The Horse

Something incredible happened at the beginning of November.

See, I’ve had this dream since I was a little girl. A lot of little girls have this dream. Some grow out of it, some don’t. For some it comes true, for some it never does.

It came true for me.

If you ask any girl between the ages of five and twelve if they love horses, my guess is that at least half of them will say yes. Probably at least half of those that say yes have asked for a horse for Christmas or their birthday.

I was a fairly practical child, so I never asked for a horse. Oh, but I wanted one. Desperately.

Instead, my parents started me in riding lessons when I was eleven. I don’t know if they thought about how far this path would take me. Fifteen years old, and I screwed up my courage to ask my trainer if I could lease the horse I had been taking lessons on for the past month.

He talked to her owners and they said yes. I was thrilled.

Thus began many years with this horse. When I first started leasing her, she’d greet me with pinned ears and an angry stare as I tried to put her halter on. I didn’t like her that much, but hey, sometimes horse crazy girls can’t be picky. Then after a year or so of much frustration and lots of time spent together, we became friends.

Slowly, I learned how to ride her well. Slowly, she learned how to behave under saddle.

Of course, every time I took her to 4-H shows, she became a crazy horse again. It took four years for us to win first place at a show, but from where we started, there had been nowhere to go but up. (It happened to be the last show, because I was aging out of 4-H. Otherwise we’d have kept winning.)

Now I’m almost three years out of college. I never imagined that I would spend almost a decade leasing this horse, but I’m so glad I have.

But all things come to an end, even leases. I’d always worried about this. What if her owners sell her and I don’t have enough money to buy her? I’m not kidding, I’ve had a few nightmares about this possibility.

Now, though, the timing (and the finances) was right. My trainer came up to me one day while I was putting away some new barn supplies and said, “Can I talk to you?” As soon as he told me her owners were selling her, I said, “I’ll take her.”

So. Meet Vannie. You may have met her before, but everything is different now.

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Now, she’s my horse. Not the horse I lease, not the horse I love but don’t own.

She’s my horse.

She’s nothing less and nothing more than a dream come true, because at heart, I’m still that horse crazy girl who had horse wallpaper on her bedroom walls for most of her teenage years.

I am so blessed to own a horse. I can’t thank God enough for this incredible gift.

The day I signed the bill of sale, I went into Vannie’s stall to bring her out to ride. She promptly pinned her ears and bit me. My mom said later, “Well, I guess she knows you can’t get rid of her now. You’re stuck with her.”

Never change, Vannie.

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A Love Letter

Vannie,

Today isn’t Valentine’s Day, but you don’t know the date anyway, so I’m writing you a love letter today.

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I have a confession: When I first asked if you were available to lease, I didn’t care about you. You were a horse, and that was good enough for me. I didn’t know your quirks or preferences and I definitely didn’t know the journey we’d take together. Mr. Ed’s barn is great, we both know that, but there is a definite shortage of horses for young 4-H riders to show. So when you showed up and I rode you a few times, I thought, Hey, here’s a horse. I wonder if I could lease her and show her at the 4-H shows?

Lo and behold, your owners said yes, and in February, 2008, my mom and I signed the paperwork.

It’s been six years this month, and these have been the best six years of my life because you were there. Can you believe it’s been that long?

Back in the days of long ago...

Back in the days of long ago…

We weren’t friends at the beginning. Mr. Ed warned me, but I didn’t realize how much time and effort and frustration would go into your training. I don’t think he realized how much of a challenge you would be, either.

That first year, I’d get to the barn, go into your stall, and you would turn your back and pin your ears. You didn’t want to come out and work, and you didn’t like me because I made you do hard things and wouldn’t let you get away with bad behavior.  You were not happy that I was now riding you two to three times a week, and you let me know. I had never seen such a bad mannered horse, but I was not going to let you drive me away. I wanted a horse, and you were going to have to deal with it.

IMG_1158You’ve scared off a lot of people with your antics. You threaten to bite and kick and you glare at anyone who walks by (including me). But you don’t scare me. You never really have.

That first year, we showed walk-trot at the 4-H shows, and we won some second and third place ribbons. That sounds impressive until I mention that there were 100_0104only two or three riders in each class including us.

I remember the last show that year, after it had rained all morning. There were only two of us in the class, and you hate mud and puddles, so you were trying to jump over most of the arena. I didn’t know how to put my hair into a horse show bun, so all the bobby pins fell out and my ponytail trailed down my back. The other rider’s horse didn’t like the mud either, so we just looked at each other and laughed. What else could we do? We got second place in that class.

100_0108That first year was a rough year, in both shows and barn time. Believe me, there were great moments, but overall, it was an uphill battle.

Then another horse came up for lease, and I had the chance to break my lease on you and ride him instead. I chose you. Granted, I still didn’t know how long the journey would be, but I had an idea of how difficult you are, and I still chose you.

In the spring, one year into the journey, Mr. Ed and I started teaching you how to canter under saddle. That was an experience I will never forget. Going around on that lead line until I was dizzy, you and I both learning the cues and the feeling of the gait done right–you liked moving fast, but you didn’t like being controlled while going fast.

Classic Vannie. "But I don't want to!"

Classic Vannie. “But I don’t want to!”

That second year of shows was a bad one. You’d only been cantering for four months or so, and with your abysmal learning speed, it might as well have been two weeks. We almost ran over the judge, nearly crashed into other horses more than once, and got excused from at least one class. Other riders looked at us from their elegant, ribbon winning, push button horses and shook their heads. I cried more than once that year. Back to the barn we went, for more training.

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That very first spring.

But we were friends now, and that made all the difference. Otherwise I might have given up on you.

After another year of hard work, the shows came around again. I had just graduated from high school and was on top of the world. We didn’t win any ribbons for the first shows, but for the last show, everything changed. Mr. Ed couldn’t go to that show, so Dad and I packed everything up, loaded you ourselves, and managed to get through the show without any huge problems. anna pics 268

We won sixth place in huntseat equitation.

It was one of the greatest moments of my life until then, equal to receiving my diploma. Okay, so equitation is judged mostly on the rider’s ability, not the horse’s performance, but they won’t look at the rider if the horse is acting up, so that was awesome. Then we spent forty minutes trying to get you in the trailer to go home, because you had to make something difficult.

He's the greatest horse show dad.

He’s such a great horse show dad.

But my last year in 4-H, the summer after my sophomore year of college, something great happened.

We didn’t win any ribbons until the last show, but that last show is one of the best days of my life. It was a double judged show, with two judges for each class so that riders can get enough points to go to the 4-H state show. For riders like me, that just means more chances to win those elusive ribbons.

We won fourth and fifth in saddleseat equitation. Saddleseat is not our better

She knows she did well. :)

She knows she did well. :)

discipline, so that was a big surprise.

Then we won fourth and first in huntseat equitation. And sixth in huntseat pleasure.

It was indescribable. You’d been causing problems going into the arena, and as always, you thought we were racing the other horses when the announcer asked for a canter. But that day, one of the judges liked fast horses, and we won. Just placing in pleasure is a miracle, because that class primarily judges the horse, not the rider.

So fast.

So fast.

It took a long time to earn that blue ribbon. By that point, it was a fabulous

Mr. Ed trained us well.

Mr. Ed trained us well.

bonus, but the real joy that day was proving to myself and everyone else that you could do it. I already knew you were worth the effort, but now everyone else knew, too.

Of course, even if you hadn’t cooperated to win ribbons I’d still love you. Besides, who else would put up with you?

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You PMS worse than most women I know. You kicked me on my sixteenth birthday and again the day before that ultimate show. You glare and threaten to bite me all the time, especially when I’m tightening the girth. You had a rearing problem for two years. You hate puddles and baths and fly spray and are so strong willed, sometimes it’s a battle just to get you to do what you know, let alone something new.

You get annoyed when I brush out your mane and tail, and you despise hoof black.  Your bad attitude has mostly diminished into endless amounts of sass,

So much personality.

So much personality.

but sometimes I just want you to be good and you refuse. You’ve embarrassed me in front of so many people, and you’ve almost run over nearly as many. Your mood swings rival those of a teenager, even though you are almost twelve, a mature age for a horse.

You can’t stand still in the crossties before I ride you, you can’t stand still when I mount, and you hate it when I brush the right side of your belly. Speed is king with you, and you despise being behind anyone on trail rides. You’re a bully–you beat up the other horses in your paddock. You’re too curious for your own good. Curiosity killed the cat, Vannie.

But.

You love me. And I love you.

100_0550I know you love me because you breathe into my face and I feel peace wash over me. I breathe back and you stay still, listening. I’m the only one you trust enough to rest your head atop mine for minutes on end. I can rest my forehead against yours when no one else is around and we stay that way in an endless moment, relaxing in each other’s company.

You let me wrap my arms around you and you blow green slobber down my back. You lick my hands (I know you’re after the salt) and you stick your velvet muzzle in my face, investigating with your soft lips to make sure that I’m your human. You lip at my hair, and you nibble on my sweatshirt when I bend over to pick your hooves.

You’re the reason I’ve made it through college without losing my sanity. You

Pictures are hard without someone else to hold the camera.

Pictures are hard without someone else to hold the camera.

push all my buttons and you love me unconditionally. You keep me balanced in life and you bring me peace. I go to the barn after a bad day and you make it a thousand times better. Even if we have a bad ride, I don’t leave the barn upset. I spent time with you, and that’s what matters.

You’ve taught me more than I ever dreamed possible. You’re the reason I’m the rider I am today. Because of you, I’ve learned how to train cantankerous horses and ride through antics I never expected. Because of you, I learned persistance and how to never give up.

I know you inside and out, Vannie. I know all of your moods, your body language, your attitude shifts. I know when you are about to snap at someone and when you want to snuggle with me. I’ve memorized the way you feel as I ride, what every muscle movement means and every ear twitch indicates. I know that you’re way too smart for your own good, but that intelligence is what makes you so quirky and interesting.

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She wants to be a rider, too.

You like my dad and you let Emma ride you. You tend to dislike my friends on first meeting, but you like them well enough later. Although Elizabeth is going to have to come hang out without helping me give you a bath, because otherwise you’ll never forgive her.

My dad, the groom.

My dad, the groom.

You had an injury this summer, some weird skin infection that made your leg swell. I couldn’t ride for about a month and a half. But I still came to see you, because we need each other and I love you too much to leave you alone while you healed.

Your registered name is Atta Lane Pavanna (I know, I don’t know where that came from either), but Vannie suits you far better, because it’s just the right combination of quirkiness and mystery. You also think you’re funny, so there’s that.

My family cheers me on.

My family cheers us on.

God created me with a equine-shaped hole in my heart, and at the right moment, He brought us together. I still don’t own you. I only lease you. But I know that He will give us as many years together as is right for us. Six have flown by. Here’s to many, many more, baby girl.

Love, Sarah

IMG_3508Best friends.

Best friends.