I have made it no secret that I am disabled and suffer with chronic pain associated with my disabling injury. Once I was forced to give up my job I began taking classes to earn a new degree in the hopes that I would eventually be able to secure a position that is flexible enough to accommodate my needs. But over the years my condition has worsened to the point that I cannot even attend on-campus classes and changing my major to one that can be earned fully online I still see a drop in my GPA because I am often so debilitated with pain that I cannot sit at my computer long enough to complete an assignment. But hope persists and so do I.
My entire life I have had a multitude of pets, and for most of my life I have owned horses. About ten years ago I sold my last horse, and have suffered what I call equine withdrawal since then. It is impossible to pass a field of horses without feeling a need that must be met, a desire to ride, to muck out stalls, to buck hay, and haul bags of grain. Memories of dust covered clothes and the smell of the barn fill my head; along with recollections of poker rides, and play days, and simple sun dappled trails either shared with good friends or savored on a solitary ride. Until August of this year I thought all this was something of my past, something I would never experience again. But then something came over me; I decided one day in late July that no matter what I would have another horse. So I started shopping.
I located several stables in the area, many of them over priced but a few were reasonable; and I started shopping for the animal that would become mine. I looked at about three horses before I met Leo. A five year old, recently gelded Mustang/Paint, Leo stands 15.3 hands with a short back, and stout legs; and I made up my mind that he was the one when I first laid eyes on him. Of course I could not ride him or do anything other than to pet him and look him over to make sure he was in good shape. My sister and my son were the guinea pigs who had to climb up onto any animal that I chose for them to try out. It was probably a waste of time for either of them to try Leo, because I had already determined that even if he were to have bucked them off, he was going home with me. The decision to buy a horse should be based on things such as breeding, training, and temperament; not on personality or looks. But sometimes that just doesn't happen and thank goodness or I wouldn't have Leo the clown of the barn. He is smart and funny and even though I may never be able to ride him; he is a good riding horse for my son and other members of the family. For me he is a cuddly teddy bear, who likes to give hugs and nibble on my coat sleeves, and he is always happy to see me.
I guess it should have stopped there, but I was determined to ride; so I hired a trainer for Leo handed his riding over to my son and I purchased Sugar. Sug is a Tennessee Walker mare 14yrs old and gaited. Being gaited means she has gaits that are so smooth that there is no sway or bump it is like gliding on ice. This is a horse that I should be able to ride (if I can get on). She is also a brood mare with Paint genes, so breeding her to the donkey will produce a nice gaited mule hopefully with color and the sale of that mule baby will bring enough money to pay for the board and feed for the other horses for a full year. Now Sugar is the most solid horse I've seen in many years. She has no spook, she doesn't argue or get agitated, she just does what she's told to do and likes to stay out of trouble. We say "There's Sugar trying to be invisible again" whenever the other horses are acting up, Sug just gets out of the way and takes no part in the ruckus.
I have ridden Sugar a few times since I brought her home. It takes both my son and my nephew to lift me into the saddle while my daughter-in-law holds the headstall to make sure Sugar doesn't move. I also need for Sug to get into a ditch or I have to have a bale of hay to stand on just to get my foot into the stirrup. Now Sugar isn't tall she's maybe 16 hands, but my leg likes to push down when I am asking it to lift up, and once the foot is in the stirrup I have to have the boys push and lift me into the saddle because that very same leg now refuses to push down and give me a lift. My very first ride was incredibly short it lasted about three minutes. I have never in my life been afraid of a horse. I've broke horses, ridden problem horses, been bucked off, fallen off, and even had horses fall over on me; but not once was I afraid until I climbed onto Sugar. The second my butt was in the saddle I was overwhelmed with terror; what if I fall off, or what if the motion of her walk or trot destroy what is left of my back? The fear was not really of the horse, but of the consequences of riding. But she waited patiently for me to gather my wits and ask her to do something. I finally got some guts and asked for a walk and we walked gently around the arena for a few minutes, then I started to feel more pain than I thought I could take and we stopped. I climbed down with less grace than a pig climbing over a fence; I threw my arms around Sugars neck and started crying because I was so happy that I had actually ridden a horse again; something I thought would never happen. I've ridden Sugar about a half a dozen times since then, never more than just a few minutes at a time.
It would seem that this is the end of the story, but no; two horses just aren't enough. Soon after I bought Leo and Sugar the woman who owns the stables where I keep them came and told me about an orphaned mustang filly who was in need of rescuing. I agreed to take the filly and find her a home. She came on a Saturday, and I expected to go out to the barn to find an ugly little thing that I could feed up and adopt out, but to my surprise I found a beautiful little sorrel filly with a perfect mustang confirmation. Short back, thick neck, stout legs, big butt and beautiful head. At only 4 or 5 months old, she already had a flowing mane and long tail, and a intelligence in her eye that surpassed anything I had seen in a young horse. This little girl was completely wild, we could not even get our hands on her. But three days in the stall with lots of food and loving she came around quickly. Then we started taking her out to the round pen where my son and his wife worked with her teaching her how to lead, how to come to us instead of running away, even how to lunge. After a couple of weeks I decided that it was time to find her a real home, but we were already attached so it was difficult. I thought of my niece who had ridden barrel horses when she was young, and now as an adult was suffering with her own medical and physical ailments. If having these horses was helping me so much, I was sure that it would help her too. So I mentioned it to her husband, who immediately said he hated horses but if she wanted the filly she could have it. I gave the filly "Athena" to my niece who was happy to have her, but her husband is the one that was the big surprise; he fell in love with Athena at first sight and all of a sudden he not only didn't hate horses he wanted more. So they now have Athena and Bella a thoroughbred mare.
Again it should end, but in November my sister had some horses brought in so she could try them out for her kids. One of those horses was a pale palomino Quarter-horse gelding who was nothing but a rack of bones. While my sister was contemplating a Morgan gelding and a Quarter/Arab mare, my son climbed up on this sack of bones and found that he is a well trained cow horse with a great attitude. I bought him, mostly to keep him from going back to the trader who starved him. His name is now Mister. We soon found that this guy was not just underfed he was starved; he went after food as though he hadn't seen it in months. He also started displaying traits that I have only seen in abused animals. He is terrified of gloves, and is very head-shy. We have had him about three weeks now and have put at least a hundred pounds on him, he is getting used to gloves and the head-shy is giving way to trust. He comes from the same trader that I bought Sugar from who also came to us very skinny and unhealthy. I just can't understand how people can be so cruel as to take a great animal like Sugar or Mister and mistreat them and neglect them so badly.
At the same time that we bought Mister, the woman who owns the barn where we stable bought a little Appaloosa mare from the auction. My nephew who does a lot of work at the barn started noticing this mare, and he developed a liking for her. She follows him around the pastures and watches every move he makes. So he bought her. So now I have three horses; Leo, Sugar, and Mister. My nephew has one horse, Shadow. My niece and her husband have two, Athena and Bella, and my sister has one the little Morgan gelding Stryder. In 4 months time my decision to buy one horse has blossomed into my family having seven horses.
This has had a tremendous effect on me and my family. First it has led to me losing forty pounds, I have at least another fifty pounds in order to get back to a healthy weight but that is ten pounds a month and is a great start. This weight loss has led to me feeling a lot better, eating better, and having more energy. Even though I have never ridden Leo or Mister and have only spent a total of about an hour on Sugar over the past four months; I AM HAPPY! I get to be with them, help to feed them (with lots of help from my family), brush them, talk to them, watch them and know they are mine. I have a reason to get out of bed every day, and to leave my house every day. I have chairs in the barn where I sit when I cannot stand or walk any longer (which doesn't take long), and I am not able to do anything that requires any lifting or stooping or really any sort of real movement at all. But just being at the barn is enough to improve my health, improve how I deal with my pain, and has led to a great weight loss.
For my family it has brought us all together again. We don't just sit in the house in our separate rooms meeting in the hall near the bathroom or bumping into each other in the kitchen. We meet at the barn and we talk and laugh and care for the horses. I watch as my family rides together and help each other with riding or training tips. Every single one of us is happier and healthier because of these horses. We did not have to hire a psychologist to deal with depression or family relations; we bought a horse. We did not have to join a gym to lose weight and build muscle; we bought a horse. We did not have to hire a nutritionist to help us cut out calories; we bought a horse (we no longer can afford food). I no longer wish this life was over; I bought a horse. My leg still doesn't work, and I am still in pain….. But I Am Happy.