|Photo: Jane Kennedy O'Neil|
I'm filling my horseless days ruminating about my next horse. Who will he be? What do I want to do? It is natural for me to immediately assume I will look for a dressage horse, and that would be fine. But the idea of spending all or most of my time in an arena makes my insides feel restless and squirmy. Yes, I would like to do some showing. I didn't get to do nearly enough of it as a child. There's still an itch there. But I also fantasize about dirt roads, corn fields, miles of trails through the woods. I remember seeing the world through pointed ears, an explosion of fall color, the soothing, rhythmic sound of my horse's footfalls, the sharp aroma of leaves and refreshing fall air. I'll never get tired of that, and as a child that is what I loved the most. My sister was always right there too, a ready riding buddy who shared my enthusiasm. Our farrier used to comment on the wear of our horses' shoes; they could never be reset because the daily mileage had worn them so thin. We would ride in all weather, getting caught in the rain more than a time or two. We rode bareback as a matter of habit; youth is fearless with an effortless balance and agility. Back then I had a Morgan.
I hadn't considered a Morgan again until recently. But why not? My show-trained Morgan was up for everything I was into and well suited for it too. Isn't a Morgan a natural choice? They are beautiful, strong, sensible, versatile, respectful of those who respect them. They have energy to burn and endurance to spare. You get an awful lot of horse for a fairly reasonable amount of money (exceptionally reasonable when compared to the cost of a warmblood) .When I was a child the good Morgan ads read like this: "Morgan for sale, rides and drives, excellent family horse, old (fill in blank) lines". As it turns out, that's still largely true. As a Vermonter, not only are these the 'horses of my people' but they are everywhere. That's kind of awesome. How great it would be to actively seek out the right horse for me as an adult, knowing what I know now and participating in the process. I look forward to that day with anticipation :-)
When I was a child, each horse that I had was a stroke of luck. Each foible was a lesson learned the hard way. I think about how children learn about horses today. How different everything is! I am so grateful for my daughter's experience with Pony Club, and I highly recommend it. Pony Club doesn't just produce pretty riders, but real horse people who know as much about safety and the care of their horse as they do about riding. It seems these days that many children are being taught to ride but know nothing else. They have to have perfect footing in their well-tended arenas, the most fashionable tack and clothing, and a coach at their side for everything they do. I think it's sad. Those children are missing out on a lot. It's hard to have a real relationship with an animal that you don't understand, that you have relegated to nothing more than a competition vehicle. Without that relationship the best part of the experience is lost.
My sister and I didn't take a lot of lessons. The ones we took we paid for ourselves with money we saved from birthdays, Christmas, mowing the occasional lawn. We didn't come from a horsey family so lessons and showing weren't a priority (or at least not a priority to those who held the finances!). We were very fortunate to have the horses at all. After years of begging, we started out with free-leased ponies from a local summer camp. My grandfather had put up a fence and built a barn and run-in, and that's what we had from that point on. After having more free-leased ponies and horses than I can count, my family finally purchased two horses. Kudos to my Mom here; she was a single, non-horsey parent and we had horses. That in and of itself was impressive.
Most of our education was provided by horsey neighbors, working at the summer camp (if we got all the chores done, we could RIDE! Thank you Mom for getting up early to fed us breakfast; thank you Papa for all the rides to the farm!) and a pretty terrific 4-H leader. This same woman helped my Mom find our horses and helped us to get set up with tack. I mentioned that my Mom was not a horsey person. So it is really no surprise that she bought us a saddle (yes, one for us to share) from an ad in the paper for $50. I think we even tried to use it, but it was pretty scary. I think it was a polo saddle, and part of one of the panels was missing. Eventually the torn stirrup leathers went to shoe repair to get sewn back together. This is when our 4-H leader stepped in and helped out :-) It couldn't have been easy to buy our nice tack and it was done piece by piece.
When we took our lessons, my sister and I had to ride to the local park and use an outdoor hockey arena as a riding ring. My sister had her saddle before I had mine (the first saddle just fit her horse better) so the instructor would kindly bring her saddle for me to use during the lesson. We thought nothing of this, it was just the way it was. We eventually participated in horse clinics at the local fairgrounds. I remember my saddle arriving by bus the day before the clinic started. I was SO EXCITED to get my new saddle (I had never had my very own saddle before!). I was beside myself. My wonderful Morgan took all the strangeness of the clinic environment in stride and performed beautifully so I could focus on my riding. All my friends were there, we got to sleep in tack rooms and we were able to focus on nothing but horses for a whole weekend! The clinics were awesome.
We eventually did some showing, but our participation at shows was limited by our lack of transportation. We could often hitch a ride with friends if they were going, but it didn't happen nearly enough for me. It didn't matter to my horse though. His lifestyle had changed completely when he came to live with us. He was living the life of a mere backyard pleasure mount. But when he entered the ring he became a different horse. He knew his job and he strutted his stuff like he had never been away. Perhaps that is one one of the things that fascinates me the most about Morgan horses. Some interpret versatility as an ability to perform in different tack. The truth is, horses aren't terribly mindful about the style of tack we choose for them. It's really only important to us. But the versatility of my Morgan was an adaptability in his performance, an understanding of what is needed in a given moment. This horse who would take me calmly down the trail (and through the occasional frog-pond) knew when and how to 'turn it on'. I always felt so proud of him in those moments, and the smile I wore in the show ring was genuine.
That's what I need. I need a tough, flashy little fellow who's up for anything. So why not a Morgan? Why not an animal I have a long history and share a kinship with? Why not the 'horse of my people'? It's certainly something worth considering. Thank you for joining me on this trip through memory lane :-)