Sunday, May 24, 2009
It wasn't until that show at the Kentucky Horse Park that I realized dressage looked like a lot of fun (and later I realized the majority of riding world viewed it as gruntwork and something only for rich Europeans, old women, and fanciful men! Hmpf!) And before then I thought I'd forever be rescuing and fostering horses. And even before then I had learned to ride. I did barrel racing. Yeehaw.
But always from the very beginning it was just that little spark. A little flicker in my heart whose embers ended up burning a hole into it. I wanted horses. I didn't want to ride them and go fast. I wanted to pet them and love them and have them love me back. I wanted to be that girl that could sit in the barn aisle for hours on end and braid frilly ribbons into the mane and carefully brush out the tail and groom the coat until it shined. I wanted to be the girl that paid extra for the extra delicious apples (hand picked, of course) at the supermarket and walked into the stables every day with a pair of big brown eyes staring at me joyfully in anticipation of love. I just wanted a horse.
My first lesson was on a witchy pony mare named Jiffy. I cantered in the first lesson, quite willingly and quite enjoyably. I remember the instructor's brow raised that I was already doing what most kiddos were afraid to do until several months of lessons. I've never felt really afraid around horses, but not so much as to be cocky. I've always felt comfortable around them. It just felt natural. It was an early warning sign (and an early warning sign for my parent's pocketbook I'm sure haha!)
After seven years of barrel racing and western lessons and the fact that I couldn't progress much more without getting a horse, I had to pull out. My 6th grade year was awful because I was completely without horses. I flirted with doing hunters (which I sometimes regret, but mostly do not as I'm sure my life would have a MUCH different outcome if I had done so) but was eventually introduced a small horse rescue group, where I learned a great deal about the medical ins-and-outs of horse care and so much more beyond simply how to ride a horse.
It was through this organization, after the fact I learned I loved dressage, that I met my first dressage trainer and her retired Preliminary level eventer horse, Southern Slugger. I learned my basics on him, from a month on the longeline to canterwork to being able to tack up and warm up on my own and so much more than I had been able to do during my seven years of lessons. I went to my first show on Slugger, where we got first place on the Training Level 1 one test and a Jr. High Point award.
But, as it had always done so in my life, my first trainer and her horse had to move north. Later, my third foster mare, Claudia, of four years and to whom so much careful trust and work had be been put into was adopted. I was heartbroken, even though I clearly knew that was how the rescue world worked.
After my family and I as well as the rest of the barn whose members we have grown so close to all found out that Claudia was going to be going to a new home, two of our friends out there - for confidentiality reasons we shall call them Sally and Suzy - were determined that I was to finally get a horse that I could A) actually ride and B) not have to nurse all of the time because they were actually healthy and came from good owners (not like I minded one bit doing all that).
They surprised my family and I - mostly me - by giving us a link to what they thought would be my perfect match: a big 16 hand appendix quarter horse gelding. I was thrilled and we finally made contact with the owners. The whole conversation when stunningly well and the horse sounded like he'd my best fit. Until we found out that once taken out of the stall he was a handful and the owner had more of a well-trained horse trainer in mind for this dressage prospect than a noobish training-level 16-year-old. Sally and Suzy both immediately said no.
So that didn't work out.
So then we did some more searching. We hit Craigslist and EquineSearch like a Minto in coke. We found Arabs, Morgans, Thoroughbreds, Qurater Horses, and even a mustang. One of the first horses we did see, though almost didn't take as seriously as we should've, was a 15.3 hand Swedish Warmblood mare not too far from us. Her picture on her ad was less than flattering: a cell phone shot of her grazing, in which her neck looked like a pencil attached to a possibly-pregnant body. But she was in our price range, trained in dressage, and supposedly very sweet. Even though we had contacted several other owners about their horses since the previous "prospect", this mare's owner was the first to get back with us, and we met this mare a week later. We were in for a big surprise.
Not only was this mare stunning and well-built, she rode like a Grand Prix champion and had the patience of a saint. I never really thought I'd ended up with a registered horse either, or a warmblood in general: I'd always thought I'd get a diamond-in-the-rough rescue horse, and I had always been snobbish towards warmbloods after being raised around rough-and-tumble quarter horses. I hadn't even met the other horses we had lined up, I was already in love with this mare. She was perfect.
So I got her, and I was in quite the daze. Ten years of horses had finally yielded its reward.
She is registered as "Penelope" (though I've never cared much for that name) and her former owner affectionately called her "Goose": she was light grey with a long neck, why not? Me, being well-known to barbie-doll my horses, wanted to give my new mare a girly name. It had to start with "G" for familiarity's sake, and a Swedish name would be fun. So, we did a little research and found the Swedish name "Greta", which is the Swedish version of the German name "Gretel" which is an interpretation of the Latin word for "pearl", which is an interpretation of the Sanskirt word for the same object. It was perfect.
We set up the vet check for three days later. And I came home to a big downer: the vet felt something wrong with her leg. This is the news I had dreaded, that something might be wrong. But it couldn't be! She rode like a champ and had no signs of any limping. We set up an x-ray exam for the next day, just so we could be absolutely sure that nothing was wrong, or that something was in fact very wrong. I had to make the awful choice of to how much we would say "we'll take her" and to how far it had to be before we had to say "no, we can't." Those two days at school were agonizing, and I struggled to focus.
But that Tuesday when I came home, I dragged myself to my grandmother to ask what the prognosis was: the vet had found nothing. In fact, the three other vets who checked (two of them owned warmbloods themselves and thought Greta to be very nice horse) found nothing. It was a false alarm and I felt totally relieved. Then that relief turned to ecstasy, and in a split-second I was screaming "yes, yes!" and my family and I were all jumping up and down together like mad kangaroos. On May 19, 2009, She came to the barn where I had kept Claudia and where the horse rescue organization was based. Several months later, my family and I left the organization for reasons and moved to a wonderful boarding stable closer to home.
And now, a year and half later as I type this, I think I have made the best choice of my life. My Greta girl has proven to be a good teacher for my little training-level butt and she is so very patient and gentle and eager to be with me, or so I like to think! She can be quite a spooker as I found out, but it adds a challenge, and I like challenges :)
This blog will document everything Greta.
Top photo done by JEM Photography. Last photos taken by "Cuca" Demony.