Rebel Without a Cause, or My First Horse

24 Jan

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Katie is busy eating hay this morning, leaving me to to reminisce about another red-coated equine.

When I was 14, I got my own horse after begging for one since I was five.  I had been riding other people’s horses and my horse obsession was not going away.  My parents weren’t happy about it, but they finally gave in.  The agreement was that I had to pay for everything for my horse.

In our price range, which I believe was around $100, we found everything from untrained Arabian stallions to well-trained horses that happened to be 13 hands tall (pony size) and I was not short.  I ended up with a 15.2 hand strawberry roan half Arab, complete with a white blaze and four white socks.  We found him through an ad in the paper, but when we got there, he was owned by my former neighbors who had moved away years before.

“What?” Janice asked, never being a one to suppress an opinion, “your dad is letting you get a HORSE?”

“He’s making me keep it across the street,” I said, “and I have to pay for everything and do all the work.”

My dad was an outspoken and notorious opponent of horses.  He had farmed with horses as a child and young man, and had endless stories of them running off and stepping on his feet.  And eating a lot.  My dad ruled our farm.  No horses were allowed.  I couldn’t even ride my horse around his/our farm.

My new horse, Rebel, had been born across the street from us at the very property he was destined to return to.  I remembered him vaguely.  I was much younger when the neighbors had moved away.  I mostly remember their evil black Shetland pony that bit people and whom we were told never attempt to ride because he bucked kids off.

Rebel got his beautiful strawberry roan coloring, complete with flaxen mane and tail from his Tennessee Walker mother.  He also got some very unusual gaits that tanked my Western riding classes in 4-H.  When he did hold a canter, with his front legs and his back legs moving in the same direction at the same time, we did well.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t very often.   His “tranter” (trot-canter hybrid gait) was so rough that I might as well have been riding a jackhammer.

Rebel also had a problem tying.  He pulled back.  He was not a fan of horse trailers.  He was very attached to his buddies and didn’t want to move if you tried to ride him alone.  He also walked very fast, since he was part Tennessee Walker (the “Walker” part means “walks faster than all other horses on the trail”).  This would not have been a problem if Rebel wasn’t scared to go in front.  He would refuse to move if asked to go first.  So he had to follow the Appaloosas and Quarter horses in our neighborhood.  If I spaced out and enjoyed the trail, he would be up on another horse’s butt, literally, because he walked so fast.  This sometimes resulted in a swift kick to his tank-like chest, which he never seemed to really notice and would do the same thing again.  He wasn’t a particularly sensitive horse.

The other option was to stop every quarter mile and wait until the other horses were specks on the horizon and let Rebel start walking until he caught up, then stop again, and do it all over.  It was more like trail sitting than trail riding.

When I was 19 and headed to college, after paying every cent I earned over the years for Rebel’s board, vet care (he was always injuring himself), farrier, and second-hand tack, I had a choice: go to college or keep Rebel.  I had dreamed my entire life of leaving my small town area and becoming an artist, novelist, interior decorator, vet, geologist, meteorologist, physicist, librarian or museum curator so with sadness I put Rebel up for sale.  I sold him to a middle-aged lady, someone like I am now, who wanted a trail horse.  She hadn’t had horses since she was a teen, and was fulfilling her dream.  She fell in love with Rebel.

I went off to college,  Rebel still filling my dreams.  In spite of his issues, I loved him and I rode most every day throughout my teen years.  I still dream of him.  The memory of his expenses was so intimidating to a not-particularly-prosperous adult that I stayed away from horses.  I moved on, putting horses away with my childhood things.  I donated all my horse show trophies and ribbons, the boxes of horse magazines, horse books.  I kept one Breyer horse model and a few pictures.  I wanted to forget.

But I think horse people are born this way.  You’re never really done with horses, and one day you’ll go back.  I did eventually, with many adventures in between.

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