On Replacement Horses and Not Freaking Out

I was cleaning out the inbox of one of my email addys [and forwarding some stuff to another one LOL] when I came across the below.

This is from 2018 which in 2020 time-framing is exactly one million years ago.

I had started writing about this while away from my desk; I sent it to myself and promptly forgot about it in the usual disarray of starred mails that I promptly forgot about.

It resonates now because I spent most of 2019 with William, without really noticing — except when we went out into the fields that time and William was hilariously forward going and my instructor got a bit cross with me for letting him go < a sentence I would never have foreseen writing in 2018, much less 2008!

It resonates further because I’m thinking my loyalties have shifted again. No pics, no proof, but due to current restrictions, I can’t slip into the barn to take snaps of the latest mount. Soon, though!


“Cathal’s not tacked,” one of the pony girls told me as I walked over to see what was going on in the indoor arena.

Crap. “I felt like he was weird on his offside on Saturday,” I said. We cantered twice on the left, and at different stages, when we came around a corner on the left rein, he felt stiff and his near hind was sliding out from under him. I mentioned it to the instructor, and she had a look; we stopped doing canter work altogether and she said she’d pass on the concern to the yard manager.

Something was definitely wrong.

“He’s got a spot on his back,” said Pony Girl. “He’s not on for tonight.”

And likely not for the rest of the week. I got a little tingle in my belly. I was pretty sure who I’d be getting that night.

I changed into my boots and back protector and went to see how Cathal was doing. He accepted his vale of Polo mints with the usual aplomb. I ran a hand lightly over his back because I couldn’t see anything at first — his back quivered and there it was, a big auld lump where the back of the saddle would sit, on his near (left) side.

“Poor dude,” I crooned. He nosed at my pocket, then my hand; coming up empty, he went back to his hay.

Poor me? I was feeling nervous all of a sudden, nearly the level of nerves as I’d had the first time I rode, or that stretch of time I struggled with Maverick, or all those times I when I was afraid of riding in the fields. I had to remind myself it was only for one hour, not forever, which is a great 12-step thought. I remembered I could stop if I needed to, I could do whatever I needed to keep myself calm and feeling safe.

The 7pm lesson came back to dismount and I brought my replacement horse up to a block.

“Cathal looks different,” said one of my lesson mates, in all seriousness.

“That’s because it’s William,” I said.

So: William. Another cob, not as zaftig as Cathal, more responsive to the aids, a little spooky, a tendency to run out of fences. I’d ridden him in March and he was a boss on the flat, but I hadn’t jumped him in actual, literal years. I had taken him for a competition, when Connell had been off work with the same ailment, also years ago, and it didn’t go well: William ran out at the very last moment at an obstacle and I took the fence on my own.

We made our way down to the outdoor, and I worked to repress visualizing bad outcomes like: would he get all spooky from the shadows thrown by the lights? Was the yard dog going to make an appearance and do her usual mad dash back and forth outside the fence down the C end? There was a new pony in the school — would he freak out?

If I didn’t freak at shadows or dogs or ponies, it was 50 per cent of the way towards him not freaking out. I made sure I was breathing and started working him in.

The tingle of nerves increased when I saw that there was a grid set up, four sets of wings, just: ugh.

As we did transitions when warming up as a ride, I reacquainted myself with his sensitive mouth. The contact had to be very much lighter than I held with Cathal, and as I found my way into it, he started giving me a really nice outline, like a regular, non-school horse might. We picked up the canter on the left hand side straightaway, and kept it, which meant my leg was good, as he likes to break the pace any chance he gets.

On to the jumping. The first was just a cross pole, not high at all, but I did the first one in trot. The second, he started to canter and I still wanted to trot so I tried to bring him back and then changed my mind, and he was like What? and I was like Uh, and the instructor was like WHAT? and I said, Do over? — and we cantered in on purpose and it was fine.

After that, I can’t remember what happened precisely: twice over the two fences I hesitated and broke his stride, but twice more we flew it, getting the one stride between effortlessly. Then… I know we did the whole thing, both times just flying it. I haven’t cleanly jumped a grid with Connell, ever, because his stride is so short and the grid has to accommodate the big horses too; it felt great to do it properly, to ride it and sit it so it went the way it ought to go.

“Good job!” said one of my pals as I passed her in the tack room.

“I may take him more often,” I said.

“I’m telling Cathal you’re cheating on him,” she replied. Little did we know…

Back in 2019;  in 2020, yet another story is unfolding…


Many Brave Fools: A Story of Addiction, Dysfunction, Codependency… and Horses is AVAILABLE NOW.

Order your copy today:
> In the US, click on over to Trafalgar Square Books’ site, available in print and eBook.
> In the UK and Europe, visit Quiller Publishing’s page.


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