Day of the Horse

It’s a bit sad that on a day I should be stuffing my mare with treats and fussing over her, I’m stuck at home with brain fog, thanks due to COVID finally catching up with me. Our two year anniversary together (and the one year anniversary with my Double D trailer!) also passed with me on the couch, barely able to move thanks to a full body ache. My plan was to put some more rather than less coherent words together, reviewing how far Tarma and I have come as partners, my goals for next year, and just general appreciation for being a horse owner in these crazy days. Instead I have just enough energy to choose some of my favorite photos and caption them. I’ve loved seeing everyone else’s posts celebrating this day and our beautiful horses, so here’s Tarma’s turn!

Starting off with a triumphant moment, in the middle of completing our first limited distance ride. Trotting forward on a loose rein in a bitless bridle, Tarma informs me of the location of the ride photographer and her feelings about it (aware of but not scared) and proceeds with her job, motoring down the trail with the comfort gelding hot on our heels. You can just see that I’ve already torn the knee in my favorite summer breeches when she dumped me in blackberry bushes two miles in, but that I’m smiling anyway. Spicy chocolate lady, indeed.

This is not my favorite photo of my ride or die, but it’s up there. I wouldn’t be the horse person I am today, with a horse of my own, if it wasn’t for this lady on the left on her gorgeous black mare. She let me ride her horses, gifted me Flash, dropped everything to be there with me his last night, worked with my husband to ensure I could purchase Tarma, put Tarma up at her place for a month in the depths of winter, and last but not least puts up with my bullheaded stubbornness. She fights and works through so damn much to be able to ride, and while we never get out together as much as we want to, we never stop encouraging and loving each other and our bold, fierce, trail eating mares.

I should also point out that this photo came a few miles after a near disaster. We were riding at the tail end of fall, but not tail end enough to avoid the ground bees. We hit a nest in a sticky part of trail, four horses and two dogs in a tight line. How we all managed to get the horses turned and racing down the trail in a controlled fashion while we were all getting stung by the bastards, horses and humans (but thankfully not the dogs!) without anyone getting bucked off or any horses or dogs seriously hurt is crazy. This lady and her mare got the worst of it, over 10 stings between them, and yet we were all able to keep riding for several more miles, determined not to waste the time together (once we figured out everyone was ok).

Even with a year’s worth of adventures to choose from, I think this could be my favorite photo of 2022 (and I’m not even in it!) There’s so much that happened this day, so much that went into this day even being possible, and yet it’s such a quiet, peaceful moment. A friend and I were horse camping near Sisters for the weekend, and this was our longest and hardest ride to that point (minus the last day of the Cross State Ride). Almost 20 miles of mountain trails, 2500 feet of elevation gain. This was Benny’s toughest ride, and everyone did so damn well. I was able to take care of myself, Tarma and Benny and enjoy a beautiful day in the mountains. We faced some challenges with the trail, but everyone kept their marbles and their health and it was just so damn satisfying.

To emphasize that while Tarma has earned her title of Spicy Chocolate Lady, she’s also quite sweet, I’ve chosen this photo. In our early days, to build her confidence with me and also her enjoyment in her job, anytime we’d pause and rest or futz on the trail my friends would feed her treats. This has come in handy multiple times, when I’ve lost a boot, needed to adjust tack or just take a photo. Now Tarma happily mugs for treats and lets me do whatever I need to do, without the nervous shuffling or over anticipation of my next move some horses can have. Also, it’s just cute, so there!

Oh! Here’s something I’m super proud of, no reservations! Just to prove it can be done safely, I’ve trained Benny to “pony” in certain places. Most training rides for me are doing double duty, conditioning Tarma and exercising Benny. Half of the places we can ride in the winter have leash laws, and it does get a tad boring to ride the same places over and over, so enter: dog on a leash while I ride. This combo requires a breakaway leash, lots of treats for horse and dog, and all marbles firmly intact. Tarma accepts me riding one handed, the leash going over her head, around and over her butt, and Benny knows the commands “left, right, and fix” (which means switch sides). I’ve also taught him “Up”, where he puts his paws on Tarma’s shoulder (which she tolerates), so I can hook and unhook him at need. This wouldn’t work for every combo of horse, rider and dog, but we’ve got several rides under our belts with few mishaps!

It was hard to choose just one photo from the Cross State Ride, as it was such a huge deal for us, and such an adventure! So much went into making this happen, so much happened during the ride, and I learned so many lessons, both through what what right and what went wrong. This photo is from the third camp, after the second day of riding. We’d already faced the most difficult part of the trip, leaving Tarma tied, tacked up, “alone” for a few hours while I moved my rig forward, and a mini-disaster when her saddle slipped sideways and she allowed herself to be rescued by a complete stranger. I’ve got my own rig set up in a good spot, safe and secure, Tarma happy on her Hi-Tie, with her grain mix, full hay net and water bucket ready, post roll after an 11 mile ride, the last two miles of it solo. This is my favorite part of horse camping, getting to settle in and watch my horse, how she takes care of herself after the work I’ve asked of her. I’m sitting in my camp chair, waiting for my own dinner, just the right amount of tired…and yet ready for the next day, which had a few curveballs for us all!

Last for today but not least, my current favorite photo. I’m so freaking happy, and yet I acknowledge the privileges it takes to have everything in this photo, both seen and unseen. The job that affords the truck, trailer, horse and other gear, my health in being able to ride at all, a partner in every sense of the word in my husband, a happy kid that’s of an age he doesn’t need me 24/7 anymore, supportive (*cough* enabling *cough*) ride or die friends, generous public lands policies, clear weather, internal drive…the list goes on.

First, third and last is Tarma herself. I’ve ridden so many fantastic horses over the years, I can get along with most of them, enjoy all of them in different ways. Even from our first test ride, when I was still waffling over whether I should buy her or not, I knew Tarma would keep me safe, and yet would keep me on my toes, not in a dangerous way but in a thoughtful, engaged and ever evolving way. I’ve never doubted her, only my abilities to be the human she needs. It’s a struggle some days, I see echoes of responses I learned as a kid that don’t flatter anyone peek out from time to time, but I always come back to “when you know better, do better.” I’m privilaged to have a horse that tells me exactly what she feels, what she needs, because she knows I’ll listen to her, even when I occasionally insist she has to do the things I ask.

Here’s to many more days, spicy chocolate lady.

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After years of borrowing horses, working to ride and catch riding, I finally have my own horse, a spicy chocolate mare...but also a demanding day job (who doesn't?), a nerdy husband, a soccer loving kid who needs to be parented (by me, duh), and the ultimate trail buddy, a chocolate Labradork!

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