And no, I am not talking about my vast collection of ball caps of which my mother will no longer let me buy any more.
I am talking about the fact that this week I have been very blessed to pull on not only my dressage diva’s hat, but both my trainer and exercise rider’s hats as well. One of the things I love to do almost as much as riding myself is teaching. I have a passion for theory and knowledge. For me it isn’t enough to be able to get on the back of a horse and ride well, doing exactly what your trainer says. It has been a blessing in disguise not being able to afford weekly lessons, not having my trainer ride my horse three or more times a week. This inability to be lazy has forced me to take responsibility for my own progress and understand how to become a trainer myself.
I have had Val now for almost four years. We brought him home near Thanksgiving in 2006 when he was a still an awkward three-and-a-half year old boy. We went to look at him on a complete whim – I wasn’t ready to give up my thoroughbred mare however realistically the prospect of that future loomed. My trainer, at that time, told me that this horse was nicer than anything I had ever seen before. I was thirteen and the prospect of owning the nicest horse in the barn grabbed me like nothing else could. All of us barn girls weren’t very nice at that age and it was always a contest of who could be better than the others. My mother and I met my trainer where the then “he doesn’t have a name; we call him the Chestnut” was being broken. And he wasn’t lying; Val was the nicest thing I had ever seen, let alone sat on. He was also a greener-than-grass, couldn’t canter, antisocial, and three-years old. We looked at him a total of one time wherein my mother set up a vet check to bring him home within weeks. It wasn’t because I liked him; I couldn’t even ride him when we bought him. I wanted him because the green-eyed monster in me screamed “mine”. My mom swears to this day it was because a higher power spoke to her. Whatever the reason, he became our second horse.
Val bit me within the first week of owning him. It is not a moment I will ever forget. He was not, and still isn’t, a cuddly and in your pocket horse. To this day he is very particular about his space when you are in a stall with him. Four years ago I did two stalls everyday before being able to ride – my Tango’s and Val’s. I was cleaning his stall with him in it, his ears laid back as he stood flush up against the far wall with his hip cocked at me. I went over, reached out to pet his shoulder, when he whipped around faster than I could breathe and nailed me with his teeth on the tender flesh of my inside, upper arm. I was so shocked all I could do was blink in surprise before it registered that my arm was throbbing and he had bit me! I left pitchfork marks in him that day as I clambered out of his stall and rushed to my mother on the other side of the barn. I was in cold shock until I got to her and tried to explain what had just happened. It was only then that I started to cry. I think that was the day that I decided I hated him – that I wanted nothing to do with the nasty animal we had just purchased. I would ride him because, in my mind, he was nicer than the other horses. But I wanted nothing more to do with him.
I don’t remember the moment I fell in love with him, only that first moment when I made up my mind that I hated him. He and I have been through four of the hardest years of my life together. I am no longer that girl who first saw him, and he is no longer that horse I first sat on. Along the way I have learned more about the world than I could have thought possible. I have learned that struggle is never a bad thing, that personal responsibility is number one, that knowledge is power, that the right coach can be so much more than just a trainer, that your family extends beyond those who share your blood, and that there is only one constant and that is change.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Now let’s go eat some turkey!