Just a little Brown Horse

Many years ago, I sent my daughters and their horses off to summer camp at Road’s End Farm.  They had been going for several summers.  It was a second home to the kids and I believed a fun diversion for the horses.  Hanni called and asked if she could have a new horse.  The one she had taken with her was a middle-aged gelding who didn’t have the “get up and go” Hanni was looking for.  She had fox-hunted him and done it all, but wanted more of a challenge.  At that point we were supporting five in total and I was not interested in adding to the herd.  The answer was no, no way, no how, no money, no room in the barn. In a second call, she proposed a trade; her horse for one that a counselor had brought for the summer.  Again, no.  Her horse was a known entity, there was only one mare in the herd, my Duetz, and she got along best with the geldings. The conversation persisted over the next few weeks.

NightMare had been rescued from an abusive situation by the counselor’s mom but was a bit too much horse for her.  She just wanted a steady trail riding partner and Hannah’s horse would be perfect for that. She wore me down until the day I drove up with the trailer to haul the girls and their horses home. The counselor met me as I parked and put in her best sales pitch.  The gelding would have a wonderful home.  NightMare and Hanni had hit it off really well. Wouldn’t I at least take a look at her?

I walked up to the riding ring where Hanni was sitting on a skinny, u-necked, ugly beast.  I looked over at her gorgeous gray gelding.  Reminding myself it costs just as much to feed an ugly horse as it does a pretty one, I set myself up to say “No” once again. I don’t remember now how the whole conversation went, but I ended up leaving with Lexie’s horse and NightMare.

I couldn’t see what Hanni saw in her.  She was just a little brown horse. Her integration in the herd didn’t go well.  In the wild, herds are run by the mares. The stallion does protection and breeding but until they are accepted by a herd of mares they are solitary or in small groups when they are young.  There are no geldings, of course.  There is always a lead mare who is respected by all the other members and she keeps the peace. Duetz was the lead mare of our little herd and didn’t like the idea of competition.  The geldings had no respect for Night so she suffered the insult of being shunned for several days.

As life moved on, and we moved, Duetz and Night went with us. When Lexie went off to college, Hanni and I struggled with finding places to board them. Years of having the farm and doing things our way made us difficult clients. We found a good situation at a private barn in Francestown, and were happily trail riding on weekends. Hanni and Night were pursuing Eventing, something Night excelled at.  She would jump anything Hanni pointed her toward. They spent a week at Event Camp and began competing regularly.

Out of nowhere, Night became so sore she would literally sit on her haunches if you touched her back. The vet ran test after test, scratched her head and sent us off to Rochester, NH to the equine clinic.  After a fascinating day of giant x-ray machines inside a hospital built to amazing proportions to accommodate its patients, we were sent home with a diagnosis of Lyme disease.  The competitive season was over for Hanni and Night, perhaps for life.  Duetz tested positive for Lyme as well.  We were ride-less, though not horseless.

Hanni scrounged around and came up with a prospect – a mammoth dark bay gelding of undocumented heritage. Baloo was young, goofy and not terribly trustworthy.  I have never met a horse with such a strong flight instinct.  Many days they set off on a “trust ride” as Hanni termed it, only to come galloping back down the road at break-neck speeds.  The horse had no brakes. Night improved and by Spring both she and Duetz were rideable, though Duetz never returned to the level of energy she once had. Hanni was still working through Baloo’s issues and asked if I would start riding Night.

I spent months hating every ride. I wanted my old partner back and Night was just too tightly wound, too much work.  She was fit and wanted to get back to jumping and competing.  Quite frankly, she scared me.  One day we were on a long stretch of dirt road and Hanni suggested we just let go. Just trust them to take us as fast as possible and to believe in their sense to keep us safe.  Baloo danced next to me, Night danced under me. I was terrified but I let go. The horses shot off, Baloo being so much larger should have out paced us, but he was also heavy and Night was fleet. They drove each other on, I forgot to breathe. When we pulled up and stood, the horses flanks were heaving, I was gasping. I looked at Hanni and we started to laugh uncontrollably. It felt so good to go so fast.  “You just have to trust her Mom!” Hanni quipped.

From then, Night and I became partners. Our first cross-country event I had those same brutal jitters, I closed my eyes when she leapt out of the start box, then watched her ears and talked to her the whole course, believing she would take care of us. When Hanni and I found Mountain Lane Farm, a mile from home, we moved our little herd again. We were the first boarders and the horses stayed pastured together.  As the business grew, paddocks were changed and the mares ended up with other mares.  Duetz had suffered Lyme again and couldn’t convince the world that she was still lead mare material. Night took over and kept the peace. Their relationship evolved, as did mine with them. I rode Duetz less, competed Night more, and was torn between my love for each.

For her part, Night was more aloof. She is very focused and marches through life. Duetz was my softy, my “Barbie” horse with the looks and personality. Night taught me to test my comfort zone and to love the challenges. In this particular instance that Hanni defied me,  had I held my ground,  I would have ultimately denied myself one of the strongest equine relationships in my life.  She and I are healing and moving on since Duetz’s death.  I think we will be both feel the loss and know it is shared. As we turned to walk down the driveway to her pasture today, the farrier called out to me, “Boy, she is a really good-looking horse, Martha.” I was struck, “She’s just a little brown horse, but thanks!” I looked in her left eye and saw a beauty deeper than her mahogany coat and well-rounded muscles.


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