I guess, every once in a while, everyone has a breakthrough somewhere in their life. This is mine:
Some of you will know I used to loan and then own a beautiful palomino gelding called Crispin. He was the love of my life. He was a rare 'one in a million' pony who never spooked at anything. I gave my heart to that horse, and he gave his to me, but in the end I had to sell him on (to a lovely girl who adores him) even though I wanted him to spend the rest of his life with me. I cried myself to sleep every night for eight months.
Then there was a gap, until:
Several years ago I was helping at Thornberry Animal Sanctuary and fell in love with a black and white spaniel there, who I took for walks in my lunch hour at work. I came home and told Mr O all about him and he very foolishly (in front of witnesses!) said that if he was still there on Monday I could have him. I'd told him how handsome the pooch was and he'd assumed such a dog would be snapped up instantly.
I ran back to the sanctuary on Monday and to my delight 'Prince' was still there. I put my deposit on him there and then. Mr O's only criteria was that Tessa had to like him, so we introduced them the following weekend, and they got on really well. I had walked this dog one day and he'd pulled on the lead, and I'd shouted, "Sam!" as I pulled him back to me. I thought, 'where on earth did that come from?' but he became Sam the day he became mine.
Sam knew that I'd rescued him, and used to sit gazing at me adoringly. I loved him, and he loved me. Life was simple. He became known as Darling Boy and won my heart.
Unfortunately we lost him last year, and the wrench has been agony. In fact, this is the first time I've even been able to mention him since. No more 'darling boy' for me.
I have had Max for nearly six years. Until we moved here he was kept at livery, and a very nice yard it was too, with an indoor school, a large outdoor school, show jumps and a cross country course. Unfortunately, the price you pay for this, is that you start to become very competitive, especially if your horse shows some ability, which Max definitely did.
But, as you can see from the photo, Max is a very hairy horse, a typical cob, (and only 14.2hh) and always filthy, too, and I suppose I felt he never quite matched up to all the big, glossy horses on the yard. Was I embarrassed? Maybe, I'm not sure. He is also very spooky, which made it difficult to ride him out on his own. We've done a lot together over the years, but he doesn't like schooling much, and doesn't jump over 2'9". He goes hollow when we do showing and hunting is a big topic that I will have to deal with another time. I have always felt that he couldn't care less about me, too, especially when you see how demonstrative Barnaby is with John. In fact, every time a horse on the yard came up for sale that I felt was better than Max, I have been tempted to sell him. But every time I came to draw up an advert I have burst into tears and left it.
However, since we've moved here, he has undergone quite a transformation. I have had the most incredible year, where the pressure to compete has come off me and I have started to appreciate Max for who he is, not just for what he can (or can't) do.
When I had Crispin, lots of people on that yard used to compete, and it never bothered me. I never felt deprived of anything, or that I was missing out. The greatest thrill in my life was hacking that horse out, and it felt like an adventure every time. Now I am this way with Max, and it's wonderful.
I am taking him out at least twice a week on his own, and yes he is spooky a bit, but nothing like what he used to be. Yes he is muddy and dirty, but it washes off, and the biggest thing of all, I guess, is that it's taken me this long to admit that it's me that's nervous of jumping, not him at all, and if I have ever lost a competition place, it's down to my nerves, and it's never, ever been because of a lack of capability on his part. He used to be seriously terrified of cows, but now we help the local farmer herd his cows back up to the farm, or down to the field, and he is literally six inches away from them, and not bothered. I was hacking him out the other day, just him and me, and I said to him, "This is all I ever wanted you know, to plod along like this, enjoying the scenery, having a good time," and he seemed to understand, and we went along together, at perfect peace with the world.
So finally, it has sunk into my brain enough for me to realise, and I guess, be brave enough, to be able to commit myself to an animal again. I turned Max out this morning, and he stood with me in the field, in that companionable silence you sometimes have with a horse, until I said, "Off you go, darling boy..."
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