Horses have always been a status symbol. Even today, with cars as "beast of burden," the horse you ride says something about you. Whether its fair, nice or deserved isn't the point. It just is.
A friend and I were recently playing the always entertaining game of What If Money Was No Object. This while watching our daughters take a riding lesson. What kind of horse would we buy for our girls? My friend thought, without doubt, that she would purchase a finely bred, professionally trained, guaranteed-to-win-the-ribbons horse that riders of lesser animals love to hate. As I watched my daughter struggle to perfect the choppy lope of our rescued-mediocre-conformation-does-not-play-well-with-others little Chance I hesitated. Part of me enthusiastically agrees. Wouldn't it be nice to simply show up to play days and 4H fair and collect prizes? Sign me up for that. Horses, after all, are not created equal. Spend a few minutes with a highly talented, well-bred equine athlete and you suddenly realize the huge gap between the have and have nots when it comes to horse flesh. What do I want for my daughter? To have, of course.
At a time like this I can't help reflecting on my childhood and the Motley Crew of "blue collar" (okay, red neck) horses we amassed over time. The horses that, despite their flaws, ignited my passion and honed my skills as a horse woman. My parents didn't have the option of shopping on Dreamhorse.com, happily clicking the skills they were searching for in a mount for their young daughter. With three other siblings there were more important considerations--food, shelter, and clothing, for instance. Our criteria was simple--four-legged horse.
My first mount was a contrary Shetland of unknown origins (see, Ode to a Shetland Pony) who enjoyed scraping me off on trees, among other things. When I survived Sally, I graduated to the neighbors green broke Arabian gelding who had sat in a pasture for two years after being broke to saddle. Oh goody. I must have been about ten when Sunny came to live with us. My first ride on him is made especially vivid because of the stomach turning mix of abject fear and total excitement that marinated my insides as I perched on his prancing back. Equally vivid is the memory of watching my father--a man with no affinity for horseback riding--attempting to break Sunny of his habit of bolting not long afterward. Good times.
After a stint at "the trainers," lessons, and a year of bonding, Sunny turned into my very best friend. We went on to show at local fun shows and 4H, eventually qualifying for the state fair team two years in a row. You'd have thought I made the Olympics. Looking back, I can see that Sunny wasn't really all that special. He was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill kind of guy whose greatest accomplishment was helping a little girl grow up.
Other members of our colorful crew in those days included these gems--Tigerbell and Alla. Tigerbell was a 25-year-old half Arab, 1/4 Appy, 1/4 Tennessee Walking Horse (whose idea was that?). She was a nobby, temperamental gal with a rubbed off mane, and creaky joints. With a wicked old lady backbone and withers, you wouldn't dare ride her bareback. A freebie, Alla was a leopard Appy with a hammer head, sway back, and pigeon toes. Her neck seemed to come straight out of an especially straight shoulder. Her trot could shake the teeth right out of your head. I'm not sure why we named her Alla, only that we couldn't bear to add the "h" at the end. This out of respect, I'm sure, for a religion whose sacred book states that Allah, "took a handful of the southwind and created the horse." Our Alla was more on the earthy side.
Curiously, the "top dollar" Thoroughbred, bought for me as a teenager for the astronomical sum of $2,500 (a huge sacrifice on my parents part), never found a place in my heart. I rode her for barely two years before she was sold. Guess I'm a blue collar kinda horse gal.
But lets be real. Memory has a way of turning things rosy-colored. In the here and now, money no object, would I purchase a fancier horse for my precious 10-year-old or continue with an animal whose talents are definitely mediocre? I cannot tell a lie.
A horse provides much more for a child than simply putting them, "in the ribbons." And the right horse just may be the blue collar animal. I can't help thinking of two girls I knew in 4H who rode geldings named Nacho and Rocky. Now, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which horse was prettier and more talented. Let that be a lesson to you breeders--names matter. Rocky had a gleaming bay coat that rippled with muscle. He had the perfect Quarter Horse "dopey lope" that won all the pleasure classes and was grand champion in trail. His owner, whose name I have long forgotten (see post, Horse Names), was the girl I loved to hate at 4H fair time. I don't know for sure but I'd be willing to bet money that Rocky's training was done by someone else (not that it matters....I've since matured and am so over that). Nacho, on the other hand, was furry and fat. Utterly forgettable. His neck was nearly as wide as it was long. Let's just say "flexing at the poll" was not something this horse would be doing. In his lifetime. But I don't remember Nacho's owner enjoying her horse any less than Rocky's. They both rode, won (or not), loved their geldings and grew up with sweet memories of life on horseback. That is a gift.
So what might Chance be doing for Haley in the here and now? Of course I've thought about it, as I consider the "perfect" animal on Dreamhorse and the fact that I can use Pay Pal. There are two things Haley is learning and it has nothing to do with competition. First, there is a true friendship building between her and Chance. In the same way of human relationships, not all partnerships--however fancy the horse--become a friendship. Believe me, I know. Chance will leave a field of grass to meet Haley at the gate and soaks up her love like the sun. Second, Haley's character has been honed because of this particular animal. She's learning that soft hands and a deserved rest go farthest in training and that green horses will usually dump the rider who spurs them in a fit of temper. She's learned that victory at a show is a happy, calm horse and rider, not a blue ribbon.
I won't deny I'd love for Haley to win the blues, be rodeo queen, go to the Olympics, be "the best." It is unlikely the abilities of her current mount will take her there (if I win the Lotto find me surfing Dreamhorse). But Chance, with all his flaws, may turn out to be the "sure thing" that helps a little girl grow up. That is enough.