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  • To All The Horses I've Loved Before

June 01, 2024

TO ALL THE HORSES I'VE LOVED BEFORE

BY JENNA YOUNG

 

It's weird how passions come to be. According to my parents, my passion for horses started when I watched "Racing Stripes" when I was three. I was so insistent on getting a horse that my parents leased a pony for me when I was four. This silly little pony fueled my love for the animal even more. His name was Charlie, and he was a 12-hand, gray, Welsh Mountain Pony. I didn't have a good place to ride, so we rode in the field. A friend of my parents was kind enough to help me saddle and ride Charlie. Charlie was very old, probably around 24 or 25 when I started riding him. Because of his age, Charlie was tired of working, even when all we really did was walk. He thought it was a fun game to take off with me back to the barn and try to rub me off on the shed. I learned from an early age to have a sticky seat and control a pony that didn't want to listen.

My first fall off a horse was a fall off of Charlie. Someone was leading us around the field when a family came walking down the road. One of the children was pushing a toy rolling popping cart. Even though Charlie was ancient and had seen everything under the sun, he decided to spook, and I ended up sliding right off the side of the saddle. I was completely fine, but I was a little startled as it happened suddenly.

I outgrew Charlie quickly. He was a small pony after all, and I was a growing child. I was horseless for years. It bothered me. It was like an itch that was in just the wrong place on your back so that you couldn't quite scratch it. After a year in the D.R., my scratch was finally itched. My parents found the perfect place for me to officially start my riding journey: Sea Horse Ranch.

I had seen this place from the road every time we went to Cabarete, a beautiful beach that was about 30 minutes from our house. The arena was ginormous and full of colorful poles and jump standards. Towards the road was a manmade hill that we could go up and down and practice our two-point on. For years, I had dreamed of riding in this arena. Unfortunately, my dreams were not fulfilled for a few months after I started my riding lessons.

My first riding lesson was interesting to say the least. I got on a fluffy, chunky, black horse named Katanga. My entire first lesson was spent working on my riding position. My instructor was a middle-aged French man who was difficult for me to understand. But I had a blast. I was so excited to be on the back of a horse again. This first lesson led to weekly lessons. I got to ride countless different horses who all helped me in my riding journey. My instructor was changed from the weird French man to a younger, Polish woman. She was amazing. The things she taught me have helped me throughout my riding career.

I grew to have a special fondness of Katanga, the first horse I rode there. My instructor was so impressed with how well I rode him. That compliment has stuck with me. I also was especially fond of a large horse named Frangelico. He was lazy and no one really liked him. I decided he was perfect and fell in love with him. The last horse I had a special connection with at Sea Horse Ranch was a bay mare named Sally. She was so fun to jump, and she took care of me after I had some confidence issues.

I was frustrated when we moved to Montana. There were no horses. Everyone told me that there would be lots of horses, but they were wrong. Luckily, I ended up finding two horses. I wasn't able to ride them very often, but I was able to go hang out with them and brush them. One of them was a Quarter Horse named Trooper, and the other was an Appaloosa/Curly Horse mix named Inniwa. I loved going out and brushing them, savoring the smell of grain, dirt, and horse.

When it came time for me to figure out where to go to college, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in something equine related. I ended up at Midway University in Midway, Kentucky. My first couple months of college were a blur. I had some terrible things happen and found my soul soothed by the horses on campus. Petting horses and being in a barn all the time was nice for a time, but I was dying to get back in the saddle. I ended up finding a lease horse for a few months. His name was Casper, and he was an off the track Thoroughbred. He helped me get back into riding after a few years out of the saddle.

After Casper came Finn, the first horse that I owned. The first horse that was truly mine. He was a giant, ancient warmblood gelding, and I absolutely loved him. The first time I met him was when I went with one of my friends to help her family with a Halloween event they put on annually. Her family owned Finn but were leasing him out to some other friends. I immediately fell in love with the lazy giant and told my friend to let me know if he ever needed a home.

Finn came home to me in March of 2022. He was emaciated and looked really rough, but I was determined to give him the best home ever. After months of constantly upping his grain and making sure he had all the hay he could ever want, Finn started to look like a horse again. My friend didn't know who they had gotten Finn from, just that he had originally come from the Lexington area and was traded around a few times before he found his way to me. I was determined to find his original owner and decided to ask around on different equine Facebook groups. It took all of 30 minutes for me to find his original owner. I asked her if she wanted to come see him and of course she said yes. Finn lit up in a way I had never seen when she came by. She gave him all the pets and scratches he wanted and a whole bag of baby carrots. They were so happy. So, when it came time to retire Finn, one short year after I got him, I knew where he had to go. He is now living the best life with his original owner, and I couldn’t be happier to have brought them together again.

During this the time I had Finn, I started working at the Kentucky Horse Park in the Breeds Barn. It was a dream come true. Little Jenna absolutely loved the Horse Park and specifically the Breeds Barn. Breeds of horses were a fascination of mine and I had dreamed of dressing up in a long flowing purple dress and riding a horse around to epic music. I will forever be thankful that that dream became a reality.

Starting in March of 2022, I had no idea what to expect. I played "musical horses" and got to ride at least 15 different breeds within my first month working there. I loved it. I quickly fell in love with Frodo the Friesian. The costume we wore with him was the costume I had envisioned riding in as a kid; the long flowing purple dress. It wasn't only the costume that I loved about riding him. His personality was subtle, but not to someone who took the time to learn his mannerisms and understand him. He had some health issues, and I did everything in my power to help him where he needed me.

Everyone who saw us together could see our immense love for each other. I was practically the only one who could get him to go fast. He was incredibly lazy and refused to work for people he didn’t like. There were some people who couldn’t even get him to canter. But I could. I could make him fly. I put my heart and soul into loving this horse and got to ride him consistently for the first season I was at the Horse Park.

Coming back for my second season at the Horse Park, I wasn't able to ride Frodo as often. He was needed for the other people who couldn’t ride as well because he could be trusted to take care of them. I started riding a Morgan Horse named Arlie. I fell in love with him almost as quickly as I fell in love with Frodo. Arlie, or Goober as I liked to refer to him as, was an absolute sweetheart and a very good boy even though he was only five. I was the only one to really ride him and I trusted him almost as much as I trusted Frodo. They were my boys and I loved them dearly.

August is when things started going downhill with my boys. Arlie's owner was being incredibly dramatic about a situation that happened with her other Morgan that had been at the Horse Park. She decided she wanted to take Arlie back, after saying he was going to stay at the Horse Park for years. This news came out of nowhere and hit me like a brick. I couldn't stand the thought of him leaving. I savored every moment with him up until he got on the trailer to go home.

The day he left was by far the worst day I have had at the Horse Park. First, I was bringing Arlie and his friend in from the field when his friend spooked. This spook made Arlie go crazy and in the chaos of them yanking the leads out of my hands and bolting towards their fields, one of them stomped on my foot. Theoretically, I should've gotten it checked out, but there were loose horses, and my adrenaline was pumping. They were eventually caught, and I was trying my best not to cry, even as tears spilled down my face.

After the chaos of that morning, things settled for a time. During bathing and before the first show, my foot was throbbing. I managed to keep hobbling around, eventually telling my boss what happened and filling out an incident form. But I kept going. I did all of my chores and then some. It was almost 4:00 p.m.; the time Arlie was set to leave at. I couldn't bear hiding the tears anymore. I went to his stall and loved on him for the last time. A few of my coworkers understood how hard of a day it had been for me and were kind enough to let me hang with Arlie for as long as I wanted. When his owner showed up, I hung around and controlled my emotions to the best of my ability. I wanted to meet his owner and explain tell her that if she needed a home for him, that I would take him in a heartbeat. She didn't seem to care and wanted to cut all ties to the Horse Park. So, when Arlie stepped on that trailer, I knew it was the last time I would see him.

I managed to move on from Arlie and rode other favorite horses, though none of them were quite as special as he was. Luckily, I got to ride Frodo again. But Frodo's departure from the Horse Park had been a long time coming and although I wasn't surprised that he was leaving in November, it killed me to say goodbye to him. He had been my main horse from the start. The one I went to for snuggles after a long day. The one I knew would unconditionally love me. Our finale was somewhat anticlimactic. The last day I rode Frodo was my last day working in the Breeds Barn. I had chosen to ride my two favorites: Frodo and the Akhal-Teke named Aslan who was my other main horse my first season at the Horse Park. I rode Frodo in the morning show, and he gave me his best. Unfortunately, his best wasn't that great, but I still savored every second of our short two and a half minute script. I was crying the entire ride and after. I collapsed at the waist and let Frodo's luscious mane soak up my tears. I managed to control my emotions during meet and greet but as soon as that was over and we got back to Frodo's stall, I couldn't contain it anymore. It took me a lot longer than it should have to hop down from that saddle one last time. This wasn't the last time I would see him, but I knew it was the last time I would ride him.

The last day I saw Frodo was after the season had ended. I came back to volunteer for that day because I knew he was leaving early the next morning and I needed to say goodbye. I spent as much of the day with him as possible, going into his stall so frequently that I think he got a bit annoyed at me. But he let me do it anyway. I scratched him in all his favorite spots and gave him hugs and kisses. He gave the best hugs and we got to the point that he would even kiss me back. Everyone was lenient with me that day. I was volunteering, plus it was the last time I would see Frodo. His owner came to take care of a different horse she was keeping at the Horse Park to keep Frodo company. I gathered enough courage to go up to her and tell her how much her horse meant to me. As soon as I introduced myself, she exclaimed, "Oh my goodness, you're the one that he loves so much? It's so nice to meet you!" She is one of the most delightful humans I've met and was generous enough to talk to me for almost an hour. I expressed how much I adored Frodo, and she was so grateful that he was in such good hands. She even gave me her phone number and told her to let her know if I ever wanted to come see him. I knew he was going to have an amazing retirement, but saying goodbye to a horse that special was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I still work at the Horse Park and volunteer at the Breeds Barn often, but something always feels like its missing now that my heart horse is gone.

Although Frodo is one of the best horses I've ever met, he shares my heart equally with my personal horse, Rizz. Ruthless, Lily, Rizz, Charisma, Rizzles, Rizzle Roo. My best mare. She is truly a gift from God. That's what her name means. Charisma is Greek for gift from God. I had advertised on Facebook that I was looking for a horse shortly after I retired Finn. I heard from a lot of people, but nothing seemed to really fit. I even tried a horse. She was sweet but definitely not the horse for me.

In April, a lady from Texas messaged me. She said she had two horses: a warmblood and a Thoroughbred. I'm a huge fan of warmbloods, so I inquired more about her. I fell head over heels in love with that horse from the first picture I saw of her. She was simple: a plain bay with a little star and huge ears, something my friend mocks even to this day. There were a few issues though. First, she was in Texas, and I am in Kentucky. That's a long, expensive haul for a horse. Second, she was out of my price range. I thought long and hard about it and at first, I declined a trial period with her because I just couldn't afford it. But the owner desperately wanted her gone, so she was more than happy to take $3,000 for Rizz after she was originally priced at $5,000. I knew it was a God-handled situation and trusted Him through the whole process. He brought the exact horse I needed into my life.

Rizz got off the trailer at 10 pm on a Tuesday night. I was bouncing off the walls with excitement and couldn't wait till she got here. The haulers didn't seem to be the best people, but my Rizzle Roo got to me in one piece. She came with a purple nylon halter and that's it. Luckily, I had plenty of horse things still from Finn and most of that worked for her. We didn't have stalls on the property where I first kept Rizz, so she went out into a field by herself while she acclimated to the area.

It was finals week when she came, so I devoted what very little extra time I had to Rizz. She came with the name Lily, but upon buying her, I changed it to Charisma aka Rizz. Her owner agreed to a two week trial period, where I could decide whether or not I wanted to officially buy Rizz. During this time, I worked with her on the ground, trying to build trust and see what kind of horse she was. On the ground, she was fabulous. A gorgeous mover and incredibly athletic, just what I was looking for in a horse. Our first ride was interesting, but it didn't scare me away from purchasing her. On May 12, 2023, I became the proud owner of Ruthless, a 2016 Dutch Warmblood mare.

After purchasing her, I did everything I could to increase our trust and bond on the ground before I attempted to get in the saddle again. We had deduced that the behavioral problems we saw under saddle were because Rizz had ulcers, a common problem in horses that go through stressful situations. I began to treat those and found a trainer who would help me with the basics with Rizz so that we could build our trust. Rizz loved this and picked up on everything quickly, surprising both me and my trainer. I did only groundwork with Rizz for the first 8 months of owning her. I didn't want to push anything, plus our "arena" wasn't the best place to ride. After quite a few hiccups, our relationship started to solidify. No other horse has taught me this much about being a horse owner and just about myself than Rizz.

In December, I moved Rizz to a real farm. This farm had an arena with jumps. I couldn't wait to see what Rizz would do jumping. We took it slow. I took her into the arena with just a lead rope a few times to get her used to everything before trying to ride her. I was complimented on multiple occasions about how much Rizz trusted me and how I was doing right by my horse. She has done so much for me that it's only fair I do everything I can for her. Our first ride went way better than I expected. We trotted and cantered, after a few questionable moments. After that, my confidence with Rizz soared. I knew if she was this good after not having been ridden in months, that we could do almost anything.

The first time I jumped Rizz was also the first time I fell off Rizz. We were going around just doing flatwork when another barn member came into the arena and set some jumps for her and her horse. She asked me if I wanted to go over one and I said, "Sure, why not?" I brought Rizz up to the jump at a trot. It was a simple cross rail, no more than a foot off the ground. She stopped in front of it and took a second to process what was being asked of her. I prepared to turn her around and try it again, when, from a stand still, Rizz leapt over the fence. Unprepared, I flew out of the saddle and landed on my feet next to her, laughing. She looked at me like I was crazy, but I couldn't stop laughing. I got back on and tried the jump again. This time, she took it way better. She still overjumped it, but she didn't leap over it like she did the first time.

Since then, both Rizz and I have progressed phenomenally. She is everything I could have asked for in a horse. Smart, resilient, strong, athletic, and so much more. I grow to love her more and more every day. Although a part of me will always have Frodo in mind, I know Rizz is my forever horse and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for my mare and me.