This story begins on the Saturday afternoon following Thanksgiving of last year. The kids had been out of school all week for holiday break, and Batman and Desperate Hubby had just returned from a hunting trip in northern Idaho, where Batman’s first-ever whitetail quest had been a big success. The boys had spent the previous day grinding buck-deer-bits into hamburger in our garage and boiling the hair, skin, and ick off of the whitetail horns in preparation for mounting them to hang in Batman’s room.
I was getting the living room prepared for putting up the Christmas tree and thinking about winding down the final stages of my Christmas shopping (not that I have to do much, as Santa is still on the hook for most things around here). I’d been helping out at the office quite a bit, and was occupied gearing up to get us all prepared for our first ski trip of the season, so I was busy. We were going to be gone to the mountains for the first four days of Christmas week and I had plenty to do between getting ready to leave town with all our ski gear and cabin food and the like, and then returning home only a day before Christmas festivities would begin.
I’m a planner though, through and through, so I had mental and physical lists detailing pretty much every minute of my life for the rest of the year. That’s how I roll, and I’m very comfortable with that.
But I digress.
My phone chirped with a text message early that afternoon. I left off pushing the 900 pound coffee table across the carpet and limped across the room to my Samsung, where I slid the lock screen open. My phone showed that I had a text message. From Annie Reynolds.
Now, if you are in any way associated with the world of reined cow horses, or reining, or are a horse show person at all, you probably know who Annie Reynolds is. If you are not any of the above, just imagine you were an avid pee-wee football player and you suddenly got a text message from Peyton Manning.
I, too, am involved in the reined cow horse and reining horse world, and the difference in level between me and Annie is roughly the same as that between a pee-wee football player and the winning Super Bowl quarterback. Annie’s message was short and to the point. “I am giving a benefit clinic for a friend who needs a prosthetic leg on December 12 and 13th in Lewiston. Are you interested in going?”
I clicked the screen to black and set the phone down. I was thinking quickly, and the train of thoughts in my mind warred with each other.
First off, Annie is a not only a legend in the horse world, she is arguably the best clinician I have ever had the privilege of riding with. Since she competes in the non-pro category of the National Reining Horse Association, she is strictly regulated regarding compensation she can receive for horse-related services, which means in part that she cannot give lessons for money, and while she generously donates her time and wonderful facility every year to help the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association put on a much coveted cow horse clinic, it is a rare privilege (for a person of my ilk, anyway) to get to ride with her.
Crowding closely on the heels of my euphoria over the opportunity were these warring facts: the clinic was in only two weeks, my horse was in full-time training and I hadn’t ridden her at all in over a month; Lewiston is in northern Idaho and requires crossing the dreaded White Bird Pass in the middle of December; although the event was only two days in duration it would require a four day commitment by the time you figured driving to and from, maybe more if the roads were really bad; I couldn’t consider going without Annabelle, and she would have to miss school; my schedule was fully engaged from now until Christmas already……and blah blah blah.
It just didn’t seem feasible.
I answered Annie back that I’d check into it and went back to my tree prep. By the time I finished moving the furniture (back and forth, then back again….I don’t know why I can’t remember how I do it from year to year) and helped DH haul the tree in and prop it precariously upright in its metal stand, I thought I had made up my mind. As much as I’d love to attend the clinic and have the chance at two whole days of cattle work with recent (and well-deserved) Hall of Fame inductee Annie Reynolds, we probably just couldn’t swing it.
A couple of days went by, and though I had fairly resolved not to go, the option still nudged at me. I discovered a couple of other friends from this area were making the trip and they offered to caravan with us if we decided to join up.
I finally talked it over with DH and explained my angst, and though I really expected him to be dead set against the idea, (mainly because of the possibly dangerous drive) he surprised me (something which he still does regularly after sixteen years of marriage, and one of the reasons I love him so much). “I think you should go. You don’t get a chance to ride with Annie very often and I think that’d be really good for Annabelle. If you just remember to drive slow and be careful you’ll be fine.”
And so we signed up.
We left for the clinic on a cold and overcast Friday morning, and the drive to Lewiston was imperiled by fog and drifting snow. The trip I expected to take about five hours stretched to nearly seven, and after we arrived we still had to bed our horses’ stalls, feed and water them, and then drive over wet winding hills fifteen minutes to our hotel in downtown Lewiston. Annabelle wanted to ride her horse that evening in the indoor arena at the facility, and she sunk into a silently seething state of crabbiness when I told her no. We had driven all day, Doc needed to rest (OK, mom did) and we needed to find our hotel and get dinner.
When we arrived at the hotel the lobby was filled with a dozen and a half people who were apparently coming into town together for a wedding, and there was one overwhelmed clerk (very) slowly working his way through the check-in line. I glanced down at Annabelle and saw tears welling in her eyes. We hadn’t had a proper meal all day, and she was tired and cold needed to eat. I hustled her back out to the truck before her outburst began.
“I hate this trip. I don’t want to stay at this hotel and I want to go home. I don’t want to do the clinic anymore. I want to go home!!” I knew trying to reason with her in this state would be to no avail, and my normally compliant nine-year-old was practically hysterical by the time we pulled into the parking lot of a nearby steak house. My phone was dead and needed charged, and though I wanted to call DH to let him know we were fine, my first priority was to appease my sobbing daughter.
I was a little frazzled from the drive myself, and it took all of my tact to get Annabelle out of the truck and through the drizzling rain to the hostess desk in the restaurant entry. We were quickly seated in a booth near the door, where Annabelle sat huddled in a heap, shaking with cold and distress, and I implored the waiter to bring us some rolls as quickly as he could.
And a very large glass of wine.
As we waited for sustenance I seriously questioned what I had been thinking coming here. This might just turn out to be a bad idea and a terrible trip after all. What if the weather stayed stormy? Or got worse? What if Annabelle couldn’t regain her mojo and I was left with this sullen, angry child all weekend? What if the restaurant ran out of wine? (just kidding, I wasn’t worried about that – I had some in my suitcase).
Maybe we should just leave tomorrow.
Fortunately, as usual, warm food and a relaxing atmosphere calmed my daughter back to a close semblance of her regular happy-go-lucky self, and the steak and baked potato returned me to human-ness too. My phone was charged when we got to the car so I could check in with DH, the hotel lobby was empty, and the clerk checked us in efficiently. The accommodations were far from fancy, “but at least there isn’t any dog poop behind the toilet like there was at that horrible hotel in Reno,” quipped my daughter.
She is generally pretty easy to get along with when you feed her.
The next morning dawned chilly but dry. We drove through McDonald’s for breakfast and ate our egg muffins on the drive back to the barn, where we saddled our horses and spent a memorable morning meeting new friends and practicing our cattle working techniques.
Although we were fortunate enough to be riding inside it was still damp and cold, and Annabelle sat hunched on Doc, a flannel cooler covering the duo as she waited for their turn to work.
By lunchtime we were chilled and hungry and ready for a break. We put our horses in their stalls with big bags of fresh hay and headed upstairs to the arena viewing area for a wonderful-smelling (and tasting) lunch. We were only two steps into the room when she saw it:
“Mom! MOM MOM MOM!!! Look! It is a drawing for a baby horse. We can win a baby horse! I AM GOING TO WIN A BABY HORSE!!”
Annabelle wouldn’t eat lunch until I committed to buying a few chances for the “Baby Horse,” which as it turned out was a pretty close relative in breeding to the mare I had brought to the clinic, a new horse that I love dearly, incidentally.
The rest of the weekend passed in an exhilarating blur of information, physical activity, and excellent tutelage from Annie. Although I had only just met the clinic beneficiary, Steve, and his wife that weekend, they were clearly wonderful people trying making the best of an unexpected curve in the road. Steve never once complained as he walked from barn to barn (and up the steep stairs to have lunch with the group) on his uncomfortable-looking prosthesis and crutches, and he watched every moment of the clinic with a smile on his face and a supportive word for all. It was amazing. I was so thrilled that we were able to be there and contribute in a very small way to help with their medical expenses.
On Monday morning were were loaded up and ready to hit the road, caravanning again with our friends Kris and Shane, when Steve and his wife drove up to the barn to pick up their horse and head home themselves. We chatted for a few minutes, and the barn’s owner, Robin showed up to deliver to us the four raffle tickets we had bought.
The tickets filled Annabelle with renewed excitement, and her face lit up as she talked about the “Baby Horse” she was going to win. Steve heard our conversation and said “You know she is here, don’t you? Do you want to go see the raffle filly?”
I thought Annabelle was going to faint. We paraded through the large barn to a small pen out back.
The sorrel filly stood with her brother, cautiously watching the talkative group of humans that approached her fence. We all oohed and aahed at the beautiful little horse, and learned that she was going to be housed at Robin’s until the drawing in early February. All of the adults started slowly migrating back to the parking lot, ready to get on with the task of driving back to our respective homes, but Annabelle lingered, leaning close to the fence as the curious filly edged closer to sniff her. She reached her hand in to try for a pat, but the wary young horse backed away just out of reach, breathing steam into the chilly air.
I convinced Annabelle to load up in the truck and we headed south to home. All the way there all she could talk about was the filly. “I am going to name her Princess, mama. My new baby horse is going to be named Princess!”
I expected the excitement over the upcoming raffle drawing to settle down over time, but it didn’t. Even the eventful days leading up to our ski trip and the thrill of Christmas didn’t distract her from her focus. While I was impressed by my daughter’s determined certainty that she would win the drawing, I started to worry a little bit about what would happen if she didn’t. I tried to talk to her about it, telling her that while I certainly hoped she would win the coveted baby horse, there would certainly be lots and lots of people who bought those tickets. They would be on sale for almost two more months before the drawing was to take place, so she should be realistic.
Annabelle was unperturbed. She set a picture of Princess (that she cropped from the online flyer all by herself) as the home screen on her tablet, and spent hours on-line looking at halters and blankets and grooming items that she would need for a yearling mare. This fixation didn’t interfere with her real-live horses, Doc and Reno, of course, who she still rode every day after school and twice on weekends.
In fact, in the spirit of proving that she really, truly deserved to have an equine kindergartner to add to her stable, she doubled her already impressive contribution to the household animal care, zealously guarding her sole responsibility for evening feedings of all of our horses during the week and adding morning feeding responsibilities any day she was not in school.
She talked about Princess constantly, if not every day than very close to it. One of the big topics of conversation was where on our place Princess would live. We have plenty of room to house our horses right now, but with Annabelle’s first show horse Grumpy being retired, and my show horse Freckles off with a frustrating chronic lameness, we had precious space taken up by animals that we loved and would never get rid of, but couldn’t really use.
I realized the depth of my daughter’s commitment to Princess as she came up with a solution to make space for her (hoped-for) new horse.
We have a precious little black pony, Reno, that was Annabelle’s main mount before she started showing horses and eventually got Grumpy and now Doc. Reno is an adorable little rascal; a mix of welsh pony and miniature horse standing a mere 40 inches tall. He has carried Annabelle over hundreds of miles of trails and in probably a dozen or more parades over the years, around horse show grounds and pulling a sled in the snow with a homemade harness and blinders. Although he is now technically too small for my long-legged daughter, she still rides him regularly, jumping him over homemade courses, sometimes with a saddle, often bareback, riding him up and down the gravel road around our house, or just loping circle after circle on him in the grass. She loves that pony with a passion, and despite several suggestions from me over the past year or so that we share Reno with another little kid, she has flatly refused to even consider lending him to anyone else.
It is easy to see why she loves him. He jumps.
He has pulled the kids in a little sled all around the property after many a snow storm.
He was a star at the Middleton Christmas parade (and many others over the years). He is unbelievably great in any public forum, no matter how busy or loud or crazy. And cute, yes?
He traveled to the Idaho Center year before last and stayed in his very own stall until it was time for him to perform in the lead-line class with Batman up. I lost count of all the people who tried to buy him that weekend.
He has safely carried Annabelle (and Batman on the rare occasions when he deigned to ride with us) over miles and miles of steep and rugged trails, never once taking a scary step or saying no to the terrain or the pace set by keeping up with big horses.
Finally, here he is wearing the new polo wraps that Annabelle made for him all by herself after watching a how-to video on You-tube over Thanksgiving weekend. See how far her legs hang down on him?
Reno has been such a huge part of our family and Annabelle’s developing love of horses that you can see how it would be very hard to even consider letting him partner with another family.
That is until Princess came into the picture.
A few weeks ago we were riding our horses at a nearby indoor arena when we ran into our friend Shane, who mentioned in conversation that Robin (the sponsor of the clinic where Annabelle met Princess – funny how it all ties together) was looking for a pony for her young daughter Justis.
Robin had called Shane to see if she would be willing to sell her back the palomino pony that Shane had bought from her when older daughter JC had outgrown him. Shane had purchased the pony as a companion to her older horses, and she named him Buggsy.
To increase the irony, the very first horse show that Annabelle ever participated in was on Buggsy, not long after Shane got him from Robin. That show was the day before Annabelle’s third birthday, and that lead-line class was the beginning of her love for horses and horse shows.
Shane laughed as she recounted the conversation. There was no way she would ever sell Buggsy.
After we loaded our horses and got in the truck, I casually asked Annabelle if she thought that Reno might be a good pony for Justis. I expected the usual “No mom! I’m not done riding him yet,” but was shocked to my core instead.
“That’s a great idea! I think that would be a good place for him. I trust them to take good care of him and we know that he would have a stall. As long as they give him back when they are finished with him I am good with it.”
And then what she was really thinking came out……“and that would give us a spot for when Princess comes to live with us!”
Well knock me over with a feather.
I got in touch with Robin, who said she had, indeed, been looking for a pony for Justis. They would be thrilled to try Reno. We resolved to work on getting him transported to northern Idaho, and Annabelle committed to start riding him regularly to get him all schooled up for his new rider.
As the time went by, Annabelle had patiently watched the calendar, counting off in months, then weeks, then days how long it would be until the drawing for Princess. No matter how often I tried to caution her that she would be one in probably several hundred (or more) of people with little white tickets in the raffle basket, she was unworried.
“It’s OK Mom. I know I am going to win Princess. I just know it.”
The drawing date was scheduled for this past Saturday.
Annabelle mentioned it every day last week, and the morning of the drawing she asked me what time I thought they would pick the name. “I’m not sure,” I told her. “ I know it’s at an event, but I don’t have any idea what time it will be.” Annabelle had a friend over for a sleepover, and they spent the whole day riding every horse on the place and playing outside. That night, before the girls went to bed, she reminded me that I’d better listen for my phone – the call would be coming that she had won Princess.
I was up early on Sunday morning, and I admit I kind of forgot about the drawing. I checked my phone as usual, and there were no messages of import. I stood in the kitchen refilling my coffee when Annabelle came out, way earlier than I expected after their late sleepover night, and as soon as I saw her expectant face I inwardly cringed. “Did you check your phone mom?” “I did honey” I said, “but I didn’t have any messages. Somebody else must have won Princess.”
She just smiled. “Oh, that’s OK. They probably drew it really late at night last night and they just haven’t called yet. I’m sure I’m going to get her.”
And that seemed to be the end of it.
The girls went outside in the freezing morning and fed all the horses, then came back in the house, each carrying a saddle half of their own weight, which they sat on the dining room bench and meticulously cleaned with saddle soap. After a breakfast of french toast and bacon they were right back outside, saddling up to ride again before it was time for the playdate to end.
A little after noon I was cleaning up from lunch and getting ready to take Annabelle’s friend to her house. Both girls were tired and Annabelle was showing signs of the nasty cold virus that had kept her brother home from school the Friday before and in bed the entire weekend. She was lying wrapped in a blanket on the couch and wasn’t driving with me to take her friend back since she wasn’t feeling very well. I heard my phone ring in the other room as I put dishes in the dishwasher, but it wasn’t until I was driving our guest to her house that I listened to the voice mail message.
It was Randy, one of the organizers of the fund raising effort for Steve Brown. He wanted to let me know that while Annabelle had not won the raffle filly in the drawing, the person who had won her was not able to take her. They would like to talk to me about a plan for the filly.
I almost dropped the phone. After I left our sweet little houseguest at her house I called Randy. He explained that the filly had been won by a teenage girl in Boise, and while the family did not have horses, the girl would love to be able to meet the filly and possibly watch her grow up. Steve Brown had remembered how drawn to the filly Annabelle was, and he had suggested that our home would be a good fit for her if the winner was so inclined.
In a remarkable twist of fate, the mother of the teenage winner was a person who I had met long ago, a Boise attorney named Susan who was a close high school and law school friend of one of my best friends in college. A few minutes after I hung up with Randy, Susan called me herself, and I talked to her for several minutes while standing in front of the Asian food section in our local Albertsons.
Susan and I knew each other’s names but neither of us could place exactly where or when we had met. She told me that she had grown up with horses but had not ridden since she was a kid. Her daughter was very interested in horses and had always wanted one, but they didn’t have any avenue for Mckell to be around them. “Would you be willing to let her meet the horse, and maybe be able to watch her as she grew up and got trained?” she asked. I laughed through my tears. “Annabelle would love nothing more than to introduce Mckell to horses. She loves to share her passion with other people, especially kids.”
I went on to tell her about my daughter’s absolute certainty that she was going to win Princess, how she had talked about her for two months and made all sorts of plans for her. I had gotten so used to hearing about the filly as ‘Princess’ that I forgot for the moment that the name was only known to Annabelle and me.
Susan interrupted me politely. “What did you say she was calling the horse?” I backtracked quickly, thinking “Yikes -they probably want to name her themselves.” “Well, Annabelle has been calling her Princess,” I said, ready to add that we could change the name if Mckell wanted. “Oh my gosh,” Susan exclaimed, “that is the name of my favorite horse from when I was her age!”
It seemed like kismet.
We finally wound up the conversation, both of us excited about the possibilities of a new friendship for the girls and us, and a chance for Mckell to get to learn about horses. I promised to take a picture of Annabelle’s face when I told her the news and send it along so they could see her expression.
I left Albertsons and drove home full of anticipation. When I walked in the door Batman met me. I asked where his sister was, and he said she was sleeping in her room. I have a cardinal rule that has never let me down so far in life, and that is never to wake a napping child (unless there is a fire or I have to go to
the liquor store church), but I hesitated only a moment. I opened Annabelle’s door and walked to her bed, touching her gently on the shoulder and whispering “Wake up honey, I need to talk to you for a second.” She opened her blue eyes and it took a minute for her to focus. “OK mom,” she said.
“I got a phone call when I was gone taking Rylie home.” I told her. I paused for a second, trying to look serious.
“Princess. They called about Princess.” This was stated with a dawning smile, absolute certainty and a complete lack of surprise. “Yes they did,” I said. “You didn’t win her in the drawing.” Annabelle still just looked at me, unblinking.
“Aaaaand….” she said. She already knew that wasn’t the end of it.
“Well,” I started laughing then. “The girl who won her can’t keep her so they want you to have her.”
Annabelle smiled in delight, and stretched like a cat. “When do I get her? When do I get her Mom?!”
We discussed the details (as far as I knew anyway) for a minute, and I took a picture of her holding her tablet with the picture of Princess. She came out of her room and sat at the kitchen table for a bit as I put away groceries. She was happy but contemplative.
Suddenly, she threw her hands over her mouth and screamed. “Oh my gosh, it just hit me. I am really getting Princess and SOON! It just really hit me.”
After a moment she said “You know mom, you probably wondered why I seemed so calm when you told me the news.” (I did, actually).
“Well, it was because you know how it is when you already know something is going to happen, and then somebody tells you about it? And it doesn’t seem like that big of a surprise because you already knew it was going to happen?”
I just smiled. And nodded.
Annabelle and I drive to northern Idaho on February 20th to deliver Reno to his next little soul-mate and bring Princess to her new home.
I am looking forward to many more posts about the relationship as it develops between this meant-to-be-together team.