First horse stories are a beginning. A beginning of a lifelong love affair. That first horse holds a place in our heart and soul that lays the groundwork for all the horses that come next. Our passion leads us to the horse and the horse leads us to a new dimension of learning, experiencing and relating. Here is a first horse story from Dianne McCleery that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Enter the experience of her first love affair.
I was a horse-crazy little girl, wanting nothing more than to have my own horse. My father was a career military officer. We moved often, leaving behind friends and beloved pets. Money was tight, and no way was there time or money for me to obtain my dream.
Over the years I took lessons and on occasion had ridden friends’ horses. And never did the dream of having my own horse die.
Then, when I was sixteen, a school mate who knew I loved horses asked if I wanted one. Her sister was off at college and had no time to ride hers. After the farrier would shoe this horse, he would come up lame for several days afterwards. She didn’t feel right in selling him.
I asked my parents if I could have him, fingers and toes crossed. Luckily, I had a part time job at a ranch, so I could afford the monthly costs for a horse. Wonders of wonders, my parents said yes!
I became the proud owner of Rippling Wave, Rip for short, a half-Morgan, half-Standardbred gelding. I thought he was beautiful and fell in love at first sight. He was a dark chestnut, about fifteen years old, and supposedly well-trained. I moved him to a small boarding facility where he had a stall and attached corral. I had stars in my eyes and floated through the next few days.
When Saturday came, I saddled and bridled Rip and led him through a pasture to the trail behind the property. Taking a deep breath, I mounted up and, for the first time in my life, was riding my own horse.
What I hadn’t counted on, and was too green to notice, was that Rip hadn’t been ridden in a long, long time. He danced under me, swinging his butt this way and that, as I wrestled with the reins to try to get control.
A man on a white horse rode up the trail. At that point, Rip, who had slid down a short bank to under a tree, reared up. A tree branch caught me around the neck, and Rip took off at a gallop. The man’s horse bolted after him. I ended up in the dirt on my butt.
I was crushed. I searched in the dirt for my glasses and luckily found them. My dream come true had turned into a nightmare. My neck hurt, my butt hurt, my soul hurt. The man rode his white horse back up the trail, leading Rip by the reins. He handed them to me, asking, “Are you okay?”
I nodded yes, not trusting myself to speak.
I led Rip back through the pasture, un-tacked him, put him back in his corral, and slunk back home. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. I didn’t want to hear, “I told you so,” or “Be careful what you wish for.” I had already learned to hide from my family what was happening in my life.
I tossed and turned that night, not knowing what to do. I had my horse, and at this point, it was a disaster.
The next day, I returned to Rip. Another boarder was there, and I told her what happened. “Sounds like he was just fresh,” she said. She pointed to a flat area and said, “You can lunge him there.” I asked what lunging meant and she explained. (Lunging is putting a halter on a horse, attaching a long line, then standing in the center moving the horse around you. You are safe on the ground; the horse can get his ya-yas out.) So I haltered Rip, attached a long lead line, and sent him out around me. At first he kicked and bucked, which had me holding on for dear life and learning the meaning of “rope burn.” But soon he settled down, trotting rhythmically in a big circle, head lowered. I went home that night feeling a bit more optimistic.
After several days of lunging where Rip became nothing less than a gentleman, I saddled and bridled him again. I took him out to the trail and wisely hand-walked him down to the community arena. This time when I settled into the saddle, there was no dancing, only a well-trained horse that walked, trotted, and cantered on command. Now I was ecstatic! I was a horse owner, and I was in heaven!
Rip turned out to be the perfect first horse. I spent hours on his back, riding him in the arena, down trails, across meadows, and even once to the beach where we splashed through waves. Interestingly, he never once turned up lame after shoeing.
A couple of months after Rip dumped me on my butt, I came across the man on the white horse again. He looked at me in astonishment. “Is that the same horse?” he asked. I nodded. I was riding Rip bareback, no saddle, in a halter with a looped lead rope for a bridle, no bit. Life was good.
I had a wonderful six months with Rip before we had to move across country once again. My father’s secretary loved horses. She could afford the monthly board, but not the cost of a horse. I gave Rip to her, and he lived pampered for the rest of his life, giving rides to her and her nieces and nephews.
When Rip reared up and caught me by the neck in that tree, that wasn’t the first time I’d come off a horse. Nor was it the last. But it was certainly the most traumatic and taught me to be very, very sure a horse is ready to be ridden before even thinking about putting a foot into a stirrup.
And I bless the kindness of Rip’s original owner who made a horse-crazy girl’s dream come true, my parents for saying “yes” when I asked if I could have him, and the wise woman who taught me how to lunge a horse.
Dianne Chapman McCleery is a lifelong horsewoman. Her credits and accomplishments are included but not limited to completion of CSHA”s Horsemanship Course, Barefoot Shoeing instruction and a one time certification in energy healing. She specializes in Natural Horsemanship and Equine Behavior, having studied under Anne Soule of Foothill Equestrian Center.