This is About Horses

(if you hate horses, skip it!)

Today’s Featured Pet of the Day is Bella.

Bella is my horse. My family could never afford riding lessons when I was a kid, but once a year they drove four hours so I could take a trail ride (I would be unable to sleep for nights before this, I was so excited.) Instead, I had model horses and allllll the books (Black Stallion completist, Saddle Club completist, that one Babysitters Club where Mallory realizes horses are actually scary, etc.)

When my then-boyfriend and I moved out to Utah, I immediately looked up riding lessons. In an act of divine intervention, I found Aurora. Aurora is the toughest person in the world, and I am a soft squishy person, and she was perfect for me. I learned to ride largely on her lesson horse, Misty, who was an angel on this earth. Misty would just stop if she thought you were about to fall off, and if you weren’t balanced properly she would refuse to move further. Everyone should learn on a Misty.

When Steve proposed to me, he said “I know you’re not a diamonds person,” (HOW TIMES CHANGE) “so why don’t I give you a budget and you and Aurora can go horse shopping together.”

So we did. We flew to Las Vegas, we flew to Connecticut, we rode some real nutty mares, and eventually we flew to Colorado and met Bella (whose technical papered name, as an Appendix Quarter—half Thoroughbred, half Quarter Horse—is Oh Whata Girl OQH. She was three at the time. Her breeder is a bad breeder. I would name her but I don’t want to get sued. If you are thinking about buying a horse in Longmont, Colorado, please contact me. We’re pretty sure she doped Bella up a touch before letting us see her, and we are 100% confident that she did not disclose that Bella’s mom had died in childbirth, linked to her horrible genetic condition which she did, indeed, pass to Bella. “Bottle babies,” horses raised without moms, are notoriously snuggly and in your pocket, which I honestly adore, but you have to be really stern about personal space and them staying out of it.

Bella, well, was not a great first horse for an anxious rider, which was me. I have no regrets about the entire situation (Bella would have been put down within three years by any other owner/trainer combo, but Aurora and I were completely committed to giving her a happy, healthy, productive life, and keeping informed of whatever medical advancements could help us.)

Bella liked to spook and then bolt. At anything. I came off a fair amount. She was beautiful and talented and loving (she always came right back and nudged me if I fell off, because she was bolting to save both of us from the plastic bag.

For a time, we did AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) halter showmanship with her, AQHA being Aurora’s competitive background. Here is a helpful and hilarious thread about her experience of it:

Here are two bonus pictures from said event. (Which did not go well.)

Now, in the trailer coming back from Las Vegas, Aurora and I talked and were like “look, she’s never going to be able to really do Quarter horse events, she doesn’t want to put her head down, she wants to go forward, and I think we both need to step it up and learn dressage. Which we did.

Competing, however, is very stressful for both Bella and myself. (She loves being pretty and doing dressage, however.) She does not want to go to new places, she gets spooky, and then I get scared, and then she can feel my heartbeat coming through my vagina and through the saddle and gets REALLY nervous. After my first child, I kept riding, but the fear started to become a big problem. After my second, I had to stop. Bella almost ran directly into a semi in order to avoid a jogger, and I said “Aurora, you can have her on free lease, I’ll pay for training, but I can’t ride any more.” And that was that. Four years passed.

Then, the other other day, I told a story about a trainer Aurora and I have both worked with, and people found it very enjoyable:

And it gave me feelings, feelings I had not felt in a long time, especially after I asked people to send me photos of their horses, living and dead:

And then it just woke up something inside of me. I was ready to ride again. I had a 14 y/o mare I had been paying for and not riding in 4 years. I missed her. I was a different person now. I emailed Aurora and said “can I…can I come ride this week?” Aurora, bless her heart, had been carefully NOT texting me constantly asking me if I was ready to come back, so she was overjoyed. Of course I could.

So, on a Thursday, I drove an hour and 15 min both ways to ride Bella. Largely because of Twitter. And then I rode again yesterday. Now, part of this is that Bella has matured and been trained way way up, but I am riding better than I did when I quit (muscles-needing-to-rebuild notwithstanding.) The fear was gone. I knew it, Bella knew it, Aurora knew it. I used to get scared about canter transitions, and today I just took a textbook walk-to-canter transition. Outside rein to keep her on the wall, inside leg at girth, outside leg slides back to push her up into it.

We circled for what seemed like a glorious hour. I kept my head up. I loved it. I felt alive. It was a gift. I don’t know what changed in me. I know I’m stronger now, I know I’m less fearful in general, and some combination of this took away what had been my biggest barrier to being a good rider. It felt like magic.

I was this person again, just helplessly in love with my horse.

In conclusion, this is a photo of Bella ten seconds after spitting an inferior new kind of treat all over me.

I love you so much, it felt great to share my joy with you.