Annabelle was full of excitement as she waited for the big day to arrive; we were scheduled to drive to Lewiston, in North Idaho, last Saturday to pick up her (already-beloved, much-anticipated) baby horse, Princess. She had picked out a new halter that we were pretty sure would fit the yearling, and it hung in suspended animation on the corner of Annabelle’s huge trophy on top of the shrine.
Are you shocked by the color?
All week long my daughter had redoubled her efforts to prove that she was worthy of the responsibility of caring for her new filly. She fed all the animals – horses, cats and dogs, every evening, and made sure that Hailey-Dan the golden retriever had her medication both morning and night. She tidied her room and cleaned the cage of her pet hamster, Snowflake. She made every effort to finish her homework at school so she could rush outside as soon as we pulled into the garage, and she virtually levitated at all times with barely controlled excitement. She was prone to breaking out in spontaneous laughter at any random moment, whenever the thought of Princess crossed her mind.
Saturday couldn’t get here fast enough.
Truth be told, I was pretty darn excited myself.
We were taking our wonderful pony Reno up with us so that he could meet his next little partner, and Annabelle spent part of every afternoon working with him so that he would be on his best behavior. As an experienced horse road-warrior, Annabelle didn’t need any prompting to be considering what other tasks needed to be completed before we left, and on Friday afternoon we both headed outside to make sure we had everything ready to go.
I had washed and fueled up the truck, purchased groceries for the boys, stopped by D&B for shavings and extra feed for Grumpy, and lined up some road snacks for our trip. We had discussed giving Reno a haircut before we left, so I’d gone outside and gotten the good clippers and put them on the charger in the kitchen.The tack room of the trailer, which seems to exist in a state of perpetual disarray, still needed to be straightened, and the horse compartment needed to be completely stripped and bedded with one of the new bags of sawdust I had picked up.
Though it was forecast to be a lovely weekend for a drive, Friday was breezy and cold and overcast by the time we got outside to prepare. I unloaded the feed and part of the shavings, then drove over to the trailer, where Annabelle was already brushing Reno off so she could saddle him up and school him one last time. She brushed and braided his tail and put it in a pink tail bag as I worked on making him a little more presentable.
Little black Reno is half-miniature horse and half-welsh, and he has hair enough for several ponies, especially in the winter. I hacked at his bridle path and legs a bit with the sharpest scissors I could find to reduce the load on the clippers, then tried to tidy up as best I could with my good cordless Wahl’s. The clippers rapidly got too hot trying to buzz through the thick and dirty winter hair, so I sent Annabelle inside to grab the clipper lube, which doubles as sliding-metal-door-defroster for our glass back door when the temperature gets down in the sub-zero range.
As soon as she handed me the nearly-new can of Kool Lube, I remembered that I had dropped it last time I had used it and snapped the white spray-thingy off the top. I tried unsuccessfully to reattach the sprayer, but since the housing that it was supposed to set on was broken off, my efforts were to no avail. Annabelle grabbed the can from me and worked her little fingers around it until a dribble of the grease eeked out, which we spread over the hot clippers and enabled us to get a tiny bit more trimming done. We finally had to lead Reno over to the barn, where I drug out my old pair of electric-cord clippers, which were dull but did a good enough job of finishing the pony up to make him passable looking.
That task completed, Annabelle started to saddle up to head off to ride. The wind was picking up and it felt really cold outside. I told her I’d get the trailer ready to go, and when she was done riding we’d go inside and get organized for our part of the trip. She paused in pulling the latigo tight on the pony saddle, which still sported pink and green marking paint from her last birthday party when she decorated Reno with neon cattle paint AFTER she had him all tacked up.
“Ummmm, mom. I would rather do the front of the trailer myself if that’s OK.” “Sure,” I said, “I’ll go ahead and clean out the back and get the hay bags loaded.” She stood still, looking at me. “I’ll do that too.” I told her that I really didn’t mind, and that my helping would make it all go faster so she could get inside out of the cold. She politely told me that she really, truly, didn’t need my help, thank you very much, so why didn’t I just go in the house?
So I did.
I looked outside about an hour later. Annabelle was just returning from working with Reno in the arena, and I stepped out the back door to see if she needed help yet. She was happy to see me, and launched into an impromptu demonstration of how good the pony was minding on the lunge line.
After she gyped him around a bit I asked her if she wanted me to come help with the rest of the chores.
“No!” she cheerfully informed me. “I’ve got this.”
Another half hour went by, and I looked out again. I could see the trailer door was open, but no sign of Annabelle. I called her name, and she peeked her head out of the gloom of the tack room, where she sat on her knees pairing splint boots to be stacked in the boot bin. “Need any help yet?” “No,” she called. “I’m fine!”
She finally came inside about 6:00, chilled and tired, but happy. She had finished organizing the tack room and cleaned out the back of the trailer, hauling the wheelbarrow of used shavings to the dumpster where she’d painstakingly shoveled them over her head into the metal bin to be hauled away.
Still she smiled.
I expected her to be up at an insanely early hour the next morning demanding to leave, but she surprised me by sleeping until after 7:00, and lounging around in her pajamas for almost an hour before she started getting antsy. DH had to run to the office for a bit, so we waited at home with Batman until he returned, and by the time we threw in our bags and Annabelle loaded the freshly groomed Reno, it was 10:30.
We were Princess-Bound.
We’ve driven a lot of miles together, just the two of us, and I’m happy to say we are really compatible travelers. I have this weird, deeply entrenched and totally unmitigated sense of driving urgency, and generally only stop on a trip if I need to fuel up. As long as we have enough snacks in the car Annabelle is very like-minded, and we made the five-hour drive with only one very brief potty break.
As we drove, Annabelle’s excitement grew. We talked about Princess, and wondered if she had changed since we’d seen her two months ago. We talked about getting her home, and what we would do with her once she was settled in, what we would feed her and who she could be turned out with.
But mostly we talked about Reno and his new little girl, Justis.
Annabelle told me what she planned to say to Justis when she introduced Reno, and how she would give her a lesson on riding him. I told her that Steve Brown, the donor of the filly and the champion of Annabelle receiving her, would be there to see her meet Princess, and that I planned on taking lots of pictures. She would have to be patient, I said. She readily agreed.
About an hour from the end of our trip we discovered via a text from Justis’ mom, Robin, that Reno was a complete surprise to Justis – she didn’t know anything about her new pony. That really got us talking.
Annabelle asked me what we would do first – would she get to see Princess or would she introduce Justis to Reno? I asked her what she thought would be best. She didn’t hesitate. “Oh, I can’t wait to see Justis’ face when she meets Reno. Definitely we can introduce her to Reno first, and then I’ll give her a lesson for as long as she wants!”
“Just as long as I get to see Princess after.”
We arrived at the stable and waited a bit for everyone to get down to the barn for the unveiling of the pony. Although I knew Annabelle was just dying to run down the barn aisle to see Princess, she waited patiently until everyone was assembled with phone cameras ready to record the excitement of a little girl and her first pony.
Annabelle took Justis by the hand, and said “Would you help me unload a horse from the trailer?” Justis nodded yes, and they walked to the rear door, where Justis’ dad Duane helped with the latch. Annabelle led Justis inside and untied Reno, and when they got him out she explained that he was going to be Justis’ pony now.
It took a moment for Justis to understand what Annabelle was saying, and the two stood together for a few minutes, Annabelle helping her to hold the lead rope folded safely in her hands.
Suddenly Justis started to understand what was happening, and she gave Annabelle a big hug.
Then she said “Can I ride him now?”
Her mom told her that first we had to go let Annabelle see Princess. That was totally fine with Justis, so she let Annabelle help tie him in the barn alley outside the tack room while we walked down to where Princess was stalled.
Annabelle walked right in and grabbed the lead rope that the filly was dragging, and started talking to her. Princess seemed pretty relaxed with this new little person, and let Annabelle pet her face and start blowing in her nose to further their acquaintance. She led her out of the stall under the watchful eye of Justis’ dad Duane.
Steve Brown and his lovely wife Jody looked on through all this, and I couldn’t decide who was happier; them or my little girl.
We got Steve and Justis to pose for some pictures with the happy new duo.
Justis had been pretty patient through the whole Princess-Annabelle part of the afternoon, but I knew she was really ready to ride her new pony. She and Annabelle skipped down the barn aisle to where Reno waited,and Annabelle helped her up on the sweet little boy.
We got to organizing Justis’ cute little saddle and tack, and she and I raced to where I had parked the trailer to see if we had a little pony saddle pad. I thought we had a couple of them with us, but apparently the tack-room-organizer had left them all at home in the barn. So we raced back. The trailer was about 50 yards or so from where Reno was tied. On the way there I let Justis beat me. On the way back….well, she just beat me.
Soon enough little Reno stood all tacked up. Annabelle showed Justis how to put the bridle on.
And they were off.
We went into the indoor arena, and the girls rode and played and rode and played. The light wasn’t he best, but you get the picture (haha).
When they finished up, the girls took Reno back and unsaddled him and then put him in a stall for the night. Annabelle and I were treated to a delicious steak dinner by Robin and Duane and Jody and Steve. We told stories and laughed and had a wonderful time. I learned just how close Annabelle had come to not getting her precious Princess, and I was even more thankful for Steve’s belief in her.
We met back at the barn early the next morning to load up for home. Duane came outside to help with Princess. He wanted to trim her feet (her first time ever) and help us get her loaded up for the drive. Princess wasn’t sure about having her feet handled at first, but it wasn’t Duane’s first time trimming a foal, and he patiently worked with her until she had four beautifully level toes.
With that done, Annabelle and Justis had one more course of business to attend to: another lesson before we left. They took Reno to the outside arena and turned him loose for a few minutes. He played and bucked and rolled, then they took him in, brushed him off and got him saddled up. After a short lesson in the indoor arena we all headed outside to the sunshine, where the girls practiced some more.
Annabelle tried to get Reno to perform some cutting moves, running back and forth as the cow. He was not very impressed.
Duane helped the girls set up some barrels and they worked on that too.
Before they put Reno away, Justis let Annabelle get on her pony and run him around the barrels a couple of times.
She had a blast.
It made me kind of sad, but seeing her long legs in Justis’ tiny saddle reminded me that it was time for her and Reno to move on to new horizons.
Steve and Jody were there to see us off, and Steve was nice enough to pose for one more picture, with both of the girls and their new ponies. I’d have to say they all looked pretty delighted.
Duane helped us get Princess loaded up and ready to go. She had only been hauled a couple of times before, but she was a real trooper about it.
Robin climbed up on the fender of the trailer to say goodbye to Princess, and Annabelle climbed up beside her to see if everything looked OK.
Steve teased me before we left that Annabelle was going to make me stop every 100 miles to check on her new horse. Silly man.
It was every 75.
Needless to say, the drive home took a little longer than getting there did, but it was uneventful. When we pulled into the field beside our house, Annabelle begged me to let her unload Princess by herself, and I finally let her, standing close by to make sure everybody stayed calm.
There were several soccer games going on in the park next door, and dogs barking and commotion every which way, but Princess kept her composure and Annabelle led her to her new pen all by herself.
Princess greeted her new horse roommates calmly, then settled right into eating her dinner.
Annabelle has been taking care of Princess all by herself, and spends a few minutes each day catching her and practicing her leading skills. She is going to be a great little horse.
The original winner of Princess hopes to come and meet her this weekend. Annabelle is super excited to give Mckell a riding lesson and to have the opportunity share her love of horses with another young girl.
We are so grateful for the generosity of Mckell and her mom to trust Annabelle with Princess, and we are looking forward to sharing our wonderful journey with them for many years to come.