Monday, January 19, 2009

Scattered Ramblings and Pretty Ponies

When I first saw Brandy, I was going on 14 and she was going on 4. She didn’t look like much—she had just spent the past 24+ hours in a trailer with another horse without food, water, or rest. She was fairly scrawny and her bones jutted out at odd angles through her scraggly orange coat. Then again, there wasn’t much to that coat at all. At least a tenth of her body was bald, crusted, and dandruffy—the product of bite wounds and a pretty awful louse infestation. You could grab handfuls of hair and pull them out by the clump. Her mane was rubbed off and what was left stuck straight up, while her feet were unshod and overgrown. She had been due to be run through the local horse auction the next day where she would have almost certainly have be sold to slaughter, but just by sheer luck a woman I knew took a peek at her pedigree and bought her with the sly idea to sell her to me and make a quick buck. It worked, and I managed to convince my parents to fork over the $550 to make the mare mine. She was to be a training and resale project—my first attempt at finishing and flipping a greenbroke horse.

I didn’t work out quite as I intended. Brandy initially showed extreme promise in the barrel racing arena, so much so that I decided to make her a permanent “keeper.” Unfortunately for both of us, though, we soon proved to be poor partners. Our personalities clashed, and the youthful inexperience of my training efforts sometimes did as much harm as good. I’m also firmly convinced that Brandy’s history of neglect had done a number on her brain and personality, making her quirky and hateful. Then, too, were her many injuries. Three times in three months she nearly sawed a foot off in barbed wire fencing, though she never took a lame step. She got kicked in the head and fractured her skull. She colicked. She had allergies. She suffered from stone bruises, boils, and mineral deficiencies—a real lemon who cost a fortune in vet bills. But still she was mine, and I was determined to make things work.

And the mare blossomed. She made a complete ugly-duckling-to-swan transformation. Her burnt orange coat soon gleamed a bright brown sorrel, while her thin body put on a couple hundred pounds of fat and hard, knotted muscle. A light came into her dark rolling eyes, and her delicate ears curved inwards in architectural splendor. Her refined face was truly the picture of equine feminine beauty. Maybe I’m biased. But I’m proud.

And she wasn’t a total bust in the training department, either. We’re still working through our issues, and while she’ll likely never be a champion (at least not with me on board, because I’m not willing to give her the whippin’s that some other “trainer” surely would), she’s still a pretty nice little mare. She can run a decent barrel or pole pattern and she trail rides nice enough—and she looks great doing it, too. I’m proud of the work I put into her, both in terms of her health and training, and even though she didn’t turn out perfectly, it’s still not a bad result for a 14-year-old’s first effort.

All this to say: This is why I ride. This is why I give up hours and hours a week feeding and grooming and mucking and riding in sub-freezing weather. It’s about taking the blank slate of a young horse and turning it into fine finished artwork. It’s about putting effort and kindness in and extracting a ripe reward. It’s about bonding with a sentient being—albeit of another species—and forming a friendship and partnership. It’s about the aesthetic beauty of a quality animal, or about exploring the beauty of the natural world atop a horse’s back.

Riding, of course, is not my entire life. It’s not even what I most identify myself with. God forbid I ever consider myself first and foremost a “cowgirl” with all of the associated negatives. I’ll always be a lifelong student, more than anything else.

And I’m not someone who blindly romanticizes the horse, anthropomorphizing it and turning it into a human. It’s still a brute (and I say that in the most loving way possible), but a majestic brute at that. And that’s why I intend to be a large animal veterinarian: to help these creatures live long, healthy, productive lives. That’s not a bad goal, right?

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