Yesterday I said goodbye to one of the best friends I’ll ever have. It wasn’t a sad, teary, final goodbye, because I know I will see her again, maybe even ride the trails on the Boise foothills just like we always did.
But there will be one difference this time – I won’t be riding her and she won’t be mine.
The Long Road to Spice
The beautiful bay mare Spice entered my life just over two years ago. At that time I had not had a horse to ride for over five years. A year before I met Spice I had been so desperately missing having a horse that I bought a cheap bay mare off of Craigslist. I knew the second I saw the mare that it wasn’t right, but I talked myself into it. I liked her breeding; she was my favorite color; most of all the price was right. I had so missed having a horse in my life that I just thought I’d make it work.
It turned out to be a disaster.
I was coming back to riding after several years off following a bad accident and my confidence was at an all-time low. The mare was not gentle or well-trained and spooked after an equipment malfunction when I was riding her (in the trainer’s saddle) the second or third time. I came off of her, and though I wasn’t injured I was so unsettled that I never got the confidence to ride her again, and sold her after just a couple of months, feeling like I might be done with horses forever.
The next spring though, the bug bit again. We had gotten a little black pony for Annabelle to learn on, and I wanted to find something that I could enjoy riding with her. Horses were not a very important factor in our budget at that time, so I didn’t have much money to spend. Once again I turned to the online ads on Craigslist, and I started hunting. This time I was prepared to take my time and find something that really suited me, no matter how long it took.
And it took a while.
I looked at half a dozen horses over the next couple of months, and out of them only one was even worth riding. She was another bay mare, and she was great on the trail and fairly quiet in the arena. She was pretty, with one weird exception: her head was crooked. Really crooked. When you sat on her and looked down at her ears they were set slightly off to one side. It was disconcerting to look at, though it didn’t appear to really hamper her. I assumed that the horse had pulled back really hard on her halter at some point and damaged her neck. That worried me some, but as I said before, it didn’t seem to affect her. I almost bought that mare, but something made me stop. The lopsided head bugged me, and I had promised myself I’d buy something I loved this time.
I passed on the mare then, and again two weeks later when the seller (a very nice well-respected rodeo-family-mom from Kuna) called to ask me if I’d just come get the mare. She was dealing with family health problems and didn’t have time to fool with selling a horse. She’d let me have the horse for practically nothing. I felt bad for her, but politely said no.
I wanted to love my next horse, not talk myself into it.
I’d almost given up on finding something when about two weeks later I saw another ad. It was once again a bay mare, this one located in Sand Hollow. The ad said she had cow horse training and could be a family horse. I called and got directions to the place, and the next morning after I dropped the kids off at pre-school I followed the directions.
I got lost a couple of times and almost just went back home, but I finally called the number on the ad and spoke to the owner, who talked to me the last few miles to help me find the right place. The owner of the horse was a young BSU student who lived in Boise, and the horse was boarded in Sand Hollow at her ex-step dad’s place. There was no one home, she said, but I was welcome to take a look.
I Knew She Was The One
As soon as I drove up the driveway and glimpsed the mare I made arrangements to have the girl meet me that evening to ride her. Without even getting out of the car I knew she was the one.
Of course I did get out of the car. Spice was in a stall with a run, and I crawled through the panel fence into the pen with her. She walked to me and stood quietly as I checked her all over. She was absolutely beautiful, and gentle as could be. I petted her and picked up her feet; looked at her teeth and stroked her long black mane. I was smitten.
I called Desperate Hubby excitedly, and he agreed to go with me that evening to watch the kids while I rode the mare.
The day seemed to drag on forever, but when DH got home we loaded up the kids and headed out. I brought the horse trailer and my saddle, since the girl said she didn’t have a saddle available at the property. The weather had rapidly turned from a sunny morning to a cold, windy afternoon. As we passed through Middleton the rain showers started, along with a pretty impressive thunder and lightning show to match.
I was undeterred. Nothing was going to stop me from riding that horse. DH stopped at Purple Sage Golf Course and I ran inside to buy a hat at the pro shop. I was drenched by the time I got inside, and when I told the guy behind the counter that I needed a hat so I could go try my new horse he just laughed at me.
Then he gave me a hat for free and told me good luck.
We pulled up to the farm where Spice was and there was not a sign of her owner. I went into the barn and got a halter and caught her. When the girl called and said she was running late, I pulled the mare out of the pen and tied her to my trailer. The rain had stopped, though it was windy as all get out. Spice stood quietly as I saddled her and we waited for another half hour in the cold damp evening.
As we stood there the step dad came out of the house and told me what he knew about the horse. He and the girl’s mother had bought the mare several years before and the girl had only ridden her a handful of times before losing interest. Spice had had a few months of cow horse training at the very beginning, but had stood in the pasture without being ridden for over two years. He was sick and tired of boarding her for free and it would be good riddance as far as he was concerned.
Before he went back into the house he produced a legal waiver form which exculpated him from any liability should I be injured on his property. He said I’d have to sign it before I could do anything else with the mare.
When the young owner girl arrived the circus began. She was with her younger sister and their very energetic and untrained lab-mix dog. The dog kept getting loose and running all around the horse while loudly barking non-stop. The owner was wearing Ugg boots and stretch jeans, and did not seem the horsey type at all. She didn’t have a bridle, and I hadn’t thought to bring one, so she went into the house and out came step dad again. He found an old bridle that he had used on one of his mules. It didn’t really fit Spice but we slipped it on and the girl climbed aboard.
Spice walked out calmly into the arena, looking as though she’d been ridden just the day before. The wind howled and spit rain, and the dog ran in circles around the duo barking incessantly and pausing every few steps to jump up and bounce off of the rider’s leg. It was something to see.
They walked around calmly for a few minutes, then trotted. All looked good. I was just about to tell the girl that I’d get on when she tried to kick the mare into a lope. Spice was feeling good and she tossed her head a little and kicked a bit at the dog as she went into a canter. This caused a panic attack in the young rider, who hauled up on the reins and jumped off the mare right in the middle of the arena. She led the horse over to the gate where I stood and apologized profusely. “I don’t know why she did that. She’s never done it before. I can’t go on with showing her to you until I get someone to ride her and fix whatever’s going on.” I was puzzled, but it was clear the girl was terrified of horses and completely undone by the experience.
I offered to get on her, but the girl said no. She was done for the day.
What Was I Thinking?
I loaded my saddle and we drove away. In my gut I knew there was nothing wrong with the mare, and I was certain she’d be perfect for me. After a little discussion with DH I called the young owner. She was driving back to Boise as I called, and I told her that I’d like to buy the mare from her, for a third less money than she was asking. I would pick up the mare tomorrow, cash in hand, and she would never have to get back on her again. She balked at first, and I felt bad. The mare was a great buy at full price, but money was at a premium for me at the time, and I knew that the young owner had no desire to ride the horse again. She said she’d call me back, and it wasn’t five minutes later that she did.
It was a deal.
After all my experiences over the past year in trying to find the perfect horse I had just bought one. Without ever swinging a leg over her. What was wrong with me?
I met the young owner at 10 o clock the next morning. We exchanged paperwork and with a little effort I got Spice loaded and took her home. I wasted no time at all in saddling her to see what I had. All brushed off and standing tied in the sunshine she was even more beautiful than before.
I immediately put a bridle on my new horse and climbed aboard. She went through her paces like a champ, and though it was clear she was rusty and hadn’t been ridden in quite a while, her early reining training was evident, and she never offered to set a foot wrong, let alone buck with me.
The Love Affair Begins
I had found the horse of my dreams. She was gentle and quiet, and while she had a few bad habits to overcome (like trying to nip you when you saddled her), her ground manners were impeccable.
In only a few weeks Annabelle was riding her around the pen, with me close at hand of course.
I rode the mare every day, and it wasn’t long until Annabelle and I ventured out on the trails together. We went to Eagle Island a bunch at first.
And tried camping…..here in Stanley.
She traveled with us to McCall.
We rode with friends.
And climbed the hills of Avimor.
Every time I rode the bay mare I loved her more. She reminded me of why I enjoyed horses so much. I felt like I did as a kid – I just couldn’t wait until the next ride.
That fall we were fortunate to get Grumpy, a retired reined cow horse that Annabelle was going to learn to rein on. With Grumpy added to our string we could all go out for a ride, even Batman.
Spice patiently ponied Reno the Black Pony over dozens of miles of trails with Batman in tow. My son never touched the reins once, or even used his stirrups for that matter.
Annabelle and I rode for uncountable hours with Grumpy and Spice. Usually with Winston along for the ride.
We rode with friends and family, sharing our horses with whoever needed a mount.
Spice just got better and better.
Annabelle could catch her easily; the mare lowered her head almost to the ground so my little girl could put her halter on.
She could clean her feet.
Brush her off.
Pony her from Grumpy.
And give her a bath.
While Batman never did get much into riding, he loved Spice in a way that only a little boy could. He just liked to hang out with her. She stayed right beside him.
So Now You’re Probably Wondering What Happened…..
And it was this. As time went on Annabelle got more and more into showing horses. I considered finishing the training on Spice and trying to get her ready for horse shows, but at the age of 11 it didn’t seem fair to put the mash on her and risk hurting her or blowing her mind. One trainer I asked said “She is wonderful for what she is; just enjoy that and don’t try to make her into something she isn’t.”
That was good advice; as an older horse she would have to compete with horses who had been in cow horse training since they were two or three years old, and even though Spice was an exceptional horse with a great foundation, that would be a hard curve to catch up to.
I missed competition myself though, and last fall I was finally able to get a show horse and re-enter the reined cow horse competition arena.
We trail rode less and less.
Don’t get me wrong, we used Spice occasionally for trail rides with friends, but I mainly needed to focus on riding my young mare Freckles, and there usually just wasn’t time enough in the day to do both.
When I did get out on Spice I remembered every time just how much I loved her. She was always the same, whether you rode her every day or once a month.
I hated to have such a nice horse just sitting out in the pen, and occasionally I thought about trying to find my beautiful friend a new home where she would be ridden and loved. Batman absolutely went crazy when I mentioned it though, and truth be told I really just wanted to keep her around.
And Then I Got The Email
A friend of mine who had been on many trail rides with me and Spice knew of a trainer who was looking for a horse for a pre-teen girl. They needed a gentle and calm horse that could instill confidence and teach a kid to ride. The family ran cattle on a big ranch in central Idaho as well, so they needed a horse that could be ridden out and was comfortable around cows. Did I think Spice might fit that bill?
I knew Spice was perfect, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the next step. I employed my passive-aggressive side and said that sure, my friend could give my number to the trainer. I knew I wouldn’t call her, but if she wanted to contact me that was fine with me. “She’ll never call,” I told myself. I knew the email had gone out to several friends and I figured that the trainer would be overwhelmed with calls from people who really wanted to sell their horses.
But she called.
We talked about Spice. I told her that I really didn’t want to sell the mare, but I hated having such a good horse sitting around. She asked lots of questions and said she’d be back in touch.
A couple of weeks went by. Whew, I thought. Dodged a bullet.
Then she called again.
The family was coming back from the Bahamas and wanted to see the mare the next week. Unfortunately I was gone to Paso Robles for the NRCHA Derby that week. We could try for the following week.
When we finally got it together, it was agreed that I’d take Spice to the trainer’s place on a Tuesday evening. After a perfectly nice day the weather had turned nasty. A huge dust and wind storm was blowing through the valley as we drove, reducing visibility to just a few feet in front of the truck. We finally made it to the trainer’s barn and it was pretty chaotic. Tin was banging, tarps were flapping and dust swirled everywhere. I couldn’t help but think of the evening I had first tried Spice.
I knew it was a sign.
We met the girl’s father and brother, and I liked them both on the spot. We decided to go ahead with the trial in spite of the adverse conditions and I unloaded Spice and saddled her up. Being the level-headed mare she is, she was unfazed by the wind or the noise or the half-dozen horses running and bucking on the hill behind the round pen where we rode.
I rode Spice. The father rode Spice. I changed saddles and Annabelle rode Spice. The prospective new owner, an eleven year old girl, Ginny, showed up as we were all finished with our rides. We changed saddles once again and she rode Spice. I could tell right away that she was nervous, but she had wonderfully soft hands and a beautiful seat in her english saddle. She was a gorgeous, sweet and shy girl, and I just knew she and Spice could be great friends and partners.
When the ride concluded we agreed to take Spice to the family’s property for a trial period. I had told the trainer previously that I preferred to make absolutely sure the pair was a match before any money changed hands, and she agreed with me whole-heartedly. Spice’s new home was beautiful, with big welded pipe pastures and a large well-maintained arena. We turned the mare out in a pen alone, and I drove off; happy for her but melancholy for the loss.
Ginny rode Spice and got to know her for a couple of weeks. I went to give Ginny another lesson on the mare before a final decision was made, and I was amazed at how they were getting along. Spice was quiet and willing; Ginny was already much more confident in her riding and looked so beautiful on the pretty mare.
Yesterday we met Ginny’s dad and the trainer at the vet for a pre-purchase exam for Spice. Annabelle went with me to the early appointment, and she had to time get in one last ride on our friend before she changed hands. She walked Spice quietly around the round pen at the vet while we waited for Dr. Billy to come and take a look.
I have bought and sold many horses in my lifetime; and isn’t always easy to part with them. In this case though, the impending separation was especially bittersweet.
Spice had rejuvenated my love of riding, and without her calm and willing attitude I don’t know if I would have ever gotten back in the saddle. Her presence had fueled an even stronger bond between me and my daughter and given us opportunities to spend more quality time together than some families do in a lifetime.
I have always believed that things work out the way they are supposed to. I would have never gone out of my way to try to find Spice a new home, but I do believe that she was meant to pass the love of riding on to another girl in the same way she had for me.
Annabelle came into my office last night as I sorted through pictures to put on this blog. She saw that I was crying and said “What’s wrong mama?” I told her that I was really happy Spice had gone to such a great home, but I was sad we wouldn’t see her anymore. “She has been such a big part of our lives,” I said through the tears.
Annabelle looked at me sagely for a few seconds. “But mom,” she said “now she’ll be a big part of their lives too!”
And so she will. I hope you enjoy Spice as much as I have, Ginny.
HAY Paula, I am so glad that Spice worked for Ginny…I watched her take a lesson one day what a nice rider she is…so happy for all!