Saturday, September 6, 2008

My Last Ride on Bailey

As I spend more and more time with Pandora, I've been thinking about Bailey a lot. Why? Well, the similarities lead to comparisons, in this case. She's far more like Bailey than McKinna ever will be, just because she's half TB.

Here he is below, showing us exactly what he thinks of that ribbon he just got at a schooling show.

But I want to share with you what my last ride on him was like.

We met with the prospective buyers a few days ago, and tomorrow they're coming to sign the bill of sale and pick him up. He'll be on a trailer to Montana, where he'll get to have plenty of turnout and she'll ride him for eventing. I wonder if he'll handle the colder weather well -- he always grew a pretty substantial coat for a Thoroughbred, even when he was blanketed. He'll probably be fine.

It's my last night with my Bailey, with my first horse. I don't feel much like schooling flatwork or jumping him, even though I know I'll miss his soft, forward canter that makes you feel like you could gallop forever. Even though I know I'll miss the smooth, powerful way he jumps, never exerting much more effort than needed, but never making you feel like he was working.

No, tonight I just want to ride my horse. We're both quiet as I tie him and grab his bridle. He takes the bit as soon as I hold it up, and I take a moment to smile as I remember the first year of putting molasses on the bit and fighting with him about taking it.

With the bridle on, I clamber up the railing of the arena and slip onto his bare back. He's warm against the fall-evening chill. We head down the barn aisle and out the wide doors, walking down the small hill and around the frosted grass and spread compost that covers maybe half an acre. It's dark by now, with just a little light from the moon, so I let the reins hang loose on his neck as Bailey picks his way with calm ease.

It's silent from our lack of tack, and his steps are quieted by the soft dirt. After awhile we stop and just stand there, breathing; it's visible, mine wafting like a small puff of smoke, Bailey's curling like dragon's breath from his nostrils. I twine my hands in his mane at the base of his neck, trying to warm my cold fingers against his body.

Together we stand there for a long, long time. I spend the minutes thinking about everything we've come through together, and everything he's become. He wasn't a rescue horse, but I rescued him, alright. Bailey used to be stick-skinny, untrained, and mean. Now he is this, a calm and trustworthy partner who stands quietly beneath me on the last night we'll spend together. A lot of the work was his, I know, and more than half was my trainer's gentle guidance. But I can't help but be proud of him, my OTTB that everyone looked down their nose at when I first got him.

We've come a long way, the two of us. And it's time that we both move on.

With one last stroke down his long neck, I shift and ask him to walk back up to the barn. The lights seem too bright when we get back. There's not much fanfare; I just slide down his dark side to the ground, slip the bridle off his head and the bit out of his mouth, and lead him back to his stall with just the reins around his neck. I'm cold without his body heat. He's happy to get his grain and dives into it, glancing up at me once when I stay at his stall door, slobbering grain all over before returning his nose to the bucket.

I smile and close the door, then head home. I'll see him one last time tomorrow.


Leah Fry said...

You made me cry! I can't imagine what it would be like to sell a horse. My horses are more pets than an ends to any means, such as showing, so I realize it's different. I'm such a sentimental sap.

mugwump said...

Very pretty.

buckpony said...

Goodness, I cried so hard reading this! I wish I was half as mature as you about selling a horse. I still have the 2nd horse I ever owned...Maggie. She turned 30 in May....I think Leah Fry and I share the same sentiments when it comes to horses. :)

manymisadventures said...

Thanks, you guys.

It was hard to do, but made easier because it was the right thing to do. We did not have adequate turnout, and he hated being cooped up. Going into my senior year of high school, I didn't have enough time to keep him mentally stimulated either.

I guess in a way, I still always thought of him as "my" horse.

This post takes on special meaning in light of what I've posted today -- so. Thank you.

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