Stories About The Past // Four
During the time I rode Letterman and Smash, and some of the time I had Napoleon, (Stories About The Past -- One -- Two --- Three) there were a couple other horses that floated in and out of my life. They were either horses I took lessons on occasionally or horses that friends asked me to take care of. Their stories with me are rather brief, but made a huge impact, and I want to share them with you.
TigerLily is who my mare Tiger is named after, even though they hold no resemblance, but they are both american paint horses and having a tobiano pattern coat. TigerLily was 14.2hh, sorrel, and full of spunk! She was a lesson horse at the barn I grew up riding at, but she was not an easy horse to ride. She had a tendency to rush through jump courses and also the habit of slamming on the breaks at the very last minute, spontaneously throwing you into or over the jump.
I also have a very distinct memory of her tripping after a jump while my friend was riding her one day, the rider somehow becoming floor-bound as TigerLily tried desperately to recover herself while trying to avoid the now underfoot rider. It was a hairy situation to watch to say the least, but the rider remained safe, with just a mouthful of sand and a sore bottom to show for the accident.
I didn't ride TigerLily much, in fact I believe I only rode her once or twice, despite my frequent pleas. I was very tall for my age and I looked so awkward on her, but she was my kind of horse. I don't really know my trainer's reasoning behind saying no, I believe it was most likely due to the fact that Tiger was a lesson horse that was fairly overworked to begin with. The last thing the poor mare needed was more riding by someone who was perfectly capable of riding other horses.
My younger sister did ride her for a time though, even took her to a show! I can still remember as all the barn trainers, arena staff, judge, and family members stood staring at the arena to see if my sister could manage to force this little mare over a jump she had refused now two times already. The cheering that followed as the two completed the jump was quite memorable.
At the time that cheering was such a positive thing for me, proudly watching my sister make this mare jump, but looking back I don't feel the same. It wasn't my sister's fault, she knew no better. Heck, I didn't know any better. I don't even think my trainers knew any better (though they should have!). We were all convinced that somehow this mare that rushed around the arena, refused jumps, and tripped was somehow trying to pull one over on us. That we had to show her who was boss! Really she was likely suffering from a myriad of physical issues that we were all ignoring!
Looking back now, with the education I have since developed, I speculate most of her issues stemmed from poor saddle fit, joint discomfort, nerve or spine issues (the tripping), and hoof imbalances (tripping, back pain, joint pain). If someone had just taken the time to discover the root of the problems instead of just making her do her job despite the pain they could have really improved not only her quality of life but her job performance!
Unfortunately there's nothing to be done about it now. However, TigerLily is just one of the many horses that I've learned from in "retrospect". I'm grateful for her just being present in my life all those years ago.
Tall, handsome, and angry... those are the three words I would use to describe the big black gelding students used to dread riding. Not because he was terrible to ride, actually if I remember correctly he was quite nice to ride, but tacking him up was a whole different story. The process of grooming, saddling, and bridling took quite a bit of handling and awareness. Let’s just put it this way, if you took your eye off of Tails for even a second and you happened to be close enough.... you were likely to end up with deep teeth marks that had been known to send people to the hospital.
He didn’t kick, he didn’t bolt, he didn’t rear... but he sure did bite. At the time I was just a young student, and a beginner, but I had been well informed by the many professionals and educated students at the barn that Tails was just "difficult" and "lacked respect". I was shown first hand how to punch or slap him with all my strength in the face (because the rest of his body wasn't like to "feel it as much"). Sure, this worked.. for a time.. he would just stare at me angrily while I finished tacking him up.. but it always came back. Always.
Unfortunately, there were many situations like this during my youth.. and still to this day I watch these kinds of punishments being inflicted on horses that are just trying to tell you they are in pain. It never seems to occur to anyone that maybe this big animal that's working very hard is actually in pain and trying desperately to tell us! It could be the saddle, it could be the bridle, it could be the teeth... it could be anything! The point is that horses don't act aggressively without a reason. It's not always pain related, but punching them in the face is not the way to fix it.
I can't for the life of me remember the name of this horse, which is funny considering he made such a big impact on me. He was a young horse, fresh out of pasture life and very green (very little training). I believe he was a thoroughbred, around four years old, and bay. The sweetest personality, but in no way ready to be shut up in a stall and ridden by young kids. To be honest, I have no idea what the trainer was thinking at the time. It seems like trainers get these students without a lot of money to spend, so they talk them into buying inexpensive green horses "with so much talent" and just pray it all works out.. also... they get to make more money on the back-end by charging for all those training rides the horse needs. This was definitely one of those cases, and unfortunately the horse suffered for it.
It wasn't long after arriving at our training/show barn (the one where horses stayed in 12x12 stalls 24/7 with once a week turnout and a couple rides a week at most) that the horse started developing "crazy" tendencies. He would bolt out the arena gate, refuse to enter the arena, rear, buck, shy, spook.. you name it.
Really, these are all behaviors I would expect of any horse being kept in such an unnatural environment, but for some reason everyone just thought the horse was "being bad" and "disrespectful" and "young". It got so bad the owner refused to ride the horse anymore and eventually he was sold (or he was sent to their family ranch.. I can't remember). The barn gossip had been that "he wasn't cut out to be a show horse".
At the time I believed them, but looking back it's a wonder any of those horses survived being a "show horse". I too love to show horses, but we have to treat our horses like horses! Our domestic horses may be more tolerant of stalling, travel, riding, etc.. but we have to respect that they are still animals with needs.
I think this particular horse stuck in my head for all these years because he had something to teach me, even if he wasn't mine. Experiencing what he went through planted a seed of doubt, that maybe we were doing it wrong.. that maybe there was more to the story.. that maybe we needed to question our intentions and goals. We are equestrians because we love horses, but do we really love horses if all we ever do is try and change who and what they are? Do we really love horses if all we ever try and do is make them not act like horses?
We say we love horses, but do we? Or are we trying to force our horses to be a fictitious creature we've made up in our heads?