Tequila’s eyes are half shut and she is holding her head level to Carol’s as Carol gently brushes her face. As she brushes, Carol is saying softly, “That’s a good girl.” In my six years in Los Altos Hills, I’ve never known Carol to ride. If I’m not mistaken, Carol is seventy plus. She had a horse who was old and unable to be ridden and who eventually died. Tequila, a small, bay Arab mare, was Diane’s favorite horse. Tequila has all that is good about an Arab; smart, alert, nimble, hardy and sensitive; but with an almost unheard of equanimity of temperament. In other words, Tequila is a treasure among horses. But she suffered a serious injury that left her physically compromised. Sure that Carol would give her a life time home, Diane gave Tequila to Carol.
“I know they are going to want me to canter, but if she doesn’t want to do it, we aren’t going to. Her leg, you know. Sometimes it bothers her” Carol is at the LAHHA horse show. She’s come to support Judy, but genuinely seems to enjoy the idea of participating.
Carol, whose countenance is more often than not dour, has the sweetest look on her face. Carol is on the LAHHA board of directors. I never understood what she was doing there until now. She really loves horses and she loves them in a way that only people who have lived with their horse on their own property can.
Susan was also at the show, but not with a horse. Susan is in her sixties and has owned horses and kept them on her property most of her adult life. Right now she has Gizmo and Roscoe, Roscoe being, I think, thirty years-old. She told me, “Ray [Susan’s husband] used to have an Arab. She died of a stone in her bell. It was a wood chip she ingested probably as a baby that got covered in calcium over the years.” This is not uncommon and is technically referred to as an enterolith. “Ray loved that horse so much, he never got another horse.” Enteroliths are common in Arab’s who are fed California alfalfa. Susan still feeds her horses straight alfalfa.
We ran into Ray a couple days later as we were riding back home from Rhus Ridge. Ray and Susan live at the bottom of Rhus Ridge Road. If Ray is home, he always comes out and talks with us and the horses. This particular day he made sure to let me know to be careful of the sides of the road because that’s where the rattlesnakes like to hang out. Ray should know. He used to be responsible for patrolling what is now the north end of Rancho San Antonio open space when it was still part of the Duvenick property. He also had a wonderful story about an ex-race horse he owned who was “really fast”. Some hot shot rider got on her and she took off so fast that “her feet were up at the ears and her head on her [the horses] butt, but she stayed on.”
Out of all my horses, Ray has taken a shine to Stoney. He looks right past the flashy paint and pretty palomino to the ordinary looking, small sized, but built for work quarter horse. And Stoney likes Ray. Ray doesn’t know enough to not feed his horses alfalfa, but he does know something about horses that I never will. He communes with them; they mind meld. I have the feeling that if Ray got on Stoney, Stoney would do anything for him. Same as Tequila with Carol.
This phenomena is not just limited to Ray and Carol. My land lady Jan has “the gift” also. Velvet is a problem for the farrier. Her front hooves turn in and her rear hooves turn out. Her pasterns are upright and it’s likely her hip joints are deformed. When her left, rear leg has to be held high for the shoe to get nailed on, it causes her a great deal of pain, her reaction to which is to pull her hoof away, sometimes mid-nailing, with the exposed nail point acting like a razor as she whips her hoof past the farriers leg. I’ve trained her, we’ve doped her, I’ve braced her; everything we can think of and it we often barely make it through the shoeing. I have started bringing Velvet over to the Quail barn because the parking pad is dead flat and it seems to help Velvet to be on completely level ground. But what helps Velvet more is Jan. She took the lead rope from me, held Velvet’s head close up to hers and started talking. I’m thinking, “What good will that do?!” Answer to that was, “tons”. Jan kept saying, “You’re such a good girl!” Low and behold, Velvet held still for the farrier. This is not in any horse training book I know of. Even chip-on-her-shoulder-bigger-than-the-moon Cowgirl has softened under Jan’s constant application of quiet affection.
The backyard horse owners, the people who have lived day after day, in close and regular contact with their horses display a degree of connection and understanding of the horse that I have never seen in even the best of training. They can be ignorant in ways that are infuriating, but from living with a horse and loving them, there is a relationship and understanding that develops that can be achieved in no other way. Boarding a horse at a stable can not even come close.