Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Alexandre turns 17 today!

I had returned from my overseas teaching job, my mare Mindy was happily being a show horse with Pam and her daughter Jackie, and I was living below minimum wage substitute teaching. One day Pam called me up and said she'd bought a horse for herself, a 7-year-old half Friesian (back when no one knew what Friesians were) half Standardbred gelding advertised as a second-level dressage horse. She had gone out to look at him and found him skinny (along with all their other horses) but looked like he had potential, and for $2,000 the saddle and bridle came with. The elderly couple that had him wanted to use him for driving, but he scared them. Did I want to come with her to pick him up?

He was gigantic. He hopped right into the trailer no problem. We got him back to her house and he pulled us along the driveway, thankfully towards the round pen.

Would I like to work with him? Well sure I would. Second level dressage my ass. He was scared of being saddled. Wouldn't let you bridle him. He knew how to trot as fast as he could... no brakes or steering. He was (and still is) like riding a tank. A wet-noodle tank. He could trot in a straight line with his head pulled to your knee.

This picture makes me sad- it's like he had no soul.

He was a bit of a handful on the ground. After he ran Pam over when she was feeding him and she cut her head open, she decided to sell him. By this time I liked him, he was challenging. He really had no personality. I wanted to find out who he was. I boarded him at a place with an indoor arena for a month. He trotted as fast as he could around the arena. Would walk sometimes. Flat out refused to canter. Learned how to turn a little better, stopping still needed a lot of work. He was food aggressive and bent a steel panel in half when another horse looked at him while he was eating.

I found an ad in the newspaper that was advertising pasture boarding for $85/month. It was what I could afford, and Alexandre got moved to Elk, Washington. When given a choice, he was terrified of people. Herb and Julie would go out with a bucket of grain and sit on an old tire. Al would slowly advance, grab a mouthfull of grain, and quickly retreat. He didn't have confidence in people or himself. He also refused to canter in the pasture. When all of his herdmates took off galloping, he would get further and further behind trotting for all he was worth. It was like his mom (Standardbred ex-race horse) told him to trot fast, but never, never, never canter.

I started trail riding. A lot. Almost every day even though it was a long drive out there. There was no arenas or round pens and it seemed like a good option. Sometimes we'd be gone for 7 hours at a time. He worried a lot lot lot but wasn't a spooker. Had the endurance of an Arab, I swear he NEVER got tired or slowed down. To this day I don't think he's gotten worn out. He's never been barn sour, after a 7 hour ride he'd happily turn around and go right back out. He started getting a personality. I would arrive at the farm, he would see me and run to the far corner of the 50 acre pasture. I would walk all the way across towards him. When I got within 20 feet he walked right up to me, happy as can be. He did this for weeks. He thought he was sooooooo funny.

The farm was good for him, look at the difference...

Trail riding with my friend Kara

Top of a mountain

I decided maybe lessons might be a good idea, since other than the trails I really didn't have much control. My instructor agreed. My lessons were her hanging on for all she was worth to the end of the lunge line and me riding and trying to slow down. We figured between the two of us we should be able to control either his speed or direction. I would always try to go for a reallllly long trail ride the day before our lessons. It really didn't seem to make any difference. I tried to talk her into a stronger bit, maybe with some leverage. Nope.

Needing a summer job, I applied to lead trail rides with Mule Shoe Outfitters at Glacier National Park. I could take Alexandre with me, and food and board was included in our whopping $600/mo salary.

Alexandre sees the bear, do you?

Alexandre and I at Glacier

We lead strings of 20+ horses over this bridge every day.

The all-day ride to Cracker Lake. Right after I snapped this shot Al realized he was free took off down the shoreline. Luckily he didn't run the 3 hours back home.

Glacier was good for us in a way. We spent a lot of time together. The people that own Mule Shoe are horrible people and treat their staff like complete idiots. Plus we worked from 4:30am to 7pm 6 days a week. I was really thankful I got the experience to live in this amazing place. I was seriously done by the end of the season and knew I'd never go back.

Alexandre moved back to the farm in Elk and we continued lessons. Here I took him to a little schooling show where we did a walk-trot dressage test and a course of cross rails. It was a complete success as he stayed in the dressage arena the whole time. Dressage judges love him and forgive a lot of mistakes due to his extreme forwardness. :)

'Jumping' was of no concern. He'd go over anything in front of him. Logs on trails, anything. He scizzor kicked in the front, and then scizzor kicked in the rear to get over the low stuff. Even my mom could tell he jumped 'funny'. Anything under 2' and it had a 50/50 chance of staying upright.

A summer job opportunity came up in Eugene, Oregon. I could mow baseball fields for a friend of mine. Alexandre and I moved that spring, and he lived in a barn at the base of Mt. Pisgah. We ended up staying there for over a year.
This is where I met my friend Terri and her horse Lucky. My friend Brian on one of the barn's horses, Terri on Lucky, and me on Alexandre on our way to the top of Mt. Pisgah in the fall.

Quite a view from the top.

Terri crossing the river.

Terri and I ogranized a play day at the barn. A baggie of horse cookies were the first place prizes. We thought 4 or 5 people would show up. Then the horse tailers started rolling in... We're the 2 nerds in the back with our arms in the air. Alexandre, all on his own, did FLYING LEAD CHANGES down the pole bending poles and we got 3rd place! Terri was yelling "HE'S DOING FLYING CHANGES! HE'S DOING FLYING CHANGES!" the whole time. This from a horse that couldn't keep a balanced canter down the long side.

Terri and I went to watch the Inavale Horse Trials in Philomath. It was the first sanctioned event I'd ever been to. We were completely, totally hooked. We came home and lunged our horses over barrels.

Started jumping higher. Alexandre never refused a jump. Just point him and he'd go.

There was a mini-cross country course at the barn.

Terri found a young, scraggly chestnut OTTB named Jeddidiah. He had eventing potential and is now gorgeous. Terri was able to follow our eventing dreams and Jed is going Novice/Training. She has competed at Inavale, a lifetime goal of mine.

Alexandre and Jed at Christmas

Alexandre went lame. Like dead lame. The vet couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong, but he was stall rested for 30 days, then walked... and eventually he got better. We built up very gradually to riding 5 minutes a day, then 10, then 15...

Alexandre on the Oregon coast. This was one of my favorite days.

Eventually he was back to 100% and we continued our jumping training. Then he went lame again. Same mysterious lameness, the X-rays and ultrasounds didn't show anything. More rest, more walking...

And then in pure financial desperation I moved back closer to home. I couldn't find a job for the year I was in Eugene after the mowing job ended, and subbing was not paying the bills. Al got moved to the prestigious Post Falls Equestrian Center, and I lived in the trailer on the property. I cleaned stalls, fed, and did horse massage to pay board and housing, and substitute taught to buy gas, food, and lessons for myself.

Al was doing great, we were jumping 2'6 courses with ease and competed in a couple of shows. He went lame again. It was the jumping. I think it's in his shoulder, and that's why it never showed up anywhere. He was rested again, and eventually came back. He'll never be asked to jump again. He's got the heart for it, but not the build. I think it hurts him. I was crushed, but didn't want him to know. He became (and still is) my trail horse extrordinaire.

Who's da bomb?

Fast forward many years, and he is with me at the boy's ranch where I now work. Sometimes we go to a schooling show or two, but what he really loves is being out on the trails.

Even though he is sentitive and a worrier, I completely trust him. I can hop on bareback and ride through the fields with a halter and lead rope. He will always go, no matter what, no matter where, if I'm riding him. If I open the gate to the saddling area, he's the first one in.

Sometimes I look at him in awe. He's just a gorgeous, magical, amazing animal. He is the horse in my avatar and the eye picture at the top of this page. I bet I've been asked at least a gazillion times what kind of horse he is. Yet he doesn't like to be called pretty, or beautiful, or handsome. He wants to be known as smart. Intelligent.

So, Alexandre, my incredibly smart and intelligent partner, Happy Birthday! I love you!


BritnieAnn said...

Wow. Speechless! What a life you have lived, and this is only a few years of it!! Such adventures! I'm so envious, of that and of course your beautiful Alexandre. GREAT story, you should send it to mugwump for her wordy Wednesdays! (if you dont read her blog, she has guest writers on wednesdays tell their horse stories, this is it: Mugwump Chronicles Happy Birthday Alexandre!

Jenn said...

What a wonder birthday post. And how delightful to see him change from a sad, misunderstood horse to one who is so vibrant and full of personality. You guys are lucky to have found each other!

He is gorgeous (shh...don't tell him I said that!) but of course, intelligent and wise, too.

Andrea said...

That was an awesome post!!!
Happy Birthday, Alexandre!!!

Jedidiah said...

Happy Birthday Alexander,

I have only one human too... it took me a long time to get her trained but I think shes getting there. Don't really care much for all those other people out there...Sounds like youve got a good one. I know my human understands me, looks out for me and wouldn't put me in danger... so I take care of her. Ocassionally she'll try to let other people ride me... I try to accomadate her....but theres only so much that a horse can take!! I think she starting to realize that.... (Sorry for running away with those last 2 riders....they just weren't doing it right... and I don't have time to train everyone.)
I miss you and Megan and all the fun we had when I was young. Thanks for showing me the ropes and giving me confidence on the trail!!
Maybe our humans could get us together again for some fun on the trail.
TROT ON DUDE....Jedidiah
Terri and Rhudi say Happy Birthday too...

Albigears said...

Alexandre is quite pleased with all of the birthday attention even if he won't admit it...!

Jed, he would LOVE to hook up with you again. And you and little brother Jasper need to meet!