammin’. I ordered a scoop of lemon raspberry cheesecake in a waffle cone and brought it outside to enjoy, but ultimately ended up discarding it after two bites, the second bite to confirm that it was oddly gritty-icy-crumbly and not worth the effort it would take to eat it. That is how tired I was. After binning the ice cream, I walked back to my Airbnb, took a cool shower, and immediately went to bed. 

I was surprisingly not sore when I awoke the following morning. Not very sore, anyway. Aside from the sunburn I’d gotten and the hand-sized bruise blooming on my forearm, I mean. 

We started off the morning again with stretches and a series of archery games and exercises, my favorites being launching arrows 50 meters downfield at a Hungarian target which required you to use every inch of draw, and a supremely fun game called “Battle Bows” wherein two people stand inside of a hula hoop across from one another at a distance, you’re armed with arrows with big soft foam heads, and you shoot at one another’s knees.  You can’t leave the hoop but you are otherwise allowed to dodge. If you strike your opponent, you win. If they catch your arrow out of the air, you lose. If they touch the arrow but fail to catch it, you win. Any arrow that lands within reach of the hoop can be reused. This game ramps up your adrenaline in a major way and really forces you to keep your eyes on target–you can’t risk looking at your arrow to nock it, because that lapse in attention could make you an easier target for your opponent. I struck two hits on Kim and managed to escape Battle Bows unscathed…this time.

Magalyn departed at lunch to attend a Portland Thorns FC game, and the rest of us were put into a friendly competition with one another. Of course, all it takes is the word “competition” for me to get in my head and start biffing things, and the teacher, Lisa, came over and spoke with us about her technique of dealing with pressure by treating it as a wave: something that can pass over you and beyond instead of carrying you away. Breathe, allow it to pass, and move on. She also encouraged me to engage with more intensity, ferocity, aggression and that’s an entirely different way of being for me but it feels freeing. We had several rounds of competitive shooting on the ground, and then we mounted up. As Magalyn was gone, I got to use her saddle instead, and found it much easier to sit properly and keep my feet seated in the stirrups.

We did a couple of laps around the outdoor track shooting at a walk, then we practiced shooting at the trot (a first for everyone), and finally we had a few rounds of free-for-all shooting at myriad targets including styrofoam heads and a half buried small green target worth fifty points. You could shoot at any target you liked, but the points only counted if you were trotting. You could enter the track with your first arrow loaded, and it was wise to do so as that fifty pointer was on the first stretch and you don’t want to be fumbling with an arrow instead of drawing on it. Immediately after the entrance was a larger yellow twenty-five pointer, and I committed to shooting at them both on every lap. This meant that the arrow I had loaded upon entering the track was dedicated to the twenty five point target, and I had about a third of the track to draw, load, aim, and fire on the fifty pointer, at a trot. I didn’t hit either one of them on any of my attempts, but my misses were close, and hearing Lisa compliment my gutsiness for going for those targets was all the reward I needed. Plus I nailed a couple of bullseyes off of the back of a moving horse when just a day earlier I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of riding.  Kristi brought home the championship golden arrow keychain, and I brought home a confidence boost to end all confidence boosts.


 

 

 

*Feedback Loop of Fear and Inadequacy would make an excellent title for my memoirs.

The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin

My hometown has one of the best Renaissance faires in the country, and I was so excited when Dee suggested going there for one of the days Dianne and I were going to be in town. YES. YES. It’s so great. I remembered it being really good but it had been fifteen years since my last visit and many of the details had faded, no doubt dulled in my mind and muddled by my feelings that nothing that great had ever come from my hometown*, myself included. I had even blogged about my 2004 visit but that post got ‘lost’ in a digital purge because pretty much nothing about how I portrayed myself from that era of my life was a good look for me or anyone around me. Regardless, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is not merely really good, it’s great.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After we parked in one of the fields that serves as their lot, I strapped on my (mandatory) jingly bellydancer’s coin sash to jangle my way around medieval-adjacent times. Not only does wearing one make me feel like I’m throwing a parade for my ass,  it also makes me a lot easier to find in a crowd, as without it I can just disappear, like any short person. It’s one of our powers. Stringing myself with noisy metallic coins that crashed about at the slightest movement was really the only responsible thing to do, so as to aid the people who didn’t know me well to be able to track me and simultaneously deny they know me if I start to sound too much like Santa Claus at a bell convention.

As the renaissance faire exists so that we might feast like kings, shop like lords, and befoul ourselves like…most everyone, we immediately set to feasting upon entry. Dianne and I got some some surprisingly good iced coffee (“surprisingly good”, my Seattle is showing) and Dee beelined directly to these amazing deep fried cheese fritters which she shared and I gladly partook. They were crispy, dark brown, stuffed with gooey monterey jack, and came with honey mustard and barbeque sauce for dipping on the side. You go to Wisconsin, you eat fried cheese. It’s what you do. Fried cheese is the Eiffel Tower of America’s Dairyland. 

There wasn’t any cheese eating on at least one of my previous Bristol faire visits with my family.  I was about twelve or thirteen, and my mom had us all on the cabbage soup diet.  If your family never participated in group disordered eating, the cabbage soup diet is basically a week of starving yourself with as much bland, horrible cabbage soup as you care to eat with extremely rigid rules about supplementary eating. Day two is the hardest day, when your food for the day is cabbage soup, raw or cooked vegetables, plain, with an emphasis on leafy greens, and, in the evening, one medium baked potato with a tablespoon of butter or oil. That sad potato was the high point of the day, the rest of it being spent alternatively peeing gallons from all of the extremely low calorie soup you’re eating, trying to generate enough saliva to swallow dry leafy greens, and wishing you could eat something that would actually stop the gnaw in your stomach so you could forget you were on a diet for even five minutes. And of course it’s all for nothing because you’re mostly just shifting water around and the weight you lost comes right back on when you start eating normally again.

This is the diet the whole family is in the trenches of in the middle of this renaissance faire. Everyone was hungry and crabby, and our misery was compounded by all of the awesome smells wafting on the wind, reminding us of all the things we couldn’t have. It was day four: banana day, the day that with your soup, you can eat unlimited bananas and drink unlimited skim milk, both of which were verboten every other day. That morning post-soup banana was almost heady, intoxicating, after days of it literally being forbidden fruit, but it couldn’t hold a candle to funnel cake. I don’t remember precisely how it went down, but I remember my younger brother and I inhaling funnel cake while my parents made disappointed noises about not finishing the things we start and willpower, like the cabbage soup diet was something we wanted to do instead of something in which we had no choice but to participate, like somehow any one of us was going to peel off enough weight over the course of this week to make a difference, to make this utter misery worthwhile, to ruin an otherwise grand day out. We went home shortly thereafter, missing the final joust that I’d very much wanted to see. My parents were too hungry to stay any longer.

Also absent from that trip with my parents was any activity that cost an additional fee above and beyond the cost of admission, because it was understood in my household that those things were for suckers and no self-respecting person would spend money on them. As a person who lacks self respect and understands that additional fees tend to be opportunities to try something novel, I jingled straight up to the first knife throwing booth I saw, even if it was luring me down the path of financial ruin, five dollars at a time. Those of us participating were given a basic rundown on how to fling a knife with deadly force and accuracy and then we were set loose. We didn’t get to choose our targets; mine was an innocent merperson. I fired a good seven warning shots and never delivered a killing blow but I did manage to stick a knife to the target which was significantly better than I did axe throwing at the 2018 Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire when I accidentally hurled an axe into a field.

I’ve spent more than a little time thinking about the three-legged roving crotch target in the middle, what it could represent, and ultimately decided that when rotated and viewed from another angle, it probably looked like this** (not NSFW but at first glance it could register as somewhat obscene, but what did you expect from a crotch monster?) keeping with the mostly water creature vibe they had going on.

Sassafras, one of many beverages I genuinely enjoy for about three sips.

This instrument is a hurdy gurdy and I want one.

We made sure to get decent seats for the joust, which made us a captive audience for a variety of vendors. The first was the flag seller, a foppish red leather crown on his head, his deeply low cut medieval toppe baring his chest, which also glistened red in the sun. He beseeched us for five dollars for a flag to support the knight of our section, Sir Maxmillian, by telling us that the funds raised would go toward the feed and care of the horses, and that after the show, Six Maxx would autograph them. And another five dollars I crept toward financial ruin.

After him came the meat wench, a box of three flavors of beef jerky strapped to her waist as she walked through the crowd bellowing “MEAT.” “MEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT.”

After her came the pretezel vendor, bearing a wooden pole, crossbraces strung with salted pretzels, and a satchel filled with individual portions of liquid cheese for dipping (Wisconsin), and after her, the flower crown vendor with a similar setup minus the cheese (I think), and in the distance “ᴹᴱᴱᴱᴱᴬᴬᵀ“.

The joust was full of pageantry and fanfare and feats of athleticism and at least two very cool people seated directly behind me who made certain to audibly mock me every single time I led our section in cheering for our knight. And the real kicker is, why am I the one who feels shame when I was contributing positively for the enjoyment of all, including the turd golems behind me and all those guys contributed to was my desire to turn clear and just skulk about for the rest of my days cosplaying as a ghost? But I’m the one that’s gonna go read a self help book about it while those walking chaw stains are just gonna continue to inflict themselves on people by existing. Regardless, our team’s knight won and I didn’t stop cheering him despite knowing I was going to get jeered and that seems like two kinds of victories.

After the joust, we did wait in line to meet Sir Maxmillian. I told him that I wanted to get into his line of work (true!) and about the horse I was potentially looking at to buy. (Dragon at the time.) He gave me a business card and told me to drop him a line, which I have yet to do but have a feeling I’ll get around to soon. The stick for the flag that he signed was too long to fit in my carry on, so I got to cheer him with my flag waving all through the airport.

Goddamn we looked sultry in this swamp. I’m not dripping buckets of sweat, MY SKIN IS DEWY.

 

On our way out, we stopped to see part of a fire-whip-cracking show that looked quite promising–there was actually a lot on their entertainment schedule that I didn’t get an opportunity to see. The only thing for it is to come back! And no one had better be on a diet. 

 

 

 

 

 

*And then I looked it up and it turns out all these very cool people came from my hometown, like Orson Welles, Mark Ruffalo, and both the inventors of the answering machine AND the QWERTY keyboard! And a whole bunch more but you could just look at the Wikipedia page yourself.

**You have no idea how much I regret attempting to draw in those insect mandibles. No idea.

2018 in Horses

It was about a year ago that I dove back into the horse world. I started learning with my friend Marita’s horse Poppy in late October 2017, and it really helped me deal with some of the grief I was feeling over the loss of Napoleon. Even though I don’t really think Poppy liked me all that much (good lord that horse tried to bite me so many times, for offenses including “attempted to brush my dirty belly”, “made me walk somewhere”,  and “stood within range”), working with her gave me something I didn’t know I was missing. Something more than just being around horses and smelling their horsey smell, it was being outside and having to move and work my body in order to properly work the horse…it has tethered me to the physical world in a way that I needed, pulling me out of my own head where I tend to otherwise live. 

Poppy

Still, by the time Poppy moved to her new home in February, she had threatened to bite me enough times that I’d started to become a little afraid of horses, which is something Marita noticed when Poppy turned her head toward me curiously one day and I damn near jumped to the moon, expecting bared teeth approaching my person. It was then that Marita decided that I should start working with Africa, a half-blind Arabian mare being stabled at the same barn. Fresh off the Poppy fear and nervous about Africa’s blindness and what it might mean for her predictability, it didn’t help matters at all that Africa was extremely herd bound and so when I led her away from the other horses into her stall, she backed me into a corner and started screaming at full volume. I didn’t know that she was just upset about wanting to be with the other horses and was pretty convinced that she was going to rear up and knock my head off in the stall that day…and yet I STILL kept coming back to the barn so clearly, afraid or not, I had the bug. 

Africa

Over time, Africa and I became really good pals. At first she’d call and call and call for the other horses after I’d catch her and bring her in, careless if whether she was yelling at full volume directly into my ear (she was). After  a while and a number of disapproving looks, she settled on a hilarious compromise where she’d decide she wanted to yell, would look at me first, open her mouth wide and then issue this tiny whispery ⁿᵉᶦᵍʰ that no one heard or responded to. The best days were when she wouldn’t call for other horses at all, content to be with me and do whatever.  And we did a lot! I started learning to ride properly on her, I gave her her first all-over bath (her coat got this amazing metallic sheen), and we got to know one another through some games and liberty work. But I was getting a little anxious for more–Africa is not my horse, and I was not allowed to handle her when Marita was not present. That’s perfectly reasonable but I was itching to get some unsupervised/more horse time, and that’s when I started looking at leasing a horse.

Tiede Z, a Friesian gelding I looked at leasing 

…I stopped looking at leasing a horse shortly thereafter, because nothing felt like a good match, training philosophy wise or riding style or personality. Likewise with a co-op barn where people pay a monthly fee and get to hang out and work with their horses–I tracked them down, filled out an application, went for a three hour tour, and ultimately didn’t sign up because it still wasn’t what I wanted. None of these places or people or horses were bad, it was still just another situation where I would get to be with a horse but it wouldn’t be my horse. 

In the meanwhile, I had struck a deal with Africa’s owner–that I could take Africa off property on trail rides so long as I was accompanied by the barn owner, and the barn owner would haul us off to those trails if I helped her bring in and feed the horses once a week. You mean I get to pay for something I love with something else I love? SIGN. ME. UP. I got to go on a lot of fun trail rides this summer, and I got to pay for those rides by leveling up my horse handling skills, learning to lead two at a time through gates, deal with rearers and rope biters and one gal who was so tall I had to stand on my tippy toes to get her halter on (while she snapped at the rope). Unfortunately, the barn owner broke her ankle in the most horse person way possible, by falling down a few stairs while looking at a picture of a horse, and that was the end of our trail riding. I had already been doing some horse shopping, but this got me looking in earnest, because while I enjoyed my lessons in the arena, I had gotten a taste of the outdoors on horseback and I was loathe to give it up.

But when I started horse shopping, I was very picky because I wanted a fancy horse, a dream horse (and brother, I’ve had a lot of years in which to dream about this horse), on a medium-to-low fancy budget. A discount dream horse, because a dream horse requires a dream house modest apartment reasonable stall and dream tack and a dreamy vitamin intake and a dreamy massage regiment plus a pedicure every six weeks and no wonder my parents told me Santa had a prohibition against live animals on his sleigh!

If I’m going to be completely honest, while I was open to a lot of breeds and coats–I was looking at Halflingers and Fjord Horses and native ponies, what I wanted was a Friesian or a Friesian-Andalusian/Warlander. I adore the Friesian breed, especially the heavier, more baroque build. They’re almost always black, they have big, thick fairytale manes and tails, heavy graceful necks, a gorgeous floating trot and they’re known for their sweet puppydog in-your-pocket personalities. The whole package. Combined with the Andalusian, the horses tend to be that more baroque build, with beautiful movement and strong bone. A destrier-type, nimble and strong. But unless I won one or Santa changed his rules about live animals, my chances of owning a thirty to seventy five thousand dollar horse seem about as likely as my chances of being struck by lighting while riding the loch ness monster.

Free horses aside, although my heart would flutter for all those gorgeous Friesians for sale I’d see online, they tended to all be bred to be taller animals, maturing above 16h. This means that the top of their shoulder is 5’3″ from the ground. I’m 5’2″(barely, at the top of my head, not at the shoulder) and while I have the use of a mounting block when I first get on if I’m at the barn, if I have to get off at any point during a trail ride, getting back on can be a big issue. Plus, as a short person, I have short legs, and as such, my stirrups are short and thus hang higher above the ground. I don’t honestly know if I could ever be fit enough to be able to launch myself upward from the ground and onto a horse after somehow getting my toes into a stirrup that was dangling at face height. Like, at that point, I think you just have to be Superman and float yourself up while pretending you only used your insane core strength and buns of man-of-steel.

So my dream horse was fancy bred or the appearance of fancy bred, on the short side, heavier build, with strong bone, young but not green to middle aged, ideally dark coated, able to easily carry me and the additional burden of armor, brave, forward, friendly, a good awake mind, but on a budget. I can’t believe I didn’t add my childhood “wish upon a star” horse qualities of “doesn’t need to eat or pee or poop so it can live in my bedroom” for as exacting and needle-in-a-haystack as my wishes were.

The first horse I was really interested in was Shadowfax, a Morgan gelding. He’d already started training with mounted archery (which is a goal I am actively working toward), he was of a medium height (I can’t remember exactly, around 15 hands high) and what appeared to be a fit, heavier build. Unfortunately, I found him three days before I was set to leave for Atlanta and he was located in southern Oregon and I didn’t want to make a 13 hour there-and-back high pressure road trip snap decision. But that turned out to be my only chance to meet him, as he was sold by the time I got home.

Shadowfax

The next horse I looked at was Dragon, a 7 year old Percheron/Fell Pony gelding, 13.2 hands (“if he’s feeling himself that day”), built like a war horse in miniature, an absolute tank in pony form. I messaged the owner less than thirty minutes after the craigslist ad went up (my friend at Gnomeland Farm has an alert set to email her if any native pony breeds are listed), because I was head over heels about Dragon immediately.  This was just days before my trip to Chicago, and I told the owner that I’d be willing to pay earnest money for them to hold Dragon until I was home and able to drive to Portland to meet him. They were not willing to do that, but through luck in timing, I was still able to be the first to meet him.

He was charming and personable from the first moment, investigating my pants and playing with their fake motorcycle ribbing with his lip. He did OK in the crossties–he got impatient pretty quickly and started pawing at the ground but that’s not a dealbreaker. In the saddle, however, I could barely get him to walk around their indoor arena. “Kick him! Kick him! Kick him harder!” the owner called to me…but man, I don’t want a horse I have to wale on to move. That doesn’t feel like partnership. I don’t know if he got soured as a kids’ riding horse or what, and it’s possible that with time and training, his sensitivity would return, but it was a gamble I wasn’t ready to take. I didn’t ride him for very long to know that it wasn’t right, and when I got off so soon, the owner’s demeanor completely changed from nicey-nice to barely concealed hostility. I get that when you ride a horse you’re either training him or untraining him and getting off of him while he was being purposefully pokey (which is what he wanted) didn’t teach him anything good, but I also think it’s also not my responsibility to kick your horse into submission.

We hustled so fast outta there we ran out of gas, and I shopped my feelings away by buying a 13.2h stack of books at Powell’s.

Dragon

Things got really serious with Dante, a 7 year old 15.2 Andalusian/Friesian/Percheron stallion located about an hour north of me in Washington. His owner had bought him at auction after he’d been seized from his previous owners, but then she just let him sit for a few years aside from lungeing. I didn’t know a lot about him, and she didn’t know a lot about him. She knew he had been bred a few times and had gotten kicked in the jaw once which resulted in a cracked tooth, and that her vet was managing it with floats. Since he hadn’t been ridden for years I didn’t want to be the first to pop on his back, so I evaluated him from the ground. I liked him. When I worked him on the line, he was responsive and respectful. He loaded into a trailer easily, he picked up his feet willingly. His eyes were soft and sweet, and I felt quite certain that I wanted to buy him–here was the discount dream horse I was looking for! A horse fancy-bred for athleticism and looks that just needed someone to see his potential and get his brain and body working again! Hallmark Movie The Horse!

I started to make plans for Dante: he’d need to be gelded and recovered from the gelding before I could move him into my barn, and then I thought I might send him to Oregon to be retrained under saddle with other new geldings so he could learn to transition to a life of being with other horses rather than the solitary life he was living as a stallion. First, however, he’d need a pre-purchase examination, which was conducted at the big fancy equine veterinary hospital nearby, Pilchuck. Dante’s owner trailered him there from Edison, and I watched as the vet and his assistant put Dante through his paces, check his eyes, heart, lungs, and overall soundness. They asked me if I wanted to add the dental exam, and truth be told, I almost said no because so far the vet had found nothing out of the ordinary from what I expected–he was a bit underweight and undermuscled but he also hadn’t been working.

But the dental exam was such a reasonable additional fee and there was the aforementioned cracked tooth to consider. They anesthetized him a bit so he wouldn’t be stressed by the dental contraption that ratchets the horse’s mouth open, and he was a very good boy as he stood there and was inspected. Within two minutes the dental specialist vet told me that Dante’s cracked tooth had not been managed, had in fact broken and rotted in his head, almost penetrating the sinus cavity, causing several other teeth to turn and grow out of whack, which would require two to three dental surgeries at two thousand dollars apiece, all of which are extremely complicated as they have to go through the side of the horse’s face and since there were issues on both sides, they would have to be split up into separate surgeries. He needed the dental work immediately as he couldn’t chew properly: this is why he was losing weight and didn’t have a ton of interest in food. It probably also explained the empty-stomach-jouncing-up-and-down sound when he’d trot. The infection in his body meant that any of the surgeries had the potential to kill him and the vet emphasized that he would struggle for months in recovery if he ever recovered. With these dental issues unknown, he could have succumbed from being gelded.

Dante’s owner and I were left reeling, as this was obviously terrible news for us both. And poor Dante! At home, I cried myself sick over this horse who was a Very Good Boy despite all the pain he must have been feeling and what was likely to happen to him, how he’d been bred with hopes and went unnoticed until he was ruined. I thought on him and tried to justify “saving” him and cried some more. Ultimately, I did what I could and set his owner up with a few different horse rescue organizations that could potentially help with vet bills, including one with ties to my barn, but then I had to back off because he’s not mine and I’m not buying him and I’m just an overinvolved stranger. I hope that he got the treatment that he needed, but I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I think about him still. I hope a rescue helped with the bills and he’s alive and thriving.

Dante

Dante

Dante

Over the summer, I entered a raffle for a 3 year old Friesian Saddlebred cross mare, Ultra Heir, located in North Carolina. Raffle tickets were $65 apiece, with 100 tickets sold and the raffle taking place once the last ticket was sold, and numbers assigned in the order they were sold. I bought one ticket and strongly considered buying two but ultimately was too cheap, preferring the idea of “my $65 dream horse” to “my $130 dream horse” as though she wouldn’t have been an outstanding bargain at either price.

In late September the raffle board finally filled. My raffle number was 48. #49 won.

Realistically a 3 year old would have been too much horse for me to handle in addition to being on the tall to really too tall side for me but if I won her I would’ve considered using her as a broodmare for a perfectly baroque baby. After I figured out how to get her home from North Carolina.

Ultra Heir

After Dante, I had decided to pause looking for a horse for a while–I didn’t know how well I’d deal with another close disappointment, but my friends kept putting horses in my path, and ultimately I decided that I’d better shop for myself if I didn’t want other people to shop for me. I placed a couple of ads in northwest horse sale groups looking for “A heckin’ chonker or above” and got no bites that appealed–people pushing their unbroken, green, and in one memorable instance, the ugliest horse I’ve ever, ever seen at me. He looked like if Homer Simpson was an obese, flabby horse.

Continuing my search, I did a deep dive on Dreamhorse, dialing in my exacting parameters, and got so far back in the listings that the main photos expired and I could see was the thumbnail. But there was one that caught my eye. A 14.2 hand Friesian Sporthorse mare, 13 years old, located in Florence, Oregon. She was described as a talented, tractable, sweet mare with a great work ethic and lovely movement, with dressage movements built in such as collection/extension, leg yields at walk and trot, shoulder in/haunches in at walk, and pirouette at walk and trot. They also said she has a willing and engaged temperament and is eager to please, playful with just a hint of diva pizzazz, that she LOVES to jump, could be suited to the hunter ring, has no vices and that she loads easily and trailers quietly, is a lady for the farrier, ties, clips, bathes, and that she’s smart, athletic, and willing; a bargain at her asking price. My needle in the haystack.

I responded to the Dreamhorse message, but I didn’t know if the messages would actually go through since the ad had expired. The ad mentioned that I could find photos and video at the trainer’s personal facebook page,  and so I looked her up and dug through her photos until I found one that she’d posted publicly that looked like the mare in the ad so I could comment on it, asking if she still had her and if she could tell me any more about her. The trainer said that she no longer had the horse and that she’d gone back to her owners in Eugene and tagged the owner into the conversation. I messaged the owner AND commented to let her know that I’d messaged her and to check her filtered messages if she didn’t see it, because I was going to take no chance that this beauty was going to slip through my fingers. 

Navani

I drove to Eugene to meet her shortly thereafter. On the lead line she danced and called to the other horses. They lunged her briefly, and then their trainer showed up to ride her for me to demonstrate her movements and abilities, as she’s had significantly more dressage training than I have.  I climbed aboard and we did not communicate very well–she was used to being ridden with a lot more contact on the bit than I like to have, and at one point she broke into a trot and together we barreled down on the entire family who were seated and couldn’t easily flee, and my only option for not running over a person was running over my purse with my phone and camera inside that I thoughtlessly left on the ground near the mounting block. I hoped I remembered the way back to the highway in case my phone got smashed and did everything I could to turn her toward my purse.  After we managed to come to a stop and not kill anyone or break anything, I decided to buy her. I liked her gentle and interested energy, I liked that even though she didn’t understand what I was asking her, she kept trying. I felt confident that I could teach her an easier way of going and that we could be great partners. 

We set a date to come pick her up on November 3rd. Before that, I had a vet come out, check her teeth, and do a coggins test, which she needed in order to cross state lines. In the early dark hours of the morning, Marita, Jason and I rumbled away from her house with her truck and trailer attached and headed to Oregon to get my girl and bring her home. We made excellent time there. We made excellent time home. The three hours it took to load her on the trailer, on the other hand…

So that’s going to be something I work on with her over this winter so she’ll be ready to load up and go when it’s time to take her to some shows this summer. Or renaissance faires in the future. Or to rides on the beach. I’m excited to see the places we’ll go together, just us two chunky childfree middle aged goth ladies. I’ve renamed her Navani and she is wonderful. She’s taken to riding in a bitless side-pull really quickly, she sidepasses like a dream, and I know that once I get her focus and her trust, we are going to be great partners. I feel it in my bones. My dream horse.