Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Piece of the Puzzle that is me...

It occurred to me today when I was explaining to someone on twitter who has interests in horses and also happens to be a yarn person that I started following because of the horses not the yarn that I haven't talked about horses here in a very long time.  

I haven't ridden on a regular basis since I got pregnant with Max (who is currently 16 1/2) so we're talking 17 ish years.  As a little girl (8 to be precise and I didn't feel little at the time) I begged for riding lessons.  We lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio and there was a magical place called Red Raider that was owned and run by Fox Smith.  In the summer it was a huge day camp.  During the rest of the year, it was a very active stable.  Fox made the rounds in a van or bus to the elementary schools and the junior high schools picking up the kids who were taking weekly riding lessons and drove us all out to Red Raider.  As an adult, I have no idea where it is I just know that it no longer exists as it once did.  Fox and his wife both died and the property was sold and turned into upscale developments.  But, I digress.

Once we got there, we split into two main groups.  Half of us had our riding lesson first while the other half had their flat lesson.  A flat lesson (or lesson on the flat) is one where the students learn everything else about horses from coat colors to parts of the horse, proper use and care of all the tack, grooming, training, veterinary care, even equine psychology.  Nothing was off limits and the topic of the week was up to the whim of Fox or one of the other instructors.  The group that was riding would be divided by ability.  Each lesson was a full hour and after both were done we would pile back in the bus and Fox would drive us all home.  He had the route home mapped out so that he could stop within a block of each kid's home and we would trudge that last little bit, dogged tired in a way that only happens when you are under the age of 20 and have been allowed to be immersed in that thing that you love more than anything else so completely.

To this day, I can still you the name of the first horse I ever rode by myself (Silhouette.  A tall statuesque black mare who scared the crap out of me but was one of the gentlest souls I have ever encountered) and maybe one of these days when I am REALLY old (not just feeling old) I will regale whoever I can get to stop and listen with stories of all the various equine characters large and small that I went on adventures with as a kid.

Over the years I rode at summer camps (Red Raider, Firebird overnight camp for girls in Bowerston, OH) and at other stables (Roosevelt.  An overnight camp for boys owned by Bill Lorrimer (he also owns Firebird), with girlfriends lucky enough to have their own, in pastures and fields, on military bases (a friend in high school lived in Columbus, GA and kept her horses in one of the barns at Fort Benning because her dad was retired from the military at some mucky-muck rank, at a touristy place up in Indian River, MI taking people on trail rides while we visited my grandparents for a few weeks in the summer, and finally at my parents "gentleman's" horse farm (11 acres on top a hill here in South Central PA).

When I wasn't on a horse as a kid, I was drawing them.  I suck at drawing things from my imagination or from the real thing in front of me but take a picture of it or put another artists rendition in front of me and I do a pretty good job.  

Life tends to lead us on wandering paths.  Sometimes we double back or cross a trail we have made previously. It just worked out that I got degrees in photography.  I stumbled upon knitting and dying, and spinning and everything else fiber related.  I've never not loved horses, I just can't ride one right now because of my weight.  And, while that sounds like an excellent reason to get the weight off (and it is) things very often are not as easy as they sound or look.  

In January of 1990 my parents purchased a 6 year old Thoroughbred who had been on the track (so the story goes) and been a dud and then been neglected when the guy who owned him grew bored with riding as a hobby and found something better to do.  He is 16 hands.  Which for you non-horse folks means he is 64 inches tall at the withers (the shoulder blade and tallest part of a horses body, not counting the head or neck). He is an average bay (reddish brown with black mane, tail, and socks) with a little bit of white on his forehead.  He was skin and bones when Mom and Dad brought him home and had rain rot on his back (a fungal infection from being left out in the rain for days on end).  His name is Yankee Doodle.  We call him Dan.

My parents are not wealthy but nor do they want for anything.  All of our pets over the years have been part of the family.  While we have never spent excessive funds on pet related things neither have we spared any expense when one of the animal members of the family has needed expensive medical care.  4 or 5 years ago Dan suddenly developed a very bad case of diarrhea.  My parents regular vet made repeated visits to the farm.  (Note, my mom is a nurse and as such can give extensive horse care beyond what the average owner is usually capable of.)  They hung IV's to try to keep him hydrated but diarrhea in a horse is a serious problem and it quickly became more than Mom, Dad, and their wonderful vet could manage.  The vet suggested New Bolton.  If you are familiar with equine sports or medicine that should sound familiar.  New Bolton is the equine hospital where the best equine surgeons in the country valiantly tried to save Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's life with multiple surgeries on his shattered leg after going down in the Preakness.  This is not some little vet clinic down the road.

Now at this point, I had stopped showing Dan about 11 or 12 years earlier.  He has only been ridden occassionally since then.  He is basically a 1200 lb pet who at 15 years of age was already past his prime.

Mom and Dad loaded him in the trailer and ever so carefully drove the 2 hours to New Bolton.  Three weeks later he was finally on the road to recovery and ready to come home.  The total vet bill was somewhere in the low 5 figures.  

Before I got pregnant with Jake I had been losing a lot of weight.  I had gone down from a size 24 to about a 16.  I was watching the scale like a hawk with the intention of riding Dan again when my weight got down to what I thought would be a safe weight for his aging back.  Mom and Dad noticed and encouraged me to get back up in the saddle even though I was a good 18 lbs more than I thought was fair to the old boy.   It felt amazing to be up on his back again.  But, he didn't think so.  He acted like a much younger horse, almost to the point of being uncontrollable.  This is a horse who would do his level best to keep his rider on his back if he sensed the rider was green or nervous or unsure in any way.  I told my dad that something wasn't right.  So, I got off.  You could see the relief on his sweet face.  I had hurt his back and he had acted up as the only way he knew to tell he to get the hell off.  He was hurt and pissed.  As soon as I was off he was ok and later walked over to me on his own and we made up.  

I don't think I have ever felt so small as a person before or since as I did when I hurt him.  I had known I shouldn't ride him but did anyway.  I think that has a lot to do with why the ache in my soul that not riding causes just isn't a motivating factor for me to lose the weight.  Maybe one of these days I will finally get down to a weight that I feel comfortable asking another creature to carry.  Dan just turned 26 this past New Year's Day.  So, I doubt if I will ever be able to get on his back again...

Dan, my mom, and dad the day we brought Dan home from his stay at New Bolton.  He had lost a few HUNDRED pounds while he was sick.  He had gained a little back before they sent him home.

Saying, "Hello" and "You again?" to Buttons (Cute as a Button).

With Dad up.  Dan was never a jumper but Dad used to put him over a few fences every once in a while just for shits and giggles (for both of them).

Just being the big pet that he is so good at being.


  1. What a wonderful story. I enjoyed that very much!
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great story, be grateful for supportive parents. If you ever travel to the sunny south, please stop by for a visit