On December 25, 2015, my beloved horse Dixie died. She was, I fear, that once in a lifetime horse. Almost five months later, I am still grieving her. I have grieved for her longer than I did my first marriage–of course, she was a much better partner, but that’s a “whole nother” story. 🙂
Since she died, I’ve bought and returned two horses and have tried to ride my daughter’s horse Sonny. Breanna’s away at college, and Sonny is a good trail horse; he’s just sour from not being ridden.
My history with Sonny is not that great. He threw me once when one of my dogs was relentlessly barking and nipping at him (dog found a new home). I got a concussion with that fall and to date, that fall goes down as the worst fall in my riding history. I did get back on him later, but he’s been a stubborn steed ever since – for me, not for my daughter.
The saving grace with Sonny is that he also has a history with Dixie. We’ve shared many trail rides, camping trips, parades, and beach rides together, so needless to say, he has a forever home here. However, I was convinced yesterday that he was to be a yard ornament, and that I had enjoyed my last ride. My confidence was gone; he wasn’t listening to a single command, seeking only to ride with other horses at his speed and in his direction, which can be pretty dangerous.
Sonny has wrecked my confidence by stubbornly refusing to move forward and by crow-hopping and spinning or side-passing me into trees and bushes if I insist that he move forward. As we were riding back to the trailer, I decided that I’d have rather loved and lost Dixie than to have never experienced such a partnership at all, but that sadly, my riding days ended on December 25, 2015 – about 30 years earlier than I had planned.
As soon as I made that decision, I ran into an old friend. She didn’t recognize me at first, probably because I wasn’t on Dixie. (That’s how we riding buddies are – we know whose horse belongs to whom–the riders, well, they’re not always as memorable. LOL) Anyway, I believe she sensed my distress and we spoke a bit about Dixie and how I’ve been unable to find my next partner. As we parted, she said, “Don’t stop looking, Carol. Do NOT stop looking.”
As I got into the truck I called Breanna and said I was contemplating selling all of the horse gear and buying a boat. She knows my heart and she knew how I was with Dixie. Now, before I give the impression that Dixie was perfect, let me explain. She was hard as hell to ride at a lope because she was blind in one eye and compensated by running a bit sideways. Breanna hated riding Dixie and many of my friends asked me how I rode her without my back hurting. You see, I had to compensate for her lope too. She would also become very stubborn if a log was on the trail and it was higher than she wanted to cross over. She also liked to go at her speed, which was often faster than I wanted to go. In addition, when I first got her, she nearly backed me off of South Mountain AND she just didn’t know how to carry a rider at a lope. As Breanna would say “We were a hot mess.” We had a lot of work to do, that was for certain, but we did it and bonded as a result.
Breanna reminded me of the times Dixie just “pissed you the hell off ,Mama” and of how I’d handle those situations. She also reminded me that Sonny hasn’t really been ridden to amount to much in four years. Finally, she reminded me that all under saddle work begins with effective ground work.
As soon as I got out of the truck after the Kings Mountain ride yesterday, Sonny and I commenced to working. He was reminded of the power of lungeing, the speed at which he should back up, the distance he needed to stay from me while being led. I then let him rest. This morning, we repeated the same routine and I took him for a ride in the hay fields and woods behind my house. He’s never been really good at these short rides – the barn and all of its feed is just too close – but he did it today. He needed some extra pushing, but did fine…until we got back home. I wanted him to turn from the yard and go back into the hay field, circle around two hay bales and then call it a day. (Five minutes, tops.) That gelding started bucking (small bucks, but consistent) and was determined to rid himself of his rider. His rider, however, was not to be disrespected. Not this time.
When he quit his foolishness, I rode him back to the trailer, dismounted and shocked the hell out of him. Rather than letting him go, I lunged him, backed him up, did some lateral work with him and then got right back on him. We rode exactly where I wanted to go the first time plus about 15 more minutes. This time there was no more bucking, no spinning, and only a slight attempt at walking sideways. For the first time since Dixie died, I felt almost like myself in the saddle again.
I can’t bring my Dixie girl back, but today I realized that neither can I stop riding. Somehow, and perhaps it’s from my Rabon side, but horses are in my blood. I decided to take Breanna’s advice. She said, “Mama, use this time when you don’t have your partner to work on your horsmanship. Work Sonny on the ground and earn his respect; work him under saddle and remember that Dixie was the horse she was because of how you worked with her. Have a few successful solo rides and then try to ride with a friend or a small group.” She reminded me that Dixie’s death was sudden and unexpected and that I may never stop grieving her…and that’s okay. What’s not okay is to give up riding just because my confidence is not what it was with Dixie.
After our conversation, I remembered that Dixie could be stubborn as hell with some of my daughters’ friends and boyfriends through the years, but yet never once refused to go forward when I was on her. Finally, Breanna helped me realize that while Dixie and I were a wonderful pair, she was the horse she was because I commanded her respect by working with her.
So, Sonny knows what to do. He’s been trained using natural horsmanship techniques, and he’s old enough to realize when he’s just not going to get his way. My plan is to use him to help me work on me. Who knows, he may become my next partner, or he will make me a great partner for my next horse. Either way, I am thankful that I have not yet seen my last ride.