I can remember the day it happened – well, not the specific date or anything, but the general day that I officially entered the world of being a horseaholic.
It was a Saturday or Sunday morning and I was probably about 6 years old. I was awake before my parents or my brother and was watching tv. I saw some show about horseback riding and it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I LOVED HORSES. I was so excited for my parents to wake up to tell them the good news – that they could buy me a horse and make me the happiest kid on the face of the planet. Funny how things don’t always work out the way you anticipate eh?
Also funny is the fact that just because you’re horse crazy doesn’t necessarily mean anyone around you is. This made things a bit difficult for me. Having parents who were terrified of horses and thus had zero interest or experience in anything horse-related. made arguments for buying a horse, for taking riding lessons, and becoming a jockey somewhat more difficult. Not to mention the expenses involved in having an affinity for this hobby.
Despite this, my adoration continued and to grow more and more intense. At that time, my parents couldn’t afford the cost of riding lessons, so one week of riding camp each year was the fuel that kept the fire burning. This lasted for several years, but then it happened: when I was 12 years old my parents said something I couldn’t believe, “we have decided to get you riding lessons” I was the happiest girl on earth – I called all of my friends and barely slept for a week.
I loved my weekly riding lessons, they were literally my number one priority. The smell of the horses and the leather, the sound of the hooves on the ground, the sound of my boots charging through the gravel driveway, I loved it all. Living in Ottawa, I can also recall more than a couple times when I pleaded with my parents to push through a snowstorm just to get me there, and lucky for me, my parents did.
I started out at a hunter/jumper barn and I soaked up any information given to me. I was able to recite the Canadian Pony Club Manual cover to cover and couldn’t comprehend why my friends and family didn’t find it as interesting as I did. Eventually I decided to switch barns which turned out to be a formative step in the evolution of my horse dreams. At the new barn, I serendipitously ended up in a lesson full of “real” adults. I was probably about 17 at the time and would ride any horse, anytime. Compared to the “real” adults, I had no fear. Enter Christine, an American diplomat who had recently been posted to Ottawa and owned two horses – Joffrey and Cassandra. Christine rode Cassandra and had asked whether a man named Jim in our lesson would ride Joffrey. Jim obliged but it became evident that this was not going to work out within 10 minutes of their first lesson together. Jim persevered but it was clearly not an enjoyable experience for anyone involved. As I was cleaning my tack after the lesson, Christine approached me to see if I might be willing to try Joffrey the next lesson – to her surprise I jumped at the opportunity.
Joffrey was an ex TB steeplechaser that Christine had purchased in Belgium and holy smokes was he ever fast. Even at 18 years old he was full of it. I loved everything about that horse. He was beautiful – 16.2hh, with a dark bay shiny coat and a light brown muzzle. I loved his “go get em” attitude, and I loved when he would rest his head on my shoulder when I was putting on his bridle. I had fallen off horses before, but I really became accustomed to falling off when I would ride Joffrey. He was the closest thing I had to my own horse – Christine would let me come out to ride him once or twice a week outside of our lessons so I really got to experience “boarder” life at the barn. It was a like a secret vault that I had always known existed but never was able to experience until then.
The unfortunate thing about riding a diplomat’s horse is that eventually the diplomat gets posted to another location. In Christine’s case, she was posted to Washington DC when I was 18. The day Joffrey left, my heart completely broke. I loved that horse and I genuinely believe that he loved me in return. That summer, I was able to go out to Washington to visit Christine and the horses and it was magnificent. I would get up for 6am rides each morning because it would get so hot during the day. I’d put on my bathing suit and give the horses a bath and just watch them and pet them. Of course, I also fell off Joffrey in west Virginia – to be honest I’m not even sure what happened, that was the funny part about riding Joffrey, sometimes you just didn’t know what hit you.
Both Christine and Joffrey are gone now – I used to get annual Christmas updates but they eventually stopped. I found out that Christine died of cancer quite suddenly; sometimes when I think of her and the gift she gave me I feel the wind pickup and it brings tears to my eyes.
I didn’t ride throughout university – being away from home with no car and no money meant no horses. When I graduated and moved home, this horseaholic fell off the wagon. I posted an ad on a local website stating that I had lots of horse experience, but no horse and no money to pay for it. Luck struck again and I was put in touch with the Boss. The Boss is 75 years old and has been around horses her entire life. She had a barn of standardbreds and boarder’s horses. I was told that I could ride a horse named Jackpot who was an ex pacing gelding who had won more than $300,000 in purse money in his career. I loved Jackpot as well – he was a horse with heart. He loved having a job to do and had an incredibly calm disposition. He raced until he was 8 years old and retired because he had developed a ringbone in his front left ankle. The ringbone limited his riding potential as he was never truly sound, but that horse still just loved to work. Even if it was just around the ring or through a field, he just loved it. I used to take him on hacks up the road and we’d gallop long stretches, he thought it was brilliant and so did I. I wanted to bring that horse to a show more than anything but we just couldn’t get him consistently sound enough. Eventually the Boss decided that I would need a new mount and along came Corona.
Corona is a 10 year old TB x Selle Francais gelding. In his early years he evented, but that contributed to him developing bone chips in his hocks. From what I understand, it got to the point where he would get pretty dirty in his refusals because of the discomfort caused by jumping 4 ft oxers – but there was nothing stopping him from being a good mount on the flat and doing the occasional lower jump. I’ve been riding Corona now for just over 2 years and I adore him. The student poverty has subsided and for the last year I have been leasing him from the Boss. Even without the lease I was the only one riding him so I’ve really had a sense of him being like my own since the beginning.
He is not a favourite in the barn because he can be a bit of a handful at times, but we’re working on that. We’re working on a lot of things and this is why I’ve decided to start this blog.