The Big Things
Size doesn't matter...much
Horses are big things.
Not just physically but financially. Aside from the purchase there is everything else that goes with them: boarding, feed, vet bills, insurance, lessons, training, saddles, bridles, halters and the never-ending need for fancy matching saddle pads and boots.
It’s a commitment of time and money, but perhaps even more so, of the heart.
I have never been great with money. Growing up, money was a taboo subject. What a person earned was private and discussing the price of anything was considered crass. I was out of the house by sixteen, and learned the hard way how fast money could slip away. More than once, I had to learn I couldn’t just buy whatever I wanted without consequence. But I did learn. Eventually. Once I saw the clock on the wall and how little I had set aside for retirement, I got serious about savings and more mindful about where my money goes. I’m still not a big fan of money as a topic, but I am less compulsive and spontaneous in my spending, particularly for the big things.
Being mindful with money doesn’t mean not spending any, but it does mean really considering the value of whatever I'm purchasing. Does it lift my heart? Does it feed my soul? Does it bring me back to the joy I felt as a kid at the barn?
The idea of purchasing my own horse started as a passing thought, and then it grew. And as it grew, so did the questions: Could I afford the expense? Do I have the time? I would have so much to learn about owning and taking care of a horse, could I learn it all?
I talked it over with my trainer at the barn. I talked about my age (not young), my riding ability (not confident), my future (not getting younger), and yes, my finances. She artfully sidestepped my age and finances but did say my riding ability would improve and maybe I should consider a Tennessee Walking Horse. Riding a gaited horse, she said, could be less punishing on my body as I aged and perhaps it would be a good horse to grow old with.
Most horses move their legs in diagonal pairs and riding a horse who is trotting is a two-beat movement that creates an up and down sort of bounce. A gaited horse moves differently, with each leg stepping independently in a four-beat movement that creates much less of a bounce. My trainer had a lot of experience with gaited horses and the more she talked about the idea, the more enthused I became.
Before long I was putting my list of requirements together:
Breed: Tennessee Walking Horse.
Gender: Geldings have a reputation for being easier to manage.
Age: A more mature horse who had mellowed with age, so maybe a horse over ten years old.
Training: A horse who knows what they're doing, especially since I'm still learning.
Size: Maybe not too tall or too big. My most recent lesson horse had been just about fifteen hands (a hand equaling four inches ) and seemed reasonably close to the ground, even in those moments when I felt nervous or fearful.
Color: I’ve always been drawn to paints, those horses with two colors who look like they’ve been randomly splashed with white paint over a darker color. Or maybe a chestnut brown, like the lesson horse I loved so much but had recently passed away.
Price: I had set aside around $15,000 for the cost of the horse plus $5,000 more for transportation and to cover my trainer’s expenses. In the world of fancy horses where riders may compete on a national or global stage, or where horses are a status symbol and may be used for breeding, this is not a lot of money. But for me, with no grand plans for competing or breeding, it's a big commitment.
In summary, a nice, laid-back, medium sized boy, preferably a paint or chestnut, that I could ride until one or both of us decided to retire, and then we could just enjoy each other’s company as we while away the years on a little piece of land somewhere.
Now that I was committed to horse ownership, we started looking for the right match. Nothing was showing up locally that fit the bill, so my trainer and I made a plan to fly Tennessee to look at horses.
We were just looking at dates for our trip when my trainer heard of a horse that was available locally. A Tennessee Walking Horse breeder she knew who lived in Southern California had a horse she'd bred and sold, but had just come back to them. My trainer asked if I wanted to take a look. Of course, I did. I pulled out my checklist to 'mindfully' compare what we knew about the horse, with my strategic planning.
Breed: Tennessee Walking Horse. Check.
Gender: Mare. Uh, okay.
Age: Six. Wow, young. Well, more years for us to spend together, I guess.
Size: Nearly sixteen hands. Is that too tall? That’s probably not too tall. Maybe a bit on the tall side, but not over tall.
Color: Gray. Well, color isn’t important.
Price: $5,000. Whoa. What?
I wondered why they were asking so little. Was there something wrong with the horse? No, my trainer assured me, the woman who had bought the horse had fallen ill and her son, now tasked with caring for his mother and the horse, was unable to manage both and had done the responsible thing, returning the horse to the breeder. Even though they’d shared some video of the horse with me, I really couldn’t tell a whole lot from the footage and was anxious to see her. After a two hour drive to Riverside County, we arrived at the large horse farm and met the breeder. I chatted with the breeder’s assistant who told me more about the horse before saddling her up and bringing her to the riding arena.
A beautiful gray mare. Very young and still very early in her training. She moved fast and seemed tall to me somehow. Really really tall.
My trainer rode her first. I watched from the fence as they went around the arena, my trainer making it look effortless. As I watched them work, my anxiety was building, and I could hear the voice in my head repeatedly asking me what I was thinking.
This is commitment, for a lifetime, are you insane? Have you seen how tall this mare is? And she’s a mare! You didn’t want a mare! And she’s so young! Have you done the math and figured out how old you’ll be by the time she’s twenty?? And the tall thing. Have you noticed the really tall thing?
When it was my turn to ride Trudy I was literally shaking. In the saddle I felt about a hundred feet off the ground. Though I had planned for a gaited horse, Tennessee Walking Horse - it was right there on my checklist - this was actually my first time on one. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t quite prepared for the different feel of the movement.
The saddle they had on her was Western and it seemed huge. I felt like I was slipping around in it and could slide right off at any moment. My anxiety rose to a crescendo. I’m a grown woman, past middle aged and I know bugger all about owning any horse, much less a Tennessee Walking Horse. What the hell am I thinking?
And then Trudy did a funny thing. She slowed down and walked me straight over to my trainer and stopped. As if she knew how to take care of me.
Back on solid ground, my mind was swirling. Who am I thinking that this is possible? Who am I to think that I could ever be as happy as I was when I was a child at the barn?
They let me walk her back to where the saddle and tack was taken off and I was given some time alone with her. I brushed her and tried to slow my breathing and after a few minutes I sat down on a bench opposite Trudy. Looking at her beautiful face, I couldn’t help but feel I was letting her down. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for her, but I didn’t want to leave her behind either. I was full of self-loathing and doubt.
Tears welled up and rolled down my cheeks, despite my efforts to hold them back. Wiping my face, I looked up and there was the young gray mare staring at me intently with those soft black eyes of hers. We sat there staring at each other for a long time, and I felt myself calming, as if she was communicating with me in her own silent way.
When my trainer returned, I collected myself for our trip home. I stopped to say goodbye to Trudy, touching my forehead to hers, and held her head in my hands for what seemed like a long time.
My trainer and I talked as we walked. She thought Trudy would be a good horse for me and she could get the price down to just $3,500 which was an exceptional deal. I tried to express what I had felt, the anxiety that had exploded in me, but also how there was something about Trudy I really liked. And there in that moment, the penny dropped. I heard myself saying I’ll put down a deposit towards purchase pending a veterinarian pre-purchase exam. As soon as those words came out of my mouth, my decision made, I felt my body relax. As if my heart was telling me, yes, this is the right thing.
Being more mindful with money doesn’t mean not spending any but it does mean really considering the value of whatever you are purchasing. Does it lift my heart? Does it feed my soul? Because both those things are invaluable.
Anyone who has met Trudy can testify that she has a lot of personality. She is special. She is funny, smart and beautiful. She can also be moody, occasionally argumentative and is generally very opinionated. She can be skittish and unsure one day and the next day be bossing everyone in the barn.
And she is not exceptionally tall, despite how she seemed to me on that first day.
In many ways, we have a lot of similarities except one of us is a horse and one is not. And one of us has matured a bit and learned how to manage moods and to temper opinions with diplomacy, while the other is a big hairy stinker who is all up in your business and doesn’t apologize.
Trudy, like any of us, is complicated and has many facets to her personality, all wrapped up in one beautiful gray mare. And I couldn’t love her more. She was nothing like what I thought I was looking for and yet she was exactly what I wanted and completely right for me. Every day she teaches me something new and I am so grateful to have her in my life.
I grew up knowing nothing about money but let me tell you what I’ve learned. True value is determined by the heart. And to me, Trudy is priceless.
Horses are big things. They really are.
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