Your Turn: Life lessons from a chestnut mare
Horse Nation contributor Laura Cox reflects on her 17-year relationship with the pony that taught her to say “please” and “thank you.”
I can still remember the day my sister and I sat under the computer desk in my parent’s office crying because my parents said “No, we don’t NEED a horse.” In my mind I was thinking, Well, duh! You may not need it, but we certainly do, and she’s FREE. (OK, I know now that free doesn’t mean squat when you see that pretty leather halter, or that brush you just have to have, or when your sweet little princess breaks her bridle after she’s left you in a ditch with that monster she swore was in there.)
Boy, we must have been pretty good with the waterworks! She was the most beautiful 3 ½ year old chestnut Arabian filly I’ve ever seen! I know what you are thinking: Either you’re a spoiled brat who gets everything you want, or you were just obnoxious enough that your parents decided this would be a great way to off you without drawing suspicion to their master plan. I can’t remember how my mom replied, but someone did ask her at a show once if they were trying to kill me. Well, if that was their plan, my sister didn’t fall for it. She quickly forfeited her half-ownership to me, because quite frankly, that 14.1-hand pony packed quite a punch under saddle!
Fannie was known at the barn for being entertaining due to her unpredictable nature. We joked around claiming her behavior had to do with having two brains: the good brain and the bad brain. You never knew which brain would show up until you were on and committed to your objective for the day. The best way to describe this is using her jumping as an example. On a good day, she might jump the moon. On a bad day she most likely would give her fans what they came to lessons to see: her ability to be an equine slingshot that can break poles with her human pebble. Lucky me for playing the part of the pebble!
NAUGHTY FANNIE: Spoiler alert, there’s a BIG splash around 0:26. This footage later made it onto ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos.‘
Despite those types of equine mood swings, my prissy pony taught me to sit up and wait for the jumps and to stay out of her mouth. Several instructors and clinicians have commented that I have a soft hand. Heavy hand with Fannie? HA! They would have been scraping me off the main drag in front of the barn after she expressed her displeasure in my lack of skill! But it was only recently that I really learned what she taught me.
More than once I have had to retire a horse young, just when things were starting to go well. (Just an FYI to anyone reading this, horses included: Kicking an inanimate object is never a good idea). As frustrating as it can be, I have learned we have to make the best of whatever situation is presented. Sometimes setbacks are when we learn the most. Although I have been riding nearly 20 years and had the opportunity to take lessons from many great instructors, it wasn’t until I was taking a lesson on Fannie with Eugene Abello after my last setback in 2006 that I finally had that “Ah Ha!” moment on REALLY riding dressage.
It was the first time I had taken Fannie to a lesson with Eugene, a phenomenal dressage instructor out of Florida. I thought I was doing what Eugene was instructing, but then I hear (and I’m paraphrasing here) “to get her to move correctly, you must ride her correctly! So start riding her correctly! She’s a chestnut Arabian mare! She’s not going to give you anything without you asking properly. Squeeze her with your legs, hold steady with your outside rein and soft and supple inside rein. Half-halt, push, push, push….AND SOFTEN! THAT’S IT! GREAT! OMG!!! I just had my “Ah Ha!” moment! That was the first time I realized I had never ridden 100% correctly on a horse. No, I did not suddenly become perfect, but to this day, I have not forgotten the feeling I had and the insanely large smile plastered on my face the rest of the month.
January 2014 marks 18 years with my beloved pony, Fannie. If I had to describe her in one word, it would be “misunderstood.” Yes, I have that dream like so many of us to one day represent the United States in team competition, but I also learned from this remarkable pony that while one horse may not be THE horse you are going to achieve that dream with, they certainly are capable of giving us tools and teaching us lessons to carry forth in our search for whatever our goals might be.
At nearly 22, she still runs to greet me at the fence, even if it is just for the carrots, apples or other horsey treats I am suckered into buying. There will always be an extraordinary connection between us. Even though we only go for light hacks when I go to my parents’ for visits, she is now allowing the next generation to fall in-love with her. She is spending her days giving out pony rides to my nieces and nephews. Each footfall is forced by us, as it seems as if she knows she is carrying precious cargo and does not want to take a wrong step. This pony will always have a special place in my heart, and I can never thank her enough for teaching me to be patient, to listen, and to love.
About Laura: I’m an obsessed teenage girl…. wait, that was 10 years ago! I’m a horse obsessed grown adult who didn’t get the memo that I was supposed to outgrow that “horse phase” in my life–my poor husband! I’m 5’2, and after hearing enough about the fact that my 17hh quarter horse made me look like a shrimp, and since I’m allergic to shrimp, I traded (retired) him in for my 14.3hh quarter horse/paint. I live near Nashville, Tenn.
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