Friday, April 18, 2014

History: How I got a pony

I always knew I wanted a horse.  However, I was a practical child.  Horses were not in the budget.  Horses were not going to be in the budget.  Why ask for a horse when I know it can't be done?

My parents agreed I could take lessons if I found a barn.  In sixth grade, I was in class with a girl talking all about horses.  Her mom was an instructor.  I started weekly lessons at a hunter/jumper barn that year.  I worked at the summer camps there nearly every summer after seventh grade - all the way through college.  For much of high school and college I was giving lessons at the camp, teaching kids basic riding skills.  Often in the summer I'd ride a lesson horse or two for their daily exercise when it came up as an opportunity.

I was never a particularly spectacular rider.  Things got done, but not always in a textbook-pretty way.  Working the camps, though, let me learn a lot of the basic horse-care stuff you just don't get from hunter lessons - I know how to braid even if I'm awful at it.  I can put polo wraps and stable bandages on.  I know how to pull a mane.  I can longe a horse (and a rider!) and still watch what they're doing.  Frankly, I don't even know what I learned, so much of it is intuitive now!  I learned to ride lots of different horses and be generally competent over a 2'3" course.

When I went to college, I quit riding except for breaks when I went home.  I couldn't afford the weekly lessons that would be needed to ride on a team, so riding had to be set aside.  After two years of that I was so very done with not-riding.  Goals for the year included buying a car, moving off-campus, and finding a horse to lease.

Buy a car?  Check.  Move off-campus?  Found a place starting September.  Find a horse?  Okay.. hm.

In May, there was a pretty little Haflinger for sale or lease.  I can't lease til September, she'll be gone by then for sure.  I tried a lesson at a local Arabian barn and found the driveway traumatic enough to not want to go back.  (In hindsight: not all that bad, but pretty stressful at the time.)
In June, the Haflinger was still listed.  I emailed about an older horse, but concluded he wasn't enough horse for what I wanted - owner was hoping for someone just to casually walk around bareback on some trails and hang out with the horse.  Nice lady, but the situation was not a good fit.
In July, I sighed and kept looking.  The Haflinger was still listed, but I'm not sure I noticed.
In August, I was starting to despair a bit.  The Haflinger was still listed for sale or lease, with a note to please try her soon if you're thinking about it, else she'll go back home midway through the month.  Well then.  I sent off an email or two, one of which got lost in cyberspace, and I had about despaired of things working out when we finally connected over the phone.  Still interested?  Yes!  When do you want to come out?  Well, I can be there in two hours..  Great.  I called up my boyfriend and informed him that actually, we are going to go see a horse, and we're going immediately.  Oookay, Fig.

We got slightly lost on the way to the barn, showed up late on a summer evening, and I think the mare had already been turned out and moved around some.. so I got on and hacked around the arena a bit.  Her sensitivity was a huge change from duller school horses, and her trot was small but fast, my first taste of pony-type gaits.  I couldn't get her to canter one way, but could the other, and really wasn't too concerned about it.  I was sold at this point; nonetheless, we agreed I'd come back a few days later for a second trial ride with her regular rider getting on first.  It was getting dark, too.

In hindsight, I think folks usually have someone else ride a prospective horse first.  I just hopped right on without thinking about it.  It had already been disclosed that she was too much horse for the owner to want to ride much, and I was naive and trusting enough not to worry.  It was absolutely and completely fine.. but I'm still not sure I'd recommend it to anyone else.  Never mind the fact that when I got off, it was good and dark.. trotting a new horse around an unfamiliar arena at dusk, why not?!

We went back that weekend.  Someone had tried her Friday and couldn't get her to move forwards. I rode again and was again quite convinced I liked her, and apparently she liked me.  It was a bit sooner than I'd planned on, but.. when someone offers you a pony to lease for a reasonable price.. I could make it work.  I don't think I stopped smiling for a week.

And so, midway through August, I had myself a lease-horse, envisioned as a bit of a project that I could put some more consistent rides on for a while and make her more marketable for an eventual buyer.

First week or so.  Note the rubbed-out chunk of mane :(

You all know how that turned out...

I was Confetti's primary rider for the next two years.  Occasionally her owner would hop on for a bit, or someone else, but not very often.  We worked on cantering and building up both sides evenly.  We worked on trotting politely.  She spooked at the water pump coming on a month or two in to the lease, turned sharply, dumped me, and bolted.  Bit of blood, but nothing major.  I got back on and avoided that side of the arena after that.  We did some trail rides.  I learned to ride her bareback.  She was still, technically, for sale, but not being heavily marketed and not getting many bites (a therapy program, once or twice.  That was not going to happen).

Somewhere in there my mindset went from 'keep your emotional distance, you can't have her' to 'dang I love this horse'.  And in that second year, I did the math and concluded that if I got a reasonable job, I could indeed make it work month to month.  Her owner offered to give her to me once I graduated (we were riding together, became great friends, and she knew I couldn't afford to have a horse until I got a job). Two months after graduation, I officially started paying all the bills and had my very own pony.

No regrets.  Life is good!

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