"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



A History of Horses


I have loved all animals pretty much since I was born, which is not difficult since I was born into a family of animal lovers. My parents' dogs argued over which one of them would get to guard my crib at night, and were my favorite baby sitters during the day. I walked on all fours to imitate them. Thus, not long after I picked up a pencil for the first time, I was drawing dogs. Soon, I was drawing every animal under the sun.


Me, drawing animals on sheets of paper bigger than myself. Note the Breyer horse. He was one of the first Breyer horses-an original that had belonged to my mom before me.
Dinosaurs, horses, unicorns and lizards, oh my! Not a doll in sight-I collected stuffed animals.


Feeding a baby fawn with my parents and baby brother.
At the Quadrangle in San Antonio, TX.

With my first dog, Peachey. She was a Pom/Chihuahua mix. I was 7 when this photo was taken.

The first pony I ever rode. I was 4 years old. I remember choosing that pony to ride.
And yes, I look exactly like my mom when she was the age I am now.
After the dogs, I fell in love with cats, but it would be a good 15 years before I could own a feline, as most of our dogs, being stray mutts and rescues, had very high prey drives and would kill a cat on sight. In the meantime, since my family's house in Puerto Rico also had 2 acres of land, I had everything else: goats, geese, chickens, guinea hens, quail, rabbits, gerbils, a snake, a hamster, guinea pigs, ducks...there was even a calf that we had at one point that we bottle fed.

The summer that I turned 10 years old, my mom bought me Bonnie Bryant's Saddle Club book #2, Horse Shy. That book would change my life forever-from that moment on, all I wanted to do was live and breathe horses.

No one in my family was surprised. Horses coursed through my blood, inherited from my mother's side of the family-my grandfather and great-grandparents used to own huge haciendas in Puerto Rico that in the early 1900s occupied the vast majority of the San Juan metro area. My grandfather bred Paso Finos and it was a rite of passage to give the children a horse for them to train when they were old enough to handle a horse on their own. My mother was the only one who stuck with it, until the stallion that she raised herself from a newborn foal died at 7 years of age from a serious heart condition. She never owned horses again; Brisa, her stallion, was irreplaceable.

My mom and my grandparents bent over backwards to get me into riding lessons, a luxury that the family couldn't really afford. It started out with summer camps. That first summer when I was 10, I learned to ride on the broad bare back of an elderly Paso Fino mare, and by the end of the summer could get her to turn with just a glance in the direction I wanted to go. The following summer, a new barn opened up in the Bayamon area, El Centro Equestre La Sebastiana, and they inaugurated with a summer camp. Most of the horses used for the camp were retired racehorses. (I know-what a wonderful idea to teach children how to ride on babies just off the track! Jeez...we were all really lucky nothing serious happened!) I learned to post. And I learned to fall. I was an overweight kid at this point, and had a hard time maintaining my balance. I fell off more than any other kid in camp, but always got back on and never gave up. I cantered for the first time (and stayed on!) at the end of the summer, and decided that this was a LOT more fun than riding Pasos.

I begged for a horse of my own. I wanted a horse for my birthday, for Christmas, for Easter, for Valentine's day, for Thanksgiving. I threw pennies in fountains and wished for a horse, I looked for shooting stars in the night sky so I could wish for a horse.

On November 4, 1992, I got my horse.

He was a 7 month old Paso Fino colt, originally bred to be an Andadura horse. He had very good bloodlines and was a grandson of Kofresi on his mother's side. However, he had had very little contact with human beings in the first 7 months of his life. He was truly a blank canvas.



I named him Lucero for the shooting star running the length of his forehead. ("Lucero" is a fancy word for "star.") He proved to be quite feisty-he would kick when you tried to pick his feet, and would nip if you got distracted while grooming him. Me? I was a 13 year old who didn't have a clue, but I had the determination to figure it out. One day while trying to pick his feet, he got particularly nasty. I kicked him back. Once. Not hard, but just enough to get his attention. I never had another problem trying to pick his feet, and for years after that, I was the only one allowed to handle Lucero's legs. If I was not present when the farrier came, the farrier could not handle him. Lucero would only allow it if I was there.

I learned to lunge a horse in the process of teaching him, and trained him on voice commands. I broke him to the saddle and bridle, and got him used to being touched over every inch of his body.

In the meantime, my mom signed me up for riding lessons. There was a trainer in our town who was well-known for teaching kids to ride anything. If you could ride one of her horses, you could ride anything. So I started taking lessons with this woman, and learned to ride her horses. As I moved up the ranks, I was given more and more difficult horses to ride, and this was when it was discovered that I had a special talent for calming down nervous/fractious horses. I could ride the horses that no one else could.

2 and a half years passed. It was time to ride Lucero. The first time was using a bareback pad, with my grandfather holding the end of the lunge line. All of that time preparing to ride my baby, and when I got on, he did nothing. He just stood and waited patiently-no bucking, rearing, spooking, explosions. He had the smoothest gait!

My grandfather held the end of the lunge line during my first rides on Lucero.
The years rolled by. I competed in Equitation Over Fences one year while still training with the lady from our hometown, and absolutely hated it. It didn't help that if you didn't win, you'd have to hear about it from the trainer back home at your next lesson. I eventually stopped riding with her and just focused on training Lucero. He became my partner and we had all sorts of adventures, going trail riding following the river that ran through the valley in front of our house, riding him up and down the hill on our property, going for hacks down the street. One time I even rode him to school and galloped him on the track! I also had a stint where I taught him to jump and popped him over little 2' fences. Having trained him myself to be exactly what I wanted in a horse, my baby was bombproof and I trusted him blindly without any kind of reservation. There is a special kind of relationship when you raise and train a horse yourself, when all he's ever known is you. It's like you can read each other's minds. This is the kind of relationship I had with Lucero.


Riding Lucero down the street from my family's house

I stopped jumping for 3 years, and then we found another trainer. His name was Ron Howe. He was from the US and was the first trainer I ever had who truly believed in me. He allowed me to work off lessons by exercising horses at the barn, which allowed me to ride a lot more than what we could have afforded otherwise. I worked my butt off for lessons, and in exchange, he pushed me farther than I had ever gone before. I did the island's jumper circuit during my second year with him, sponsored by Ron himself. I rode at a big competition at a new training barn on a horse I'd never ridden before, flew over the course, and beat a group of much more experienced adult riders, including the lady who would later become my trainer. I won Reserve Champion at that show. This was a HUGE boost in confidence for me. Before going into the arena, Ron would always tell me, "Smile. You are having fun!" Smiling truly relaxed every muscle in my body and changed my perspective when it came to showing. I started winning when I started having fun, and I brought the blue ribbons home effortlessly. I showed a different horse each month, and rode a vast array of horses at the barn, including the ones that no one else could handle. Ron would not tell me anything about the horse he was placing me on; I had to figure the horse out myself. Because I knew nothing of each horse, I had no expectations, and because of this, the horses that would stop for everyone else would clear fences for me, because I wasn't expecting them to stop.

My biggest problem in the beginning was rushing fences to take the long spots, and Ron was always telling me to let the jump come to me, to "wait for the jump". I had always been one to bulldoze my way through life. People always think I'm patience personified, and I am sooo not; I am extremely impatient. My mom started telling me, "Wait for the jump!" when I'd get impatient about anything, and so the phrase ended up applying to other aspects of my life. This is the reason for the original name of this blog, even though it never really was about jumping.

Ron believed I could make it to the Olympics, and was determined to help me get there. However, a year later, Ron got engaged and moved to Kentucky, where he started an equine breeding operation. I was devastated. One of his adult students, the woman I had beaten at that big show, became my trainer in his abscence. Her lesson horse was a huge 9 year old Argentinean TB stallion (of all things) who had stopped jumping out of the blue 5 years earlier. He had been doing 5' courses at the time, and had been owned by one of the island's Olympic riders. He was given to my trainer for free because his owner had no use for him anymore. The stallion's name was Tamarindo.

Ron came back to the island to visit a year later, and was assaulted in his hotel room. He survived a gunshot to his head and an icepick through one eye, but he was never the same again-he sustained damage to his brain and it was a long time before he was able to function in society. However, once he was better, he broke off his engagement and disappeared from the equestrian world entirely. It was like I had lost my father.

But in losing Ron, I gained Tamarindo. Tamarindo wove his way into my heart and carved a niche in there that only one other horse has ever been able to fill so far. He became my Heart Horse.

I had met him before this moment when I was training with Ron. Tamarindo lived in the lesson horse barn, and occupied the very last stall in the row facing the riding arena. He had one of the nicest views from his stall, but there were maybe 3 other horses in his row and none of them was close to him. He was always by himself, and he was only ridden a couple of times a week; I had seen his owner hack him every once in a while. Most of the time, I saw him looking out of his stall door with a sullen expression as I walked in and out of the barn with whatever horses I was riding. I found the big dark bay with the punky mane attractive, and was always filled with sadness for him, seeing him alone. We had a little store at the barn, run by the one and only dressage rider at the time, and when I bought treats for the horses I rode, I'd always stop by Tamarindo's stall and bring him a couple. I didn't know his name or his story at the time; all I knew was that he was a pretty handsome guy and he was lonely and bored. I had no idea at the time that one day he'd play a huge role in my life.


Tamarindo. I wish I had more pictures of him; this isn't a very good one. I adored that roman nose. 

So when my trainer introduced me to him, I thought, "Oh, this is that horse I used to bring treats to. We already know each other." I think he recognized me too. Like every horse before him, I had no expectations. We spent the first couple of months riding on the flat in lessons. My trainer travelled a lot, so I was recruited into hacking Tamarindo as much as possible when she was out of town to get him fit. I think he thought he was mine; I certainly spent a lot more time with him than my trainer did. It wasn't long before he started nickering at the sight of me, even though I never gave him treats before our rides-only after. I didn't know at the time that he didn't jump; my trainer told me about Tamarindo's early retirement from jumping after we cleared our first 2'6" fences together, to her absolute amazement. Tamarindo officially started jumping again. For me.

It wasn't always rosy. Sometimes he'd have flashbacks, and for some reason, he was afraid of white fences. 99% of the time, he jumped. But every once in awhile, he didn't-sometimes because he was afraid, but most of the time because of my error. The few times he stopped, he became absolutely terrified of being punished, to such an extent that he literally beat himself up mentally. I was horrified-it was evidence of how badly he'd been treated every time he'd refused a jump when he was younger. One time, we were doing a rollback to a skinny fence and I wasn't able to make the turn tight enough. We ended up facing one of the jump standards instead of the fence, and Tamarindo saved the day by coming to a sliding stop. He HAD to stop or we would've taken down the entire jump. These were solid wooden jumps, not the light PVC that is so popular nowadays. I was relieved. However, in his mind, he'd stopped at a fence, and he immediately half reared, hopping up and down in place as if I were beating him with a crop, and bolted in fear. I was able to bring him to a stop eventually, but it broke my heart to see that such a wonderful horse had been treated so badly. To remember abuse THAT vividly after 5 years of retirement... I started thanking him after every ride, thanking him for everything he did for me, for trying so hard. I always thought he understood, because he eventually stopped refusing altogether, trusting me completely.

It never ceased to amaze me that Tamarindo was a such a well-behaved stallion. During the 2 years I rode him, he never lost his concentration over a mare, never nipped or acted studlike. He was a true gentleman, and he had a sense of humor. We had a Halloween party at the barn my first year with him, and him and I dressed up in a Native American theme. I painted him as a war pony. While getting him and myself ready, I had him crosstied in the center aisle of the barn while all of these kids were running around in costumes getting their horses ready. Tamarindo stood quietly and calmly, ears pricked, watching the happenings and not even batting an eye. I remember he was practically smiling as I groomed him and traced Native American symbols on him with fingers dipped in tempera paint and tied feathers in his mane and tail, enjoying the attention. One guy came over while I was working on my horse, and asked, "Is this Tamarindo?" I said yes. His response, "What you have done with him is truly amazing. At any other time, this horse would have been absolutely freaking out at the chaos in this barn right now." I remember looking at this horse with new eyes. With me, he had always been the way he was now.


Ready for the Halloween party! Note how happy Tamarindo looked!
One summer, we left for 2 weeks to stay at my uncle's beach house on the other side of the island. When we came back, I went to see Tamarindo. He was turned out in one of the small arenas, adjacent to the turnout paddocks. He was at the far end of the arena, nickering at a mare in the next paddock over who was ignoring him. I called him. Tamarindo's head came up and he turned around, ears pricked. He gave a great whinny when he saw it was me. I walked into the arena and jogged up to meet him, as he came trotting up to me, neck arched and ears forward, the mare forgotten. I remember I wrapped my arms around his great neck and he pulled me closer with his head, literally hugging me back. I've never had a horse do that, before or since. He really loved me.

Once Tamarindo and I were jumping consistently well, my trainer decided she wanted to jump him. He refused. He would not jump for her. She had him checked by a vet, and it turned out he had horrible degenerative arthritis in his hocks and needed to have them injected.

This made no difference in his performance with me. The last course we jumped together was 3'6".

My trainer, furious, sent him away on retirement. And I stopped riding with her. We later learned that he had gone to a new lesson barn where he had been gelded and was being used as a cart horse. We tried to buy him, but the new owner wanted an exhorbitant amount of money for him and would not come down on the price; we couldn't afford to pay that much money for him. My mom and I would hear about him through the grapevine, until the day he died. He died from an infected wound that had been left untreated. He died alone. That was 10 years ago, and I still miss him. I loved that horse. I still wish that we could have saved him.

I still had Lucero. My grandfather, trying to make up to me the loss of Tamarindo, got me a jumper mare that I named Maia. Her owners were moving back to Colombia and were giving her away. Despite endless hours at the barn with her, her and I never really bonded.

Maia
I rehomed her during my second year of university because I had no time to ride her anymore. She was the first horse that I jumped by myself, proving to myself that I was good enough to not need a trainer 100% of the time anymore. We did 4' fences together. My only guidance was what I remembered from my lessons with Ron. I rode without instructors for years after that.

I moved Lucero from our property to a small boarding facility across the street, owned by an old friend of my grandfather's who was the first woman to own and breed racehorses on the island. Dona Encarnita was tough as nails and ran the barn herself, despite being in her 70's. She had a riding arena and a small pasture, which was a nice change from the vertical riding I'd been doing on our very hilly property. I became enmeshed in the daily life at this barn. Being a Paso barn, most of the horses were owned by men who rode almost exclusively on the weekends; I was one of the only female horse owners there. I started helping out the barn trainer and farrier, and that's how I met Indio.

Indio was a project horse that the trainer was selling. The first time I rode him, it took 3 men holding him to keep him from rearing and bolting before I could get in the saddle. Once you were on, however, this horse was amazing. Incredibly sensitive to the aids, on the bit, and smooth as glass to ride, no matter which gait. He was a Colombian Paso, and a big boy for a Paso-almost 15 hands. I rode him out with the trainer when he was working some of the other horses in his care. Indio was a nervous wreck, but I could tell it was from previous abuse, and he responded well to kindness.


Indio

After a month or so of riding him, he would allow me to get on without assistance. The history of abuse and his willingness to trust reminded me of Tamarindo, and Indio would become the first horse I bought myself, with my own money.

A year after that, my entire life did a 180 and I moved to Tampa to live with Charles. Indio and Lucero stayed behind on the island. Indio, completely rehabbed now, went to a friend of mine that worked at the barn, but Lucero remained mine. He stayed at that little barn, with my mom supervising his care, until the day he died in August 2012 at age 21, after losing his battle with heaves.

In Tampa, my first attempts at a job were in art. I have a bachelor's degree in Fine Art, and had been working as assistant exhibit designer at one of the big art museums in Puerto Rico. Tampa, however, was not very big on art and most positions required a lot more experience than I had. When that didn't work, I resorted to fitness-I'd been an avid gym goer and thought it would be cool to work at a gym. I landed a position as sales associate at a chain gym, but absolutely hated the job. This gym was unscrupulous and duped clients with memberships that they would not be able to get out of later. I couldn't stand the idea of doing that to people, and after 3 days of hell, decided to simply not return. However, in the same plaza was a little tack shop. On my last day at the gym, I stopped by the tack shop and dropped off my resume.

In the meantime, I searched on http://www.floridahorse.com/ for jobs, and found a trainer position at a horse rental barn about 60 miles north of our apartment. I intereviewed and got the job.

For awhile, it was the dream job-I was being paid to train horses! I didn't mind the 120 mile round-trip because it meant working with horses. This barn had a small Peruvian Paso breeding operation, and a string of babies that needed to be broken to saddle. I had so much fun with those babies. They loved people, had had no bad experiences, and were easy to train, handle and ride. If it had been up to me, I would've just worked with the Pasos.

The guy on the right with the tiny star, big snip and white pastern was one of the Peruvian Paso babies I worked with. His name was Pantera and he was 3 years old. He was incredibly timid to handle on the ground, but I was able to get him to trust me and eventually started him under saddle. He was an awesome little horse.
My boss decided they needed to hire a second trainer and had a guy come out for a working interview. Who did they give him to work with? Pantera. In a single session, that guy undid what had taken me TWO MONTHS to achieve. I was so, so, so mad. I was never able to regain that little colt's trust. I have no idea what that guy did to him.
The rest of the horses were a whole other matter altogether. 99% of these horses were used for trail riding, and most of them had learned that if they misbehaved, they would get to come back to the barn. Woe to the person that defied one of these horses and told them they could NOT do as they pleased. I worked with a Percheron mare on not kicking when her legs were touched so the farrier could trim her feet before she went to her new home. I had 3 days to do this, and had just been introduced to natural horsemanship. I must say that I was successful, but it was not easy handling a kicking mare whose feet are as big as your face... I also rode an Appaloosa cross that bucked every time you asked him to do anything (such as walk forward), a Belgian gelding that tried to scrape me off using the edge of the barn roof (first draft horse I ever rode-he was at least 18 hands tall, but I got him on that trail and cantering. His canter was like riding a thunderstorm! He wasn't completely ruined yet), an explosive Arabian gelding that was so unpredictable and wired that he looked like the caricature of an electrocuted horse, and a large Shetland that tried to throw anyone that rode him (he was fun to ride if you weren't afraid of him but he never, ever gave up, so he was certainly not suitable for children to ride). Oh, and did I mention the Quarter Horse that had seizures on the trail? Yeah, there was one of those. Other than his seizures, he was actually the safest horse to ride in that barn. So that gives you an idea of the overall mental state of these horses...

Most of these horses were downright dangerous-the only way to truly rehabilitate them would have been to remove them from this facility entirely and into a new environment, and start them over with some serious groundwork. Some of them, I don't know if that would've worked. They had become way too aware of their size and strength. A lot of them, I'm sure, would have improved with appropriate veterinary care, chiropractors and massage therapists, and well-fitted saddles, but that is nearly impossible at a horse rental facility that also makes money from sales.

Titanium. His right eye was blue, his left eye was brown.
He was mine, though it was such a short period of time that I always forget I briefly owned a Paint.
This barn was a great place to be at if you wanted to work off board on a horse.
If you were trying to make a living, however, it was a very poor choice, and I didn't learn that until I received my first paycheck. If you didn't come with a horse of your own, they forced you to choose one from the herd. Titanium was the one I chose, and I still think that he was the only sane horse on that property other than the Pasos. He hadn't been ruined yet. But after they deducted the payment installment for him, his board, and his veterinary care (I still don't understand why the vet, who was an asshole, had to come out every single month...) from my paycheck, I was left with next to nothing. Even if I hadn't been injured later, the entire arrangement at this place would have been short-lived.
This was my first paid equine job ever, and I had always thought I wanted to train horses for a living. Working at this place showed me that turning your hobby into your job makes you stop enjoying that hobby.
One of my favorites after the Pasos was a palomino Paint pony named Seneca. I had a special soft spot for him: he had been terribly abused under saddle. I spent an entire month just working on getting him to accept a saddle-he associated Western saddles with the abuse that he had received and would run at the sight of them.

That's Seneca in front. Wasn't he adorable?
Seneca.
I often wonder what happened to him after I left. I would have taken him with me if I could have.
I had success when I switched to my close contact English saddle. I got to ride him twice, and he would shake like a leaf, terrified of being beaten. He was a very gentle little soul that wouldn't harm a fly, but needed a LOT of work. I was willing to do it, but my time at this barn was short-lived.

One time, the staff was trying to load a feisty chestnut pony on the trailer for a pony party. I had been warned by a friend of mine about this pony in particular, that he was dangerous. The pony refused to lead to the trailer. He was a good 200 feet away from it still, and would not go any closer. He was fully tacked, and still being fearless at the time, after 15 minutes of struggling with him, I decided I'd ride him up to the trailer. (Yes, this was incredibly stupid, but I'd forgotten about my friend's warning, and so far, I'd been able to stay on regardless of what antics these horses pulled.) The pony continued to balk when I got on. I smacked him lightly with the ends of the reins in lieu of a crop. He popped up. I smacked him again as a reprimand. He reared. Instead of just stopping and getting off, I reprimanded him one more time. He proceeded to flip over backwards. He fell on me, and thankfully the ground was very soft, deep sand, or he would've broken my left hip. As it was, I walked with a limp for the next month. It was excruciating to ride, and the only horses I could ride were the Paso babies, because they were so smooth it didn't hurt, and they were small enough that I could get on the big 3-step mounting block and just swing my leg over.

Unable to do my job without pain, I resigned not long after that, and called up the tack shop where I'd applied 3 months earlier. As it turns out, they had called me to offer me the position the week before, but for whatever reason had not been able to reach me. I got the job. Of all the jobs I've had so far, it was one of my favorites. I thought I knew a lot when I started there, but boy I did not.

As Fate would have it, the tack shop owner's daughter had her own hunter/jumper barn in Wesley Chapel and needed someone to exercise her horses. It took 2 months before I could even think of getting on a horse again, but my hip healed and I was eventually pain-free. I made arrangements with the trainer to come out and ride.

This barn was the Dream Barn-white fences, jumping field, covered arena with rubberized footing, huge center aisle barn, hot and cold water in the wash racks, air conditioned tack room, a real bathroom with shower in the office. The best part of it all, however, was that all the horses were sane. I had not realized how afraid I'd become of riding until I got back into the sport. But these were nice horses, most of them worth 5 digits and up. And I rode them for free! She gave me lessons in exchange for exercising horses, and allowed me to ride any of her horses, at pretty much any time of the day. The best mornings of my life were when I'd wake up at 5:00 am, drive out to the barn, pick any of 10 horses to ride, and watch the sun rise from a horse's back. And afterwards, I'd shower and drive back to Tampa to open the tack shop at 9:00 am. It was a wonderful, beautiful time in my life.

Riding Grasshopper in the covered arena
He was so much fun to ride.
3' oxer on Grasshopper in the jumping field.
I rode some of my trainer's horses in a couple of local schooling shows and had a blast. It was my first glimpse of the horse show world in the US. The hunters was a new experience for me, as the division didn't use to exist at all on the island-we just had Equitation over Fences and Jumpers; that was it. Still, I competed in the Jumpers. My favorite horse at this barn was named Grasshopper, a spunky little Appendix that would jump a house if you put it in front of him.

2'9" Jumpers on Grassy

Me beaming and Grasshopper looking pissed off at having to pose for a photo. Lol
He was not a sweet or emotional horse, but I loved him for his athleticism and passion about jumping.
Practice fences on my trainer's schoolmaster at the show grounds the day before a Sumter County schooling show. He hadn't been enjoying his retirement, so I helped bring him back so he could be used in the lesson program. This was his first show after retirement.

Cooling Divot off afterwards.
A new yearning grew: I wanted to compete on a horse of my own, that I had trained myself. It would be awhile before this came true.

After 2 years in Tampa, Charles and I relocated to South FL. I have never liked South FL and knew it would be an uphill battle living there because it is twice as expensive as any other part of the state; we had already been struggling financially in Tampa. We moved because Charles was having a hard time getting into the nursing program at USF in Tampa, and after applying at different universities without a waiting list, he was accepted into Nova Southeastern. Another incentive to move down there was that the in-laws live there, and we would have family close by.

I had to stop riding for 2 years because of the expense. I rode briefly at one barn in Southwest Ranches, but it was a hunter barn and after a month riding there, I decided I didn't like the trainer's style. I stopped going; it wasn't worth the struggle to pay for the lessons. I tried volunteering at one of the rescues, but the facilities were unsafe, and after a scary ride in the rocky riding arena when there was no one else at the barn, I resigned there too. Around this time, I was working at an administrative assistant and absolutely hating my job, while still searching for a position in the art field. I could not get an art-related job to save my life; the graphic design field was way too competitive here and after numerous interviews, I started doubting myself and my abilities. So I contemplated changing careers. I loved what Charles was learning in nursing, and wanted to do something in the medical field, but with animals. This is when I did the research on being a vet tech, and decided that this was what I wanted to be when I grew up.

After graduating, we moved to a different part of Fort Lauderdale and discovered 2 streets of barns in the middle of the suburbs. One of the barns was a rescue.

This is a story suitable for another blog altogether. But the point is that I worked my butt off at this rescue and was part of it during the short time that the rescue was truly alive.

This was a performance we put together for one of the rescue's fundraisers. That's me riding and Charles on the floor with glowsticks: I was on Ricky Bobby, one of the rescue's horses. Ricky was the most AWESOME Paso Fino ever. He was 100% bombproof and you could go anywhere and do anything while riding him. I  absolutely adored him and he was one of my favorites to work with. He was so old no one could tell anymore by looking at his teeth. He had been dumped, half-starved, in someone's front yard in Hialeah!
I trained most of the horses, and fell in love with one of them in particular-a gray Quarter Horse gelding that had been seriously abused under saddle that I named Cloud. I adopted him.


This photo was taken the week that I adopted Cloud. Note all the scars on his face; someone had used a hackamore on him recently-the bridge of his nose was permanently scarred.

He was my everything. I took him from scruffy overweight senior and slowly got him into the best shape of his life, turning him first into a jumper, and then into a dressage horse. It was because of him that I first tried my hand at dressage. I could do anything with him; I trusted him completely. The only other horse that I have ever loved that much was Tamarindo. I promised him that he would be with me until the day he died; that he would never again be alone or mistreated.

In the beginning, Cloud constantly evaded contact from the bit, despite his teeth being fine (yes, I had him checked) and trying out a wide variety of different bits. This was the most contact I could have-note the loop in the rein.
He had never jumped before, but he tried. For me.
Cloud, cantering on the bit with no help of artificial aids. This photo was taken after 8 months of owning him. He was one of my greatest training achievements. And did I mention he was between 15-18 years old? Who says you can't teach an old dog (horse) new tricks?

The situation at that barn wasn't ideal. There was a lot of drama, a lot of stress, and a constant outflux of boarders (it was a boarding facility that was also a rescue). I was friends with the barn manager and owner of the rescue, but this didn't guarantee exclusion from the drama. On another front, the equine situation wasn't ideal either-the paddocks had grass, yes, but horses were only allowed turnout for 30 minutes a day. The stalls were tiny 10x10 shacks, with dirt floors. Cloud spent his days with his head out the stall door, watching the world go by. I wanted to give him more turnout, and I wanted to be able to love going to the barn again. So I gave the barn manager notice, and made arrangements to move Cloud to a different barn down that street. I was terrified, as this barn manager was nuts and very vindictive-I had watched her antics with every other boarder that had left the property. If they were going to "the competition" on the same street, she made their last days at her barn a living hell. She even tried to find ways to take people's horses away from them more than once, but had never succeeded. I figured if she tried this with me, I had an adoption agreement to protect me.

The day I came to take him to his new home, the barn manager terminated the adoption without cause and called the cops on me, accusing me of trespassing. I was so shaken that I was in absolute shock-I had violated none of the terms of the adoption, and nowhere did it say that owners of adopted horses couldn't remove their horses from the barn. Charles and I sat stubbornly in our truck and waited for the police to come: I showed the cops the adoption agreement, and while they agreed that this was a bad situation and they could see that my horse was perfectly healthy (shiny, plump, and eating his hay at the time), they said that since this had been a free adoption (no money paid), I would have to take my case to small claims court.

My fear was that the owner of the rescue would deliberately starve my horse so she could accuse me of not taking adequate care of him. Plus civil cases can take a long time-I was afraid he'd die or be adopted out before I could get him back. I was also afraid of being counter-sued for some unimaginable reason-Charles and I weren't in a position where we could afford a lawyer, and I had already seen first-hand just how crazy and vindictive this barn manager was.

I let him go, breaking my promise to him. And I turned around and adopted another horse from a different, reputable rescue, before I could drown in the void that Cloud had left behind. Cloud eventually found another home, but the rescue closed its doors, and all of the remaining boarders fled. That barn manager is still there, with 1 remaining rescue horse and 3 horses of her own, all by herself. The property is in foreclosure. Karma can be a bitch.

I still wish I could have seen the future, so I could have fought for Cloud. I hate that I chose to let him go. Hate it. I look at the fields at the barn today, and wish he was one of the grays out there, grazing to his heart's content, retired, happy, and free. And still mine. It is a huge regret that still weighs on my conscience.


It didn't help that the new horse ended up being a huge, expensive mistake. Rhythm was a 4 year old Warmblood cross that had been found in one of the Miami illegal slaughter barns. Of all of the horses in the field on a cold, overcast day, he was the only one that came walking right up to me and gently took hold of the front of my sweater with his teeth. I figured it was a sign. He was extremely green, but he was a nice mover and seemed intelligent and willing when I tried him out, and so I paid the adoption fee and brought him home to the new barn, to the stall that should have been Cloud's.

His show name was going to be Rhythm of the Rain
He was a sweet horse, almost doglike in his affection for all people. He rapidly became a barn favorite, to the point that Dianne went to the same rescue searching for a horse of her own and brought home Pink a month after I had adopted Rhythm.

Rhythm's problems started about a week after having him home: explosions under saddle at the slightest sound, and tremendous back soreness. I couldn't run a fingertip down his back without eliciting a flinch. The vet came out, diagnosed weak stifles, sore front suspensories from being on the forehand, and an ill-fitting saddle. I was surprised that a so-so fitting saddle could make him THAT sore after only 3 walk/trot rides. Regardless, I had a saddle fitter out, sold my saddle, and purchased a new one, fitted to Rhythm. We then started an intense rehab program to strengthen his hindquarters, from the ground up. I spent many nights after work doing long-line work with him in the arena, since I wasn't allowed to work him on the lunge while building up his quads. His trot improved, and he started to track up under saddle...sometimes. However, about 2 months into the program, he started pulling up lame at the canter, but would trot off sound. Charles got a video that I showed my vet.  It was the darned stifles still. So Rhythm had surgery. The conditioning program continued, and was now a lot more effective. But the explosions under saddle never ceased. I noticed a trend-on some days, Rhythm felt extremely unbalanced; I wouldn't canter him at all on these days because I had the scary sensation that he was going to fall.


Do you see anything wrong with this picture? This was Rhythm on a good day...definetely not a normal canter. Note how much he had to elevate his back end to pull his legs underneath him, how unbalanced and tremendously on the forehand he is.

On these days that he was unbalanced, he would be terrifyingly spooky. He'd literally explode, bucking and bolting. My terror was not the antics themselves, it was that he'd fall in the middle of a spook, with me on him. On those unbalanced days, when he spooked and bolted, I was afraid of spinning him around like you're supposed to because I knew it would bring him down. I felt it. He was particularly reactive to sound, so I purchased ear plugs for him, which helped somewhat. I had NEVER had to use earplugs on a horse! I'd always been able to get them through their fears before.

Time passed, and I slowly became more and more fearful of riding him. It didn't stop me from riding him 4-5 times a week but it wasn't until later that I'd realize just how much my fear had escalated. My biggest frustration with him was that, while I had always been able to calm nervous, fractious and high strung horses, I couldn't change Rhythm. I got really into natural horsemanship and a friend gave me copies of Parelli's DVDs. We spent hours and hours doing ground work, and while it made Rhythm 100% willing to follow me anywhere safely, it made no difference in his behavior under saddle. No matter how much I loved him nor how money I poured into calming supplements, alternative therapies, and pain medication, he trusted me no more under saddle than he did on day 1. I couldn't understand it. This was the first horse I ever had or worked with where love failed. I loved him, but I never felt that he loved me back-there was never a nicker of greeting, any sign that he recognized me as anything more than just another human in his life. He was always sweet, but no sweeter than he was with anybody else.


He was a handsome boy. But note the trailing hind end. 

Rhythm got stronger, his movement improved. He was doing fairly well when one day he fell twice while on the lunge, after bolting and galloping around me like a maniac, unprovoked. Both times, he fell midstride without any tripping or slipping, and both times he lay on the ground paddling. Both times it took a minute to get him to stand up. I had changed his girth, and after replacing it with his regular girth, he seemed back to normal. I rode him uneventfully afterwards that same day, and figured he'd been having a tantrum over the girth. He could be overly sensitive like that.

3 days later, he fell again while at the canter, on good footing, again with no tripping or slipping. The difference this time was that I was on him, and he fell on my foot, breaking and fracturing my big toe in 2 different spots. It had been a seizure. The 2 falls 3 days prior? Also seizures.

I did a neuro exam on him that same day, and he didn't pass-he was a grade 2 if you go to the link. I had suspected it for awhile, but now I knew for sure that there was something wrong with him neurologically.  All of the spookiness, the imbalances, they were because he didn't know where any of his 4 feet were. He also had neck pain, which I had not noticed before, but any pressure down his crest elicited violent head tossing and flinching. The vet came out 2 days later, and Rhythm passed his neuro exam, confirming that whatever Rhythm had, it fluctuated. My vet suggested either EPM or Wobbler's as the main suspects. I suspected Wobbler's, due to the neck pain and the fact that all 4 legs were affected, but the seizures were unexplained, which could mean that it was possible that his neurological disease was something else entirely. The diagnostics in South FL were prohibitive, and treatment for Wobblers in anything older than a yearling is even pricier, isn't always successful, and often requires surgery. And there was still the chance that this was something else. I had already poured enough money into this horse that I was now thoroughly afraid of riding. The injury also affected my ability to work, as I could not bear weight on my foot for more than a few hours. Thankfully, one of the receptionists at work had just quit, so I was relegated to the front desk for the next 6 weeks, but my hours were still cut. Charles worked a lot of overtime during that period to help pay the bills. I could not see myself ever riding Rhythm again, even if by some miracle we were able to cure him. I was terrified of the idea of getting back on him. While I did love him, I didn't love him enough to want to try to go the distance with him. With my vet's help and the rescue's blessing, I was able to rehome Rhythm as a companion horse.

Rhythm's exit marked Tiger Lily's entrance into my life. Do I regret having adopted Rhythm? If I had known in advance how many issues he would have, I probably would have never brought him home.

However, Fate is a funny thing. Without Rhythm, I never would have met Lily. Lily was put into my life as a direct result of owning Rhythm and keeping him at the barn I boarded him at.

The Universe conspired and said, "Here. You are ready for this one." And thus, the little dark bay mare with the obscure background became mine.

Tiger Lily
When Fate gives you something good, you take it, no questions asked.
The rest is written here and in this blog.





No comments:

Post a Comment