Mouse was my first horse (short for Anonymous – probably because no one wanted to admit knowledge of this horse’s history). I bought him at the age of ten with paper route money and a generous birthday check from my parents. We didn’t engage a trainer or instructor to help us make the buy decision. He was the first we looked at and I fell in love immediately. Did I mention he was black (OK – a really dark bay, but to a kid at the time enamored with The Black Stallion, black was it).
Neither of my parents were riders, but they had watched and listened during my five years of lessons and served as the eyes on the ground in support of the purchase. It took some doing to find a stable that would take on a five-year-old kid (insurance required a minimum age of six for instructional coverage), but they were looking to shut me up and figured an eight-week lesson program would end my horse craze. They were wrong
Anyway, I don’t recall how we found Mouse, but he was housed at a very impressive looking facility and handily displayed (and drugged) for under saddle work that I watched, and then experienced aboard. I was in a total state of bliss as I expertly maneuvered this beautiful steed through instructions provided by the seller. Did I mention he was black?
Childhood horses remembered
Ultimately, I was banned from Pony Club games, and when that didn’t work, forbidden from riding Mouse at the facility where he was boarded (across the street from the primary Pony Club riding spot). With huge objections lodged and arguments lost, I finally agreed to let go of the love of my life with the promise of a more suitable mount replacement. We donated him to a very prestigious riding school (hehehheh).
Still, Mouse is one of my favorite horses ever. I trusted him to take care of me – and he did. He’d run off during our conditioning training mile loops with Pony Club parents thinking a mere 150 pound obstacle waiving arms in his path would slow him down. He would ultimately tire. Mouse got crazy at times, but so did I. He’d dump me occasionally when his mind went somewhere into outer space, but never meant to hurt me.
We replaced Mouse with Bittersweet, a wonderful chestnut pony that had a heart of gold, an outstanding foundation and tons of miles as an able competitor. I loved her too, keeping her for way more years than I should have once outgrown. My excuse was my sister needed a pony. My sister had no interest in riding. Last I heard, Bittersweet was field hunting well into her 30s and had been passed from one delighted Pony Clubber to another over the years. It was fun being able to participate in so many activities not possible with Mouse, but his character was indelibly etched in my mind with the fondest memories calling for him often.
Roscommon (yes – he really came with that name – very fitting) had a stride shorter than mine, but he could jump. He was a stocky bay mutt that could get very unruly in flat classes to the point of being excused. I discovered the joys of eventing with this childhood mount and had a blast with a horse that was likely to go clean cross country and stadium if we only managed to get through the dressage phase without being eliminated.
As kids, we had access to many hundreds of acres to disappear into for rides that often lasted the whole day. About 80 acres were owned by the parents of my riding companions. The rest by farmers who were happy to let us enjoy the land provided we stayed off their crops. This was before the days of litigation fears that tend to prompt a necessary no trespassing policy by all now. One of my favorite activities was swimming. Ross couldn’t swim. But, he’d happily go into the water way over his head when asked. We’d all laugh as he’d touch bottom then launch himself to the surface in a rearing motion – each stride across our swim spots. I learned to remove my saddle before taking Ross in the water.
My last childhood horse was a lovely Thoroughbred mare that had spent many years as seasoned winning show competitor at high levels. I don’t remember much about her except she seemed to be lame most of the time and her nice demeanor was the extent of her personality.
Reaching the hard horse
Over the years since, I’ve worked with thousands of horses – probably tens of thousands if you include racetrack mounts. It’s the difficult ones I remember most fondly. There’s something about that delightful moment when a horse transforms from a confused, dangerous or resistant combatant into a grateful peer. That awakening when he decides you’re a friend to be trusted, appreciated and part of a team is incredible. It’s an amazing experience to be a part of this sudden connection that completely changes you interactions from that day forward. These are the horses that will give you more than you ever imagined. Not just in keeping you safe and through performance benchmarks – but with the memories of their quirky and comical character.
Do you have a favorite horse memory? Please share in the comments below.