Saturday, January 16, 2010

Read My Legs, or Why This Weirdo Doesn't Ride...Much

Newsflash...I love horses. And I love to ride. For many, many years, riding was the sole intent and purpose of my existence. Now, although horses still figure into my life, riding is not so important.

In my previous post, I gave you a brief overview of my childhood as a "barn brat". But (and I really hope this does not harm our new friendship) I was not completely honest with you.

Don't freak out. It's not what you think.

Remember the picture of the cute kid and her equally cute gray pony? Well, that is me, and that is Daisy, but she wasn't exactly my "first" pony. Until a few years ago, she was my ONLY pony. The only one I could truly call my own. In 30 some odd years.

It's true that with Mom in the horse biz I rode a lot, but I rode "Other People's Horses". Boarders' horses, trainers' horses, and of course, the sale horses. Lots and lots of sale horses. Technically, a significant number of these belonged to Mom, or whatever farm she was working for, but the thing about sale horses is they generally come and go so quickly it hardly matters who "owns" them; these horses were not mine to keep.

Don't get me wrong. For a long time I was OK with this arrangement. I got to hang out at the barn all day and ride as much as I wanted, and several of these temporary horses still hold a very special place in my heart. For many years after I went out on my own, I had every intention of keeping things this way.

And then, as sometimes happens, things change.

That's when I met Legs. I'd like you to meet him too.

Read My Legs
a.k.a. "Legs",or sometimes "Leg Man"

Eventually I will get around to telling you about how I got from there to here, but it's my blog and I'm not ready yet. Besides, the rest of this story will take a while. Bear with me.

When my husband and I moved to a very small community in Western North Carolina seven years ago, I immediately memorized the equine population inhabiting numerous small farms lining our road. (Weird Alert: It took me weeks to remember the name of that road, still longer to learn my new phone number, but those horses I knew on sight within days.) A very pretty little barn on the river really caught my eye, and one day when I was driving past I saw a truck parked out front and did what any weirdo would do: I stopped and introduced myself. That's how I met my good friend V, who ultimately would lead me to Legs.

Turns out V was the postmaster in our town, and a very handy person to know when you were new to the area. I took to talking with her often, stopping by her barn more and more. This was during a strange period in my life that I think of as "The Void"; for the first time in my memory, I was completely horseless. More on that later - promise.

One day I was at the post office and V mentioned that she had a "sorta new boarder", a 13 year old off-track thoroughbred that had lived with her before his owner moved to Florida, but now was back. Apparently, Florida did not agree with him. His owner, however, was newly married and had to stay, so V agreed to look after him.

At this point, V and I had known each other for a while. She knew a bit of my history and that I had experience with OTTBs. She told me about Legs and said she thought Florida Owner would be OK with me riding him some in exchange for helping to take care of him. Had I known then what all that would wouldn't have changed a thing.

Legs has a long and somewhat sordid past which, again, I promise I will get to.

V quietly let me know as I was tacking up for that first ride that he had a history of bolting, both with Florida and his previous-previous owner, whom V also knew. We stayed in the ring that day, kept it low and slow. Despite the brevity of that first ride, a few things were immediately apparent:

  1. At 13, Legs did not know much; he was track-broke at best.
  2. Despite not always knowing what I was asking for, he was incredibly receptive and attentive to me.
  3. He had some pep in his step.
  4. He was just my type (Note: one of the many benefits of riding a lot of different horses is that you know right away when you are going to really click with one).

Plus, he was just so darn sweet! I guess it was the equine equivalent of people locking eyes across a crowded at first ride. I believe in it, and all you true weirdos know what I am talking about. It was life altering - in one short ride I went from "The Void" to once again having a horse in my life. And at that time, boy did I need it.

As with any budding relationship, there were some concerns. First of all, his feet. Cursed by breeding, Legs' feet were not in great shape to begin with. And, from the look of those feet when we first met, he had not had any help with that issue in a while. To a non-horse person, they probably looked fine. But the poor thing was so saucer-footed he was basically walking on his frogs. Inadequate shoeing will do that. He would get footsore after just a short hack. I was lucky that V knew a very good farrier who had track experience; he knew well how to deal with those feet, although we both knew it would be a process.

Then there was the eye issue.

It seems that the proverbial straw that sent Legs back to NC was an injury to his eye that went untreated. It wasn't Florida's fault; she traveled quite a bit for work and trusted the people she boarded him with to take care of things. They didn't, and Florida packed him off to her trusted friend V. A visit from our vet confirmed that while the eye was currently healthy, he was losing vision in it and it was only a matter of time before it would shut down completely and have to be removed.

Did I really need to take on a half lame, half broke, half sighted horse?

The answer, ultimately, was YES!

You see, I really did need him. At the time I was working a high energy, high stress job. Although time-wise I could not ride much, Legs couldn't take much riding anyway. And, because of that job, sometimes I just really needed to pet a horse; Legs was always willing. Just being with him made all the stress and issues melt away. Plus, for only the second time in 30-some odd years, I had a horse of my own. I felt like that cute kid in the picture again and I really, really liked it.

Legs and I have been through a lot. He saw me through a number of those crises that pop up from time to time in life; working through his issues gave me a Zen-like release from that other void-world. On his end there was a colic scare, a few major floods requiring evacuation(that pretty farm on the river is not so pretty under 8 feet of water), stitches, an abscess or two. Oh, and that eye has been removed.

Seven years later, Legs is 21. His feet are in much better shape, but his long track career has taken its toll. He's sound to hack around some and we take an occasional trail ride, but not much else. Sometimes I just hop on him bareback and take a stroll by the river. Those are my favorite days.

The truth is he's given me so much more than a few good rides.

When people find out that I have a horse, the first question is usually "Do you ride much?". And when I answer "No" I smile, because I'm OK with that.

And if a smiling response makes me weird to them, I'm OK with that too.

I love you, Leg Man.


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