Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Well, Howdy!

I'm Jeanne. I have two horses: Wildflower, an 11-year-old bay mare, and Cheerios, a 6-year-old sorrel gelding. My experience with them is rather new; I only became a horse-owner two years and one month ago. But it was something I'd always dreamed of doing, and it's been an interesting two years. I spose I ought to tell you how it all started, then get right into the blog. So bear with...

It's Grandpa's Fault

My father's father is the primary reason for my interest in all things equine. Walter S. Berry was a college student in the early 1900's when he contracted TB. Back then, wasn't much they could do about it other than prescribe fresh air, sunshine, and physical fitness; so my Granddad left school for a while, packed up, headed out West and found work as a stage coach driver for starters. Didn't stick with that too long after he saw what the daily manipulation of a handful of reins did to your fingers (it mangled them). He did plenty of wrangling, and became an honest-to-gosh cowboy, in New Mexico, before it had even achieved statehood. He won his spurs riding a bucking bronco--I'd guess he was pretty good!

Well, eventually he got well, and decided it was time to head back to school. Along the way he met my grandmother (Irma), they married and moved to Wyoming to homestead a ranch. They gave it five years before two factors made them quit it and move to Cincinnati and get "real" jobs: 1) there was no money in it; and 2) Grandma just had a baby, my uncle Carl. They settled in to academic careers and produced another son, my father, Stewart. When they moved East to Connecticut while my Dad was still a baby, my grandfather indulged in his lifelong passion for horses and raised a handful of Arabians and Kentucky Saddlebreds. Odd combination, yes, but that was what Grandpa liked.

So my Dad and his brother grew up on the backs of two gentle, kid-friendly Arabian ponies, Slipper and Snip, and my Dad became an expert horseman with a love of Arabians as well. Sadly, times got tough when Dad was a teenager, and one day Grandpa up and sold all the horses and the farm and they all moved back to Cincinnati. My Dad was heartbroken; he never quite got over losing his beloved Slipper, and never had another horse again.

How then, did I acquire horse-fever? Maybe it's just in my blood. Although I grew up in the suburbs, I started begging Dad to buy a farm and buy me a horse from about age 6 on. The most he would agree to was to take me on the occasional trail ride, or up the road from my other Grandma's house to the farm where they raised harness horses (some wonderful man hitched up his training buggy to a horse and gave an ecstatic youngster a ride--I wanted to flyyyyyyy!), but he never would buy me a horse. I didn't even realize until a few years ago (in my thirties) that horses were available to LEASE!!! All this time, and I could have been renting a horse and taking lessons.

Every time we flew out to Tucson to visit my Dad's parents, I would grill Grandpa for horse stories. He gladly indulged me; I think he found it perplexing that I would want to listen to a grouchy old man spout off about his horse glory days. I was all ears. Hung on every word. Pored over his old copies of Arabian Horse World and Western Horseman until they were 'bout worn out. Learned all about how to read pedigrees; what every piece of tack was called and what it did; being somewhat artistic, this translated to sketching and doodling horses day in and day out in all my notebooks until my teachers were driven to distraction. Oh, I was an "A" student; but when I got bored waiting for everyone to catch up, I'd daydream about horses. Horses, horses, horses.

When I was in high school, my nieces, Kim and Renee (2.5 and 5 years younger than I), were blessed with horses of their very own. The family had moved to an old farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania and their father had the notion to become a gentleman farmer. I won't go into why that is such an eye-rolling notion; the importance here is that they GOT exactly what I'd always wanted. I was unbelieveably jealous for a long time! They had horses in their backyard! They could ride any time they wanted for FREE, anywhere, for as long as they wanted!!! ARRRRGH! No paying $15 for an hour nose-to-tail and never going much above a walk--no, Kim and Renee could gallop across fields and over hills to their heart's content. It tore me up. Until I realized on my first post-horse-acquisition visit that they had to get up at the crack of dawn EVERY morning to clean stalls, feed and water them, turn them out, do other farm chores before they could even eat breakfast. Oh. OK, maybe they aren't that lucky... I was seriously into my teenage sleep-all-day phase and the idea of arising before noon was unbearable, even for horses.

But because my summers were free, Mom and Dad gladly dumped me off and left me there for a good long visit, several weeks every summer. Naturally, all I wanted to do besides sleep and suntan and swim was to ride. So ride we did. I had my share of wild experiences then, too. Eventually Kim and Renee grew up and went to college and the horses were redistributed to other homes. I had graduated to my wild rock star phase and was more interested in guitars and big hair than horses and manure; my other passion is music, and I guess my parents thought a guitar was a good substitute for a horse. They were more than willing to buy me guitars instead of horses, probably because you don't have to feed or shovel out the guitar.

My game plan was: become a rich and famous rock star, then retire a multi-millionaire and raise horses for the rest of my life. I'm still waiting for the rock star thing to take effect. Well, to touch on that subject, I paid my dues in cover and original bands for many years, lived in Hollywood for a little over a year and ran right back home because it's too darned expensive to survive out there without compromising your morals, which I wasn't willing to do. So I wound up in college, pursued a degree in graphic design, and got trapped on the wheel for a few years. I did the usual: buy a house, settle in, adjust to living according to society's standards. But I was bored. Absolutely bored silly. Work all day, come home, feed the cats, watch tv, do household chores. Fall asleep, wake up, do it all again. YAWWWWWN.

Restless, bored, in need of direction, I became inspired to try an experiment outlined in a magazine: pick a day, say Sunday, and every Sunday for four weeks, ask yourself "if I could do any five things today, money etc being no object, what would they be?" Then off the top of your head, write down the first five things that come to mind, no matter how silly. At the end of the month, compare the lists and see how many times certain themes come up. Those are the things you REALLY want to do. So I tried it. I noticed that gardening came up about three times, music about the same, but was blown away to find horseback riding every single time! Well. I didn't have a horse, so that was moot, but intriguing.

One fine summer day, I looked outside wistfully and said to myself, "I've GOT to ride a horse today." So I got out the phone book, called around until I found a stable that had trail rides, and went up to go for a ride. It was so much fun I went back the next day. It became an addiction. Every weekend I was up there riding. Some days I'd ride two or three times; the owners let me help with turn out and grooming in exchange for a few rides. Then I started taking lessons, until the weather got bad in November. I was in a tack store daydreaming about saddles when I saw a flyer advertising team roping practice; surprise--the facility was about 10 minutes from my house! I spent the winter months watching team roping and taking lessons indoors. I envied the cowboys, how they melded into their horses no matter what move the horse made. It was poetic. I'd also become a rodeo fan, and seeing these guys in action was enthralling.

Fast-forward to January, 2001
I figured the horse obsession was real because it outlasted the typical 6-week phase with me--it was January and it had been over 6 months now since my first ride in years. I wanted a horse in the worst way. I had been shopping for months, only coming across misfits and half-broke mounts that were unsuitable for a green rider. Plus I didn't want some ancient bag of bones that might drop dead in a year or two--I was determined to have a young, healthy horse I could grow up with. OK, I said I was green! In the process I fearlessly jumped on everything from a 5-year-old mustang who hadn't been ridden in a year to a 2-year-old who barely could stand being saddled. Somehow I survived. But the Right Horse hadn't come along yet. My Dad was steering me toward Arabians, but I wanted a quarter horse. Nothing against Arabs, they are beautiful delicate friendly creatures, but I wanted the American Cowboy horse.

Pardon the interruption--dinner is served. I shall return...

OK, I'm back. Man, this is a long blog! I promise to be more concise in the future; consider this my autobiographical background. :-)

The cows were active, and all the cowboys in attendance that night were concentrating on their runs. I was by myself outside the arena, watching intently. The standard practice was to run as many cows as possible on one horse, and when that horse got sweaty, trade off for a fresh mount and leave the winded blob of dripping, steaming equine in the cross-ties or out in their trailer. I'd arrived in the middle of practice. Hadn't been there for more than about 15 minutes when I noticed--couldn't help but--the antsy sorrel horse in the cross-ties. He was eyeballing me, tossing his head energetically. He'd obviously been at it for awhile, judging by how the halter was sitting. He'd managed to get it completely twisted around on his head and he looked pathetic. I felt sorry for him; he looked lonely and a little scared and nobody was paying him any attention. So I walked up to him and introduced myself by extending my hand for him to sniff.

He accepted me and I righted his halter. I began talking to him and petting him softly and he calmed down right away. He was an awfully cute horse--sorrel, with a huge white blaze, almost piebald, and while his left eye was the normal horse brown, his right was blue. I was so green that it was a surprise to me to see a blue eye. I'd never heard of a blue-eyed horse! He seemed friendly. Bob, the trainer, came by after his run to collect the horse and put him in his stall. Bob was my riding instructor and found my fascination with roping quite amusing. He saw my interest in the horse and said "y'know, he's for sale". Well, duh. The practice was held weekly at a horse trader's barn--EVERYTHING there had a price on its head. I nearly fell over when he told me the price--$3500. Well, he's a trained roping horse. He has a pedigree. Bob didn't know his name, so he dug out the papers. "Docalynx Cheerios". You're kidding... like the cereal? He was only four--and... a PAINT horse? Eh, scuse me, but I don't seem to see any color patches? Apparently there is such a thing as a "solid paint". They call those breeding stock.

I was discussing his heritage with Bob and scratching him absentmindedly (Cheerios, not Bob) when I felt pressure on my stomach. I looked down to see Cheerios' nose pressed firmly into my belly and he was blowing softly at me. My jaw dropped. I said "Is that a good sign?" Bob said it was a very good sign. My heart melted. That was it. I knew I was buying THIS horse.

Three weeks of stalling the trader (to keep him from selling Cheerios), test rides, and begging my Dad finally paid off. On February 2nd, I went to an Arabian farm with my Dad to appease his insistance that an Arab was better suited for me. The woman ushered us into an indoor arena, opened the gates and a herd of 30 Arabians whooshed in and swarmed around us. She thought it was wonderful; I was pressed flat against a wall praying that none of them decided to get too aggressive with my Dad, who is up there in age and has had a hip replacement that leaves him not completely trustworthy balance-wise. The lady snagged a mare that hadn't been ridden in a year, saddled her up and stuck me on her. She was a nice horse but the way she moved unsettled me. Too quick! A little too responsive. So energetic. Yes, she had a gait that was like floating on air; but the energy was too keyed up for me. It made my decision easy. Although Cheerios' trot was like a pogo-stick crossed with a jackhammer, he was calmer, quieter and less nervewracking. Plus I was already in love with him.

On February 5th, we brought Cheerios home to the boarding barn run conveniently by the trader. It is situated at the edge of a huge state park and full of bridle trails, and almost every one of the maximum 40 horses is owned by a pleasure trail rider. The fun was finally beginning!

Little did I know...

A little over a year from initially purchasing Cheerios, I finally committed to purchasing the Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship Level One kit. Tune in tomorrow for Part II of my autobiographical background, aka "Quiet Horse? What Quiet Horse?"

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