Riding 29 year old Sandy in 1997

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A perfect ride on a perfect horse on a perfect day

I love my beautiful bay mare, Dash.  I expect to be buried with her someday.  Bill Gates doesn't have enough money to buy her from me.  She's one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses that you know is your horsey soul mate.

That is Dash.  I bred her from Dottie, a mare I chose for her beauty and disposition, bred to a stallion I met personally before Dottie was bred to him because it was important to me that the stallion not just be beautiful and well-bred, but I wanted him to be nice, and friendly, and manageable.  And Poco's Super Buck was all those things.  I became friends with his owners and occasionally took care of their horses while they traveled, and "Buck" was one of those good stallions that you don't have to handle with chains and a pitchfork.  He was manageable and mannerly and a joy to handle.

So the product of Gold Poco Dots (Dottie) and Poco's Super Buck was Buck's Poco Dash, followed a year later by Buck's Poco Dawn.

Dash was named before she was born.  She came into the world on St Patrick's Day, and she was friendly and sweet and curious from the moment she hit the ground.  I had just been laid off, and was in the process of preparing to move to Arizona, so I had plenty of time to bond with little Dash.  Every day for the first month of her life, I haltered her, led her, handled her, brushed her, and started the process of desensitizing her to things that might have frightened her.

She had a two-foot-tall black and white stuffed penguin for a toy.  An old tarp lay in her corral and was dragged all over the place by the curious filly.  The sprinkler that watered her 20x100 foot grazing strip ran a river across the south entrance to that area, so she learned at a very young age to cross water without fear.  At 11 days old, I led her on a loose rope into the horse trailer -- in front of her mother, not following her mother.  She was an absolute joy, and learned faster than any other horse I'd ever owned.

Fast-forward three years -- after trying to train her to saddle by myself, I realized I didn't really have the nerve to finish the job so I sent her to a professional trainer, Sally Wills of Pine, who sent her back to me six weeks later with an outstanding start.  She was a bold and willing trail horse who would go anywhere you asked her to go, and would stand quietly for mounting -- in fact Sally taught her to sidepass over to a mounting block or fence on command.  She was light and responsive to weight and leg cues, would stop in an instant on the word "whoa" and move hind or forequarters in either direction from leg pressure.  She would back on a loose rein with a light stroking of heels on her side.

She's now seven years old.  She's developed into a gorgeous, classic foundation Quarter Horse mare, and still has that calm and willing and friendly disposition that she got from her mother and father.

And I ride her in a halter, with a bareback pad.

Yes, I sometimes put a proper bridle on her -- mostly if I'm riding with people who might be worried about my ability to control her without a bit, but most often, the bridle is just hanging on her face for decoration, and I am actually controlling her with the halter under the bridle, and using the doubled lead rope for a rein.

On the ride up Gibson's Peak, described here previously, she wore the bridle but I never touched the reins.  She went up and down that hill under control of the halter and lead rope.

She's so amazingly responsive -- I can ride her under a tree, stop her on a dime, try to break off a branch that is in the way, apply the calf of a leg to her side and have her move sideways if the branch doesn't break, back her up, turn her 180 degrees in place, then turn her up or down a hill and ride around the tree, all without ever even tightening the lead rope that is tied to the halter.  The more I ride her the more she seems to be able to almost read my mind.

Tonight was one of those "after this I can die happy" nights.  My neighbor and riding buddy, Tessa, wanted to go for a long ride.  I chose Dash and the bareback pad and rode over to meet her.  We headed into the woods on our usual trail, rode over to trail 433 and headed toward the wash.  En route, we heard a quad coming, moved off the trail until it came into view, put up a hand to slow it down, then motioned it forward.  It rode past us while Dash stood like a statue on loose rein, then I lightly reined her after it as it rode up the trail away from us.

When we reached the wash, Tessa took the lead on her mare, Jessie, and we cantered awhile, and I relaxed into Dash and she rocked along in Jessie's wake until Tessa felt like stopping.

There's no better feeling in the world.

We turned back, rode most of the way home, then turned down another wash that I'd only ridden in once.  There were trees to duck, logs to step over, a few times we had to climb out of the wash to go around fallen trees.  Dash was such a joy, doing everything I asked, calmly, with no protest, and all on a loose rein.  I could feel her muscles moving under me through the bareback pad.  It felt so good to just relax and trust my horse and not have to worry about her bolting or acting up or refusing to go as would have been the case with so many of the horses of my past.

The weather was 75-degree-perfect, only the merest touch of a breeze, and we rode through the wash toward home, arriving just as the sun was setting.

If there are no horses in Heaven, I don't want to go; I think I may already be there.  Because I'm not sure anything can top the ride I had tonight, it was so perfect in every way -- a wonderful, sweet horse to ride, with the closeness and bonding made possible by using the bareback pad instead of a saddle; a good friend to ride with; perfect weather to ride in; and the natural beauty of the forest to please the senses in every way.  Even the smell of the air was heavenly -- the cool pine scent of a forest recently rained upon.

No, it doesn't get any better than this.  I have been truly blessed to have this special horse to share my life with.  And I am double blessed -- her sister Dawn is almost as perfect, and even smarter than Dash.

But Dash is the one who stole my heart over seven years ago as a newborn foal, my firstborn foal, and I treasure every ride on her.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

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