Nothing Short of Thankful

There is nothing like a hack in the autumn. To much of the population, it’s hot cider, sweaters, and all things pumpkin that signify the start of fall, but to me, it’s the sound of leaves crunching under my horse’s hooves, seeing his breath that first chilly morning of the season. And this year, on that first perfect hack of fall, with yellow leaves swirling around me and my favorite album (The Avett Brothers’ “Mignonette”) playing on my phone, I still couldn’t quite believe that it was Pirate’s ears I was looking through once more. I am more grateful than I know how to express. I have always been in love with that horse, always known how lucky I am to have him. But now, every day that I am on him feels like the best day of my life.

Perhaps that is why I was so ready for the change of seasons. This past winter was marred by heartache, and the spring by a fear I couldn’t quite shake.  (See my previous blog).  When Pirate broke his neck in January, it shattered my world; and while his surprising condition by spring brought me hope, every day I was terrified it was all too good to be true, that it would all come crashing down again.  But the summer brought the news that he had healed in a way none of us ever saw coming, and July 2nd, I sat on my horse again.  It was a day I was never supposed to see. But there I was, hacking him down the road; and through Pirate’s ears, my world looked right again.  (Visit the ArcEquine website for more information about the technology that helped Pirate heal; discount code AE1014 will save you £75).

I knew it was a long road ahead and this fight was far from over, but something about being back on him renewed my faith. It’s just the same as when I would trouble over a huge cross-country course I’d walked – until the moment I was seeing it from Pirate’s back.  Nothing seems impossible from there.

It’s honestly been a dream since then.  Every week I waited for Pirate to meet his limit; maybe something would show up when he started trotting again, maybe cantering would just be too much.  But he’s met each new phase of the rehab process with bright eyes and the vigor specific to the really special horses, and every day he feels better, stronger, fitter.  Eventing Nation was nice enough to feature an article about him during the rehab process, and he’s just kept on impressing us all every day.  I can’t believe I’m even typing these words, but he had his first proper jump school a few weeks ago.  He started over cross-rails in September, but on the last day of October we jumped real fences again, and re-introduced all the angles, lines, and skinnies he would normally do.  The height was only 3’3″, but the idea is to gradually increase it until he’s back to where he was.  He had his first cross-country school this month, and popped around Prelim making child’s play of the whole affair.  In typical Pirate fashion, he spooked at everything on the way over, from a dog to a mailbox to a really big rock on the ground, but the minute he set foot on an xc course, he knew where he was.  I set him up for a nice big skinny, and before I knew what was happening, Auto-Pirate kicked in, and he was pulling me to the B element, a second skinny 3 downhill strides away on a bending line.  I don’t even know how he saw the fence – I certainly didn’t point him at it – but he landed looking for it.  He knows his job.  It’s shocking that in less than a year, he’s gone from so badly broken, so neurologic that I would never be able to ride him again, to jumping, galloping, and schooling his Intermediate dressage test like I’d just given him a season off for kicks.  It’s as if he had stubbed his toe, not broken his neck. But it’s Pirate, after all, so I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s been a miracle of a horse since the day he entered my life. As a friend said back in January, we saved each other that day in Ohio.

Jaz taking a bit of a long one! Photo credit Cheryl Ray

While Pirate has been busy getting back into real work, I’ve kept plenty busy with everything from Kathy Ashrafi’s rockstar little Appy mare (Jaz) and my other training horses, to students (new and old) and even a sale project of my own!  “Gatsby” is a 7-yr-old 16 hh OTTB and is fancy enough that I’d keep him if not for wanting to focus all my efforts on Pirate again, now that I can.  I have him listed for $3500, and someone is going to be very lucky to have one pretty cool horse on their hands.  Speaking of cool, little Jaz continues to surprise us with a successful move up to Training level this fall.  With one exception (silly rails), she has finished every event on her dressage score (which was most recently a 30.4 with two 8s and her first 9!) and continues to prove what a cross-country machine she is.  There is a bit of controversy as to whether she was 1st or 2nd in her last event, as my students and my watch are certain she was well inside the time but the score sheet read differently, but either way, I just adore taking that bold little mare on course.  I’m so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to bring along such a cool horse, and to have her going so well is just the icing on the cake for me and Kathy both.  Who would have thought Jaz had all this in her?!

Jaz on cross-country. Photo credit Rick Johnson

Old man Laddy and I made it out to Opening Hunt with Mecklenburg Hounds this year, and at 13.2 hh and 22 years old, I believe he was the biggest handful on the entire hunt field.  Still, he kept the lid on enough to follow directly behind the first field master, even if he did desperately WANT to pass her.  Silly Laddy…in our youth he did manage to pass not not only the Master but also the Huntsman, but thankfully, I have managed to get some degree of control over my pony in the 14 years since.  Anyway, at least he wasn’t as naughty as the hound who hiked his leg on the priest who was blessing the pack.  ;)

Laddy at Opening Hunt with the Mecklenburg Hounds

Being November, the event season is nearly over for me; this Thanksgiving will, for once, be a time for family, instead of packing for Pine Top.  But while the season draws to a close, things are only just beginning for Pirate. The fences will get higher and the work will increase until the moment he tells me it’s too much.  Somehow, I don’t think he will. It’s never too much for my Pirate.  He always has more to give.

There’s something we should all learn from a horse who never stops trying, not even when every last odd is against him.  This horse inspires me every day.  He’s handling it all so matter of factly, as if he never saw any other outcome than to come back from this.  There are some realities we must face, but others we can create for ourselves.  And Pirate stared at the trailer until it was finally his turn to go somewhere again, and pulled me towards the fences until I finally allowed him to jump; he never lost faith that I’d let him.  My heart still stops with every silly little stumble; I will forever scrutinize every step he takes, question myself every time I decide to increase his work.  But the way he attacks each question I’ve asked of him…as long as he continues to do so, I don’t have the heart to stop asking.

This has been both the hardest and the best year of my life.  I guess you don’t know what you can handle until you have no other choice.  I have spent more time these past 10 months thanking God for every last little thing He does for me, the tiny and the great, and I have never felt happier and more at peace in my life than I am now, having found a true appreciation for everything I have.  I went from asking why these things happened to me, to wondering how I could ever be so lucky; for all the tears I cried in sorrow over Pirate, there have been just as many shed in happiness.  So when your world crashes down around you, try to find the good.  It’s always there, and even if it’s hidden, I’m convinced it’s waiting to be found.  And no matter how bad it all is, find something to be thankful for.  You never know long it will be yours.  I’ll bet that the more you think about it, the more you’ll realize how lucky you are.

Gatsby, my OTTB summer project, now for sale.

I, for one, think I am the luckiest girl alive just to have my Pirate.  He and Laddy, simply put, are the loves of my life.  And I’m also pretty darn lucky to have snagged a guy who has never once, in the 3 years we’ve been together, questioned this fact, nor expected any different of me.  I try to keep personal life out of these posts, but I need to thank Jamey for keeping me sane in those first few months.  Without him, my parents, my family and friends, and my unbelievable students/barn family, I don’t know how I’d have made it through all those dark moments.  (If this were a movie, “I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends” would be playing in the credits). At the end of the day, no matter what happens, my life is pretty blessed just for who I have in it. And this year, when I sit down for my Thanksgiving meal, I believe I will have more to be thankful for than I ever have.

The Avetts said it best; “You’ll find what you need if you want it.”  I’ve found mine.

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One Response to Nothing Short of Thankful

  1. Pingback: Friday News & Notes from FLAIR Nasal Strips : EVENTING NATION

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