My beloved Prince came to me as a most treasured gift. He was enormously power- ful…an athlete who had already had more than his fair share of show miles, trailer rides, bent lines, combinations, and lineups. The first time that he bit me was the first time that I groomed him, it was crushing and defensive with the exhaust of an expectation that I would beat him in retaliation. Instead, I cried…yes, it hurt a lot, but the majority of my tears were for him, and his pain. We learn an awful lot from our equine partners in the saddle; in my Prince’s case it was to ride him forward through the lines and soften slightly the last two strides. He was a no nonsense professional who expected me to be focused and ride every stride, and he gave nothing away for free. He had an intolerance for anything that would interrupt our training, and once lunged aggressively at a bunny that innocently hopped through the corner of the ring while we were jumping. The many hard miles that had preceded our partnership required that he warm up slowly prior to going to work. He was competitive (others might say cranky) and I learned to keep my distance from other horses in my under-saddle classes, lest he try to eliminate the com- petition as he would a rabbit.
The most important things that I learned about my great love were on the ground. He had been horribly mistreated in the cross ties, groomed and tacked roughly, frequently struck in the face…repeatedly hit over his eye when he reacted. He bears telltale signs of the abuse by way of faint scarring over his right eye and crushed occipital fragments. His emotional wounds were many and deep, and we jointly worked to lessen them with every interaction. We built our relationship slowly with a groom box, root beer barrels, and multiple visits to his stall that came without any expectation other than to check on him and say hello…the conversation of the interested. Genuine devotion.
I filled our early interactions with lots of soft brushes, gentle touch and respect, careful not to accidentally violate the fragility of what began as a tenuous friendship. He trans- formed from disinterested and mechanical to affectionate, loving, and demonstratively engaged. Today we are the best of friends, while I no longer even hack him, not be- cause I don’t want to, but because it is not something that he needs or wants. I still miss the power of his stride, the connection with his massive gait, and the assurance that he would take care of me over any fence, short or long. More importantly, we both enjoy the ritual of grooming which he now relishes, and rather than strike or bite, he tenderly grooms me back, smells my hair, and nuzzles my neck. He knows the very second that my boots hit the farm even when I am out of sight, and looks for me with expectation. Regardless of the circumstances, I greet him intimately and would never dream of walk- ing by without acknowledging him, my friend.
My sweet Prince has taught me that horsemanship is partnership, that partnership is relationship…and that the very essence of true love is vulnerability. Perhaps the most cherished gift that my dear friend has given me is the profundity that true horsemanship is giving without taking, and that the bond of partnership becomes sweeter once expectation is redefined as…meeting his, and taking care of him.
This culture message is dedicated to Caspian, my friend, partner, and mentor…I am so grateful for you.