Friday, March 15, 2013

Not Gully

Yesterday I had to talk myself into going out to ride.  I had plenty of time for it, I'd done quite a bit of good work on my novel, the sun was shining and my horse needed exercise.  On the other hand, I've still got this cough I can't quite lose, it was cold and windy, and it was a day when I was acutely aware that the horse I'd be riding was Not Gully.

I could have ridden Gully, my beloved brown pony.  He was out in the front field.  If I'd groomed him and saddled him and climbed aboard, he would have been very pleased.  He also would have limped.  He's limped more or less constantly for a year now, despite everything the vets have tried; I know what the basic problem is, and I know he's unlikely to ever be sound again.  It breaks my heart.

Sarah, my new mare, is the bomb.  She's bright and smart and willing and sweet.  She comes running when I call her.  She's implacable in the hunt field, she loves to jump, and she tries hard to please me.  Even her occasional 1200-lb hissy fits are mostly amusing.

But she is not Gully.  She's not Botswana, either.  I very nearly bought a horse named Botswana, once I'd faced the truth about Gully, but the deal fell through.  When I went to try Sarah, I kept comparing her to Botswana.  We were spending the night near the farm where Sarah'd been raised, so that I could ride her again in the morning, and at dinner I kept ruminating to my daughter how Sarah was or was not like Botswana.  Finally my daughter had had enough.  "Mom," she said firmly, "Botswana is off.  The.  Table.  Please quit comparing a horse you can buy to one that you can't."

She was right, of course, and the next day, when I bopped around fields and over fences on Sarah, I thought, what more do I want than this?  She's the nicest horse I've ever owned.  She's the first one I've bought for myself (as opposed to for my children) who already had knew how to jump before I got her.  She's young; we should have many happy years ahead.

When I bought Gully I didn't have a clue.  I got him untried over the internet, from 2000 miles away, because I wanted a Connemara.  He'd had six weeks of under saddle training in Western tack.  I bought him to be my first event horse, because I thought eventing looked cool.

This should have been a recipe for disaster, but I was lucky indeed.  I made mistakes, but Gully forgave them, and he loved whatever we did.  He loved to go to new places.  He loved eventing.  He loved me with a strange singular intensity.  I remain the one human in the world that he cares about.  He pours all his affection into me.

That Sarah was Not Gully was obvious from the start.  Forget that she's a 16.2 hand grey mare instead of a 15.1 hand bay gelding.  When I ask her to go, she keeps going--I don't have to kick every stride.  Her natural gallop swallows the ground.  Gully had to be made to gallop, and he never achieved the ease of Sarah's stride.  Gully liked to hang the weight of his head onto my hands; Sarah, thank God, doesn't do that.  In time she'll be a much easier horse to ride.

But when I took her down to Florida she was thrown out of her comfort zone; not entirely trusting me yet, she whinnied and fretted and bolted during lessons.  She saved her worst moments for our lessons with Angelica, which was just golden, as anytime I show up at Angelica's barn I look slightly outclassed anyhow. ("She's teaching you?" more than one person said while I was there.)  She was a big 'ol whopping pile of Not Gully; Gully'd loved our trips to Florida, and always, always behaved beautifully there.

Of course, Sarah was five years old.  When Gully was five I'd ridden him for eighteen months already, but barely taken him away from the barn where he was boarded.  He was six the first time we evented; twelve the first time we went to Florida. 

I rode Sarah 4 times at Beginner Novice, the lowest recognized level of eventing:  a starter trial last August, three weeks after I got her, in which she threw the biggest hissy fit of her life in the dressage warmup, bless her, then romped over the cross country course; a recognized trial in September, another in late October, and one at the end of our first week in Florida.  Then, the second week, I bumped her up to Novice.  It was a challenging Novice track and she did great.

I can't remember exactly how many times I rode Gully at Beginner Novice, but I know the competitions were spread out over more than two years--and only after I'd owned him two years already.  I've got Sarah on a much faster trajectory, because she and I both know much more than Gully and I did back when.  Gully did have baby horse hissy fits--I remember them--but mostly I remember all our long glorious days together, the moments when we felt in perfect partnership, the long years I felt so happy and lucky to be riding him.

Yesterday I talked myself into going out to the barn.  I rode Sarah in our ring, practicing a technique Angelica taught me for keeping my hands still and my elbows loose.  Sarah loved my hands being still and my elbows loose: before long, she was giving me the best trot she's done to date, loose and through and straight, and then she gave me a dose of the best possible canter.  Afterward I rubbed her face, which she likes, and then she laid her head gently against my chest so that I could use both hands to rub behind her ears.   Gully never did this.  But then, Sarah is not Gully.