How on earth do I begin to describe the amazing events of the past month? Such a lot has happened, and I’m in horsey heaven at last! In my last post, I told the story of how Lena the Argentinian mare came to Acorn Farm. I’d had a most impressive “perfect” ride on her at her home stable, then transported her down to the Farm for a trial period.
The strange thing with Lena is that it wasn’t “love at first sight.” When I first saw Lena, all tacked up for my trial ride, she simply looked like any other horse to me. Lena was (obviously) a mare, 16.2 hands, chestnut, tall and slim, with an asymmetrical white blaze and little white spots on her coppery body. She’s also been branded in three places: a saddle-shaped brand on her left hip, a faded indistinguishable brand on her left hind hock, and three numbers in a vertical line down her left buttock right next to her tail (what one of my barn buddies refers to as her “tramp stamp”!).
Lena didn’t fit my mental picture of the horse I thought I’d buy. I thought I was looking for a 16.0 hand bay gelding with no blaze, or with a perfectly symmetrical blaze(!) and a shiny, muscular body with a long black tail. But as those profound 20th century philosophers, The Rolling Stones, sang: “You can’t always get what you [think you] want, but if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need.”
Luckily, I know Nathalie well enough to know if she says she’s found a great horse, then I’d be crazy not to try it just because it’s the wrong gender and color! It was after I got on Lena and she trotted when I asked, cantered when I asked, and stopped on a dime, that I began to develop a deep respect for her. I remember at the end of the trial ride, while I was walking Lena around the ring, Nathalie came up and asked, “Well, what do you think? Do you like her?” I simply couldn’t fault Lena on anything, and answered, “Yes, I do. I like her a lot.” So perhaps it was like-at-first-sight. The love would quickly develop as I got to know her.
The rainy days that followed Lena’s arrival afforded me the opportunity to experience her ground manners at close quarters. Like her behavior under saddle, Lena’s ground manners turned out to be impeccable. When taken for a walk on a lead line, she didn’t pull, walked at my pace, and didn’t invade my personal space. And all that after being cooped up in her stall because of the rain. More perfection!
I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop! It all seemed much too good to be true. But then when Nathalie rode Lena when the footing dried out after the rain finally stopped (five days after Lena’s arrival), she reported back to me that Lena was “her usual perfect self.”
I was scheduled to ride Lena the next day, January 29th. The only regularly scheduled riding lesson I’d had in the previous four months was the half-hour I’d spent on a very sassy Rio earlier in January, so I was incredibly rusty. Although I was excited, I was nervous, convinced that something had to go wrong. I kept looking for issues that simply didn’t exist. Surely, this couldn’t be going as well as it seemed to be?
Nathalie was very kind and kept my first lesson with Lena quite short so as not to exhaust me. We did a few trotting laps to warm up, then a couple of canter laps in each direction. That was enough to start. Nathalie’s philosophy is that she’d rather get one or two really good laps with Lena and me giving our best, than half a dozen sloppy tired ones.
That first week, I rode Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then (mercifully!) it rained again on the Friday, giving me time to rest what felt like an old, old body! Saturday and Sunday we were good to go again. Each time, the lessons were getting just a tad longer, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
At the end of the first few lessons, Lena and I went for a walk to the end of the farm’s lane to cool down, with Nathalie walking beside us. Soon, however, I felt comfortable walking Lena down the lane alone. I wasn’t feeling cocky, I had simply learned to trust this wonderful horse. She had never given me any reason to doubt her and that gave me confidence.
The trust had developed in the little things too. As I’ve quite often mentioned in this blog, I’ve always been leery of horses’ hind legs and having to clean their hind feet made me uneasy. Lena has a habit of raising her feet very high to be cleaned. At first I thought she was trying to kick, but I soon learned just how helpful she is. Holding the weight of a horse’s hoof close to the ground while cleaning it is a physical problem for me, but conveniently, with Lena, I barely have to bend to clean them.
After the first couple of rides, she and I settled in to a comfortable routine. When I want to clean her feet, I tap the first leg and say, “Foot please!” She immediately lifts that foot high for me to get at it. But more than that, she’s quickly learned the sequence in which I clean her hooves, and as I move from one to the next, I don’t even have to ask. She lifts the next foot in turn high for me to grab hold of and use the pick on. It works really well for both of us.
Another way in which her wonderful manners bowled me over was in putting the bridle on. Show her the bridle and bit, and she simply opens her mouth, takes in the bit, and keeps her head down while you adjust the bridle over her ears and get it fastened. Unbelievable. More perfection!
After five days of riding Lena, I was 100% convinced: she really was THAT good, and working with her really was going to be THAT easy! I think that was when I officially fell in love with her; a kind, sweet horse with no issues, just a wonderful, wonderful personality. So on Tuesday, February 5th, my husband David came with me to the barn to sign the purchase agreement, write all the checks (Eeeeek!) and take lots of photographs!
As if it wasn’t enough that we’d found this fantastic animal and that my Hubby had earned billions of brownie points by agreeing that we could buy her, there was another bonus. In the two weeks Lena had been at Acorn Farm, Nathalie had managed to line up three (count ’em!) sets of people interested in half-leasing Lena. They were all barn buddies I knew, liked and respected, which was an enormous plus.
And so, my original wish–my ultimate dream of owning a horse at Acorn Farm at The Oaks and sharing the costs with another person to make it financially viable–had actually come true! And not just in a small way with a horse I feel like I’m settling for, but in a huge, OH MY GOD THIS IS AN AMAZING HORSE AND I’M THE LUCKIEST WOMAN ALIVE ! way.
It wasn’t until the day we bought Lena that I discovered she’s a Holsteiner. I knew she had papers, but Holy Moly, I never dreamed that a little kid from a background like mine could ever grow up to be the owner of a fabulous 16.2 hands Argentinian Holsteiner with the most engaging nature imaginable, and who, oh-by-the-way, is capable of jumping 1.20 metres! Somebody pinch me!
Now I feel all the stress and drama of the past two years floating away. Nathalie (and The Rolling Stones!) were right. She is exactly what I need. Every time I ride Lena, building a relationship that I’ve longed for for so long, I simply can’t get the smile off my face. She is my happy place. As I stroke her warm neck and luxuriously soft velvet muzzle, there’s just the two of us, and I’m loving it.