I was having a relatively stressful day and decided to call an old friend in an attempt to relax. She and I grew up riding together, and we hadn’t spoken for several months. As usual, despite the fact that we hadn’t talked for a while, my friend and I settled into a great banter that eventually wound its way to our favorite subject…horses!
She began telling me about this horse that she had been riding for a friend of hers, and how he was literally (her words) “the spawn of the devil”. This got me to thinking about how we all can look back fondly on our “first horse loves” – those equines who taught us well and showed us love – but most of us can also look back at a few horses who left an interesting impression.
‘Macy’ Showed Me Up – Angie – San Bernardino, CA
“When I was 16 I got a job at a local riding stable. It was a fun job and I got a discount on my board, so it was a win-win situation. Most of the horses on the ‘string’ were pretty easy going; laid back quarter horses and draft crosses that were good for beginner riders. All of the horses were really well taken care of, had really nice tack, saw the vet regularly and were generally pretty happy. There was this one mare, though, that literally hated everyone, and I’m not sure why they kept her, really. She couldn’t be rented out, and all of the guide riders hated to have to use her.
One afternoon I drew the short straw and had to take a group of beginner riders out and ‘Macy’ was the only horse left that I could ride. She pinned her ears when I got on, as usual, and she swished her tail the entire way down the trail and to the riverbed. When we got the edge of the riverbed, I had just finished explaining to all the other riders that the needed to keep their horses heads up and keep pushing them forward because sometimes horses liked to lay down in the soft sand. Everyone was ready, and then suddenly I felt Macy’s legs buckling. I tried to stop her, but she laid down right there in the sand and tried to roll. I jumped off and got her up and tried to laugh it off, but I could see that the guests were looking at me like I didn’t know what I was doing. I got back on, and Macy started to lay down again, but I jumped off and she stood back up. Every time that I tried to get on her, she tried to lay down. Eventually I ended up leading her most of the way back to the barn. She looked really proud of herself and happier than she usually looked when we got back.”
This One Had It Out For Me – Gale – Arroyo Grande, CA
“I’ve been lucky, most of the horses in my life have been pretty amazing. I kind of pride myself on being able to get along with any horse. There was one gelding, though, who belonged to a friend of mine a couple of years ago who for some reason had it out for me. I would walk into the barn and he would pin his ears and shake his head – he didn’t do that with anyone else but me. I tried so hard to make friends with him, give him carrots, sneak him handfuls of grain…nothing worked.
One time my friend went out of town and asked me if I could turn him out for her. I, of course, said yes. The next day I let him loose in the arena while I did some chores around the barn. When I went to catch him, he would not let me get near him. It was like a game; I would get within 10 feet of him and he would run to the other end of the arena. I tried working him, bribing him with grain, nothing worked. I was tying up the arena and it was getting embarrassing. Eventually, one of the kids who boarded there asked if she could help and I reluctantly said yes. This little girl walked out into the arena and that gelding ran straight up to her and let her put on his halter. I was so upset. To this day, I don’t have any idea why that horse didn’t like me.”
She Tested Me Over and Over – Tawny – Nipomo, CA
“There haven’t been a lot of horses I don’t get along with, but I can remember one lesson horse that I used to ride when I was a kid who was just a pill. She was a super pretty mare with this long flowing tail and these beautiful eyes; she looked like the sweetest thing in the world, but she was as stubborn as they come. Riding her was like getting a full body workout every single time. She knew her job and was a really good jumper, but if you didn’t ask her for something just right, she would test you over and over.
I was a pretty competent rider, and was even starting to show a little bit at the time I took lessons on her, but this mare would take every single opportunity to duck out on fences, pick up the wrong lead, stop in her tracks and refuse to move, pull the reins out of your hands – it was frustrating. One time, I had just finished a line and brought her down to a trot…I wasn’t paying attention and the mare pulled the reins out of my hands, turned sharply and dumped me right in front of all my friends. She didn’t run away bucking or anything, she trotted a few steps, stopped and looked back at me like I was an idiot. Another time, in the middle of a class, she decided to stop right in front of a cross rail and plant her feet. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get her to move. I was horrified in front of all the people standing around the arena watching. I guess we’ve all had a few horses who just lived to make our lives difficult.”
So, just as we celebrate those horses who truly left a lasting impression of joy in our hearts, we should also remember those horses who gave us a little run for our money. Even the horses that, as my friend said, are “the spawn of the devil” have things to teach us.