It isn’t often that one can ride in the rain in Florida. More often than not there’s a torrential downpour or a major thunderstorm. We live in “Lightning Alley” (between Tampa and Titusville), and have a healthy respect for Mother Nature’s fireworks. Lightening can strike up to 10 miles away from the actual storm, sometimes called ” a bolt from the blue”, so it can be a silent killer. Florida has the distinction of being the Lightning Capitol of the U.S., with Rwanda, Africa, holding the world title. One thing is for sure, you don’t really want to be riding in a lightning/thunderstorm, because either way, you are probably pushing your odds of survival.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time going through some old pictures of Richie and myself. My sister always seemed to have her camera ready when she was riding and she was always taking pictures of Ricochet. She would send me some really good pictures of him, but if I was riding at the time, most likely my head was chopped off. I asked her once if she could manage to include me in the picture and her reply was that she was taking his picture, not mine. [sigh] To appease me, she took a few when I was rain drenched or near to having a heat stroke.
On October 15, I received a call at work from the wife/owner of the facility, telling me that Richie wasn’t doing well and she had called my vet(erinarian). I left work and managed to get to the barn a few minutes after the vet. He told me that Richie had probably had a stroke, he could barely stand without falling, and it would be best if I put him down. Here I was again, just a month and half after I had to put down WhiteDog, and I was sobbing again.
Looking back, I know that Richie had a long life, plenty of hay to eat, and many horse companions to hang out with. I couldn’t have asked for a better horse to retire my riding career with. At my ripe old age, I have given up riding spirited mounts and I just stick with riding relaxed looky-loos on quiet horses in the woods. Somehow, we both grew old and comfortable together and I will always miss him. He taught me a lot about life through the eyes of a horse and I gave him the down-time that he needed to relax and just be a horse.
The place where my sister and I board our horses has 2 full size arenas. The main arena has a clay base, which packs down to the consistency of cement. The other arena has a clay base and a top-dressing of sand, the consistency of ‘sugar sand’ like at the beach. The sand doesn’t pack down and it tends to slow the horses down. This is where I spent many days, teaching Richie (my nickname for him) to just walk.
Richie is built for speed, similar to a foreign sports car that can do 0 to 60 in 6 seconds. He has a walk, slow trot, working trot, extended trot, canter, and gallop (overdrive). He can do all 6 speeds on autopilot, but he is very responsive (to seat, leg & heel) on the curves, and is impressive on the straightaways. To slow him down, the most you have to do is shift your seat and tighten your hand on the rein, never pulling on his mouth (ill-advised if you value your life). One thing I didn’t know about him was his reverse…he has 2 speeds. Most horses will back up from a full stop slowly and deliberately from gentle pressure on the reins. Richie was good at that, backing slowly in a straight line, but I discovered by accident one day that he can back up really, really fast with no urging. It’s not a comfortable feeling to go backwards at 20 mph on the back of a horse. I discovered his versatility one day when I was riding him around the barn, waiting for my sister to saddle up her Buckskin so we could do some work in the clay arena together. When she was ready, she rode her horse into the arena as Richie and I followed along. When we got to the gate, Richie decided he didn’t want to work in the arena that day and before I knew it, I was practically hanging onto his neck as he backed up at breakneck speed. I had to turn him around, his head away from the arena to get him to stop. After I got over his exhibition, I calmly dismounted and walked his ass him into the arena, slamming the gate behind me. There, take that! We still managed to get our arena work done and relax riding trail afterwards. He never did that to me again, but as far as I’m concerned, once was enough. We developed a strong bond of trust and respect over the years, but the beginning was a bit hair-raising.
My sister and I have had several horses over the years and used to spend every weekend riding, washing and fussing over our mounts or cleaning tack. We began riding at the place where we still board our horses today. The facility, family owned and operated, is on 20 acres of woods, out in the country, far enough away from the city that cell phone coverage is spotty at best. It’s a comfortable place, nothing pretentious, and the family lives on the property. The owner breeds Arabians, so naturally, we started out riding Arabians.
I’ve had Richie (my nickname for him) for more years than I can remember. His breed is National Show Horse (NSH), a combination of Arabian & American Saddlebred. Because he’s registered Half Arabian and NSH, I could show him in either type of breed events, so I was thrilled. He came to me fully trained in English Country Pleasure and English Show Hack, with a lengthy show record. He’s probably the most powerful horse I’ve ever ridden, a Cadillac ride, and a real looker too. His one drawback…he was ‘over it’ performing, that is. He hated arena work and couldn’t wait to get out of the gate. He had been to so many shows, that as soon as we went into the arena, he was ‘on stage’ and started performing his routine on autopilot. Once he finished, he was ready to go back to eating hay out in the pasture. I spent a lot of time teaching him to just walk in the arena, but I had to be prepared for prancing, head-tossing, and his ‘let’s get this over with’ attitude. Eventually, I shortened his arena work and started taking him on trails out in the woods. I had some trepidation about being in the woods with him, because a.) I don’t think he was ever ridden on trail and b.) because there are so many critters: squirrels, armadillos, gopher turtles (yes, horses will even spook over a turtle on the path), deer, and the occasional bird flying up out of the bushes. My concern was for naught; he actually let out a huge sigh whenever we entered the woods and he ‘just’ walked like he was on a Sunday looky-loo. As he got older, I retired him from his show career and we just enjoyed being together and in the woods. As I look back over the time we spent together, I realize he taught me how to hang on for dear life, and I taught him how to relax. We had great fun.