Saturday, August 18, 2007

Our Horses

A lot of my relatives back in the Carolina woods are curious about my involvement with horses, so here goes. . . . . . .

I can understand their puzzlement. I had never been that interested in horses before; I had nothing against them, but I never had any desire to go horseback riding or own a horse. But that was before I married Di and moved to Texas. Di was very much into horses, and in fact made it very clear that one of the first things she wanted to buy after moving to Texas was a horse. And I found myself getting involved in horses as a result. While I'm not into horses like she is-----and never will be----I have come to develop a real affection for those animals, especially the two we own and keep here at the Bar Nothing Ranch.

The first horse we acquired was "Buck" (registered name "Double 00 Buckshot"), an Arabian gelding. He is a beautiful horse, very intelligent and playful, but too skittish and high strung for me to feel comfortable atop him. I've mounted him a couple of times and looked forward to the dismount! However, he is smitten with Di and is very much "her" horse; as you can see from the photo above, they make a great pair. He is also very vocal, giving me a loud "whinny" each morning when I go out to feed our horses.

Horses are herd animals and are happiest when they have at least one companion. I also wanted a horse that I could learn to ride and feel comfortable aboard. It was at a horse sale near Seguin, TX, that I mounted a registered quarter horse gelding, rode him briefly, and immediately knew-----this is my horse. I had never felt so comfortable atop a horse; his legs were like extensions of my own legs. He had been trained for barrel racing, but lacked the speed to compete, so his owners had him up for sale. As a result, he was very well trained and responsive. Buying him was a no brainer.

He needed an appropriate name, so I borrowed one from a glorious hero of the Lone Star State----I named him "Dubya."

is a very sweet boy, as you can see from his face. He is very even tempered and hard to spook-----you could throw a cherry bomb under him and I don't think he'd blink-----and he is very eager to please. He is "neck reined," meaning you just have to lay the reins on the desired side of his neck and he will turn in that direction. He backs up easily, does perfect 360 degree turns, and loves to weave in and out between trees, reflecting his training for barrel racing.

Horses are like dogs in that they are very sensitive to how humans are feeling. I don't mean that horses are psychic or gifted with paranormal abilities, but they are sensitive to tone of voice, body language, touch, etc. This was driven home to me earlier this year when I first tried to ride again after healing from my December surgery for my first liver tumor. While a sweet boy, Dubya was playful; he would sometimes start to move as you mounted him and would often challenge you in multiple little ways (like refusing to stand still until you pulled hard on his reins) early in a ride. Thus, I was more than a little apprehensive about riding him again. But it was if Dubya knew something was wrong with me. He stood perfectly still as I mounted him, not even moving as I struggled to get my boots in the saddle stirrups. When I gave him the go-ahead to move, he did so slowly and did something he had never done before my operation: he frequently looked back at me, almost as if he was wondering if I was okay. And when it was time for me to dismount, he again was perfectly still and allowed me to get down without incident.

Again, there was nothing supernatural about this; Dubya was merely responding to the various verbal and physical cues I was sending. But I am convinced that he knew I was impaired in some way and that he had to be gentle with me and not play around.

Owning a pair of horses is like owning a pair of 1300 pound Irish Setters. At times they are exasperating, but you can't help but fall in love with them and all their quirks. The photo above was taken in the fall of 2005, and shows me riding Dubya bareback around the pasture of the Bar Nothing Ranch. Now that my chemo is over and I'm feeling gradually better as those toxins leave my body, I'm looking forward to many autumn afternoons this year atop my boy. He's a noble, loving animal, and I'm glad he's mine. And I'm glad Di has Buck!