I have been riding horses on and off for a little over fifteen years. As a child I always dreamed of having a horse. What little girl didn't I guess? Other than pony rides and the occasional trail ride at a State Park though, most of my aspirations about horses were all in my head.
When I turned 30 I decided that I had waited long enough and no matter what my finances were (and believe me they were not great at the time) I would put money aside for riding lessons. At least that way I would learn to do something I had always dreamed of - know something of horses, know how to ride. I figured I would never be able to actually have a horse, so lessons would have to do.
I first took lessons at a Hunter/Jumper barn, which was not the best experience for a beginner rider with no interest in showing. But, I learned some things and it was my first introduction to the "horse world" in general. After the barn moved locations and became almost an hour-long drive away, I was without my horse fix for a time but then I started trail riding and doing some natural horsemanship work with an acquaintance through the clinic that I was working in at the time. For about a year and a half I worked with her two horses plus another older horse she boarded and we knocked around the Pennsylvania mountains teaching (and learning from) our equine pals. She then sold her house (and her horses with it) and I found myself again searching for a way to have horses in my life.
On a bitter cold January night in 2003 I was to have my first riding lesson at another local (closer to home) barn. It was 8 degrees. Interestingly enough just about the same temperature it is as I type this in 2014. I made my way to the facility and was greeted by the instructor, who suggested that if it was OK with me we would just talk about my goals and meet the horses that evening due to the bitter cold. I was fine with that! LOL. So, off we went down the barn aisle and she named them one by one until we came to the stall of the most handsome Palomino Paint horse I had ever seen. He had blue eyes and his name was The Last Apache, or Patch for short. At that very moment I knew this horse would be special to me. I didn't know how but of all the horses I met that night I clearly remember whispering like a little girl ~ now, that is an awesome horse.
Eventually, I was lucky enough to lease Patch and for over a year we saw each other at least every other day. He was older and had some medical issues so his work was all on the flat and we had to keep his cantering to a nice, light minimum, which was hard to convince him of because he still loved to canter! Patch not only taught me everything I know about a good horse but everything I know about how a good horse's heart can be limitless and pure. It is unfortunate as with most animals so precious that they seem to be taken from us well before we are able to conceive of life without them and so it was with Patch. When he died I was devastated as if he were my own. I still cannot imagine had he lived all the love that my life would have known. Surely my heart could not have held so much pure goodness.
I went on to lease other horses. A mare with a reputation for being the bitch of the barn. She was my first lease after Apache and I was so ill prepared for how different horses can be from each other that I drove home from the barn in tears many times at the beginning of our relationship. But, eventually we settled into some trust and good will. I determined what she needed from me and she was then willing to give me what I needed from her. Up to the day that I moved on from this particular barn and despite leasing other horses there, I would still sometimes get her out of her stall and groom her, talk to her, clean her feet. I referred to her as "my Big Girl" and she generally greeted me with warmth even while snarling at others who crossed her path.
I leased a huge 17 hand high bay gelding who was by far the most expensive, graceful, beautiful horse I will ever have the privilege of riding. He was also half crazy. LOL. Horses have mental issues just like we do. Some of them never really recover from things like harsh training and forced jumping. Sometimes it is hard for them to trust and they end up reacting to things that are no longer the case. When I began leasing him he was for sale and I got to be with him for almost a year. It was a real learning experience for me not only because he was so regal and a "real" show horse but also because his mind was somewhat broken and since I was a novice and so careful as to not hurt him further I actually was able to get into his heart. I stood at the window and bawled like a big baby the day he left. I only hope that someone was patient with him for that is all he was able to relate to.
I then leased my big goober buddy Max for several years. Max was ridden strictly Western for the first couple years of his work, but wasn't really taught anything other than the basics. We were able to polish his Western skills and teach him English cues too. I did some awesome things with Max and the long term lease with the same horse gave me a chance to really work on specific skills, horse knowledge (which you never stop learning), to trouble shoot and just get that extended time in the saddle that a person needs to further their relationship with horses.
I recently reached a point where, in my mind and heart, I am ready for my own horse. I have taken much, much longer than many people to get to this point. Part of that is because for a long while my circumstances allowed me to be involved in leasing long term and it worked well. But, at the same time, since I have leased horses for so many years I have more than once found myself frustrated by schedule conflicts (leased horses are often lesson horses as well) and even disagreements on care and/or handling. But, more than anything, what I want in my relationship with a horse has changed. I have been arena bound for years and my true love is trail riding and horse games. I totally appreciate the skills I have learned in the ring and will still use them and do some work on the flat I'm sure, but to me, riding is more of a leisurely activity done for fun and the love of it and the structure of an arena is not where I am at this point in my life.
So, I am in search of a horse. I'm calling it The Next Apache for now because I know in my heart that the kind of relationship I was afforded with that first horse is the relationship that I am looking for. This will not be a horse that I acquire, train and sell. This will be a horse that I bond with, teach, learn from, love, care for and someday put to rest after a hopefully long and full life together. The horse I am looking for is special. It doesn't have to be the perfect horse. But, it has to be the right horse for me. This blog is dedicated to that horse, wherever he or she may be.
Although I am horse searching and working that search diligently I am reminding myself in times of frustration (due to weather, lack of prospects, weird owners, other buyers) that beyond being an active part of my search for a forever companion I must trust in the Universe and that when the time is right, that horse will find me. And when I see him (or her) I will know, just like I did that frigid night one January long ago, on some level I will know, this horse....
In Loving Memory
...of the first horse to hold my heart