Acquiring some horse sense

source: evans-welsh ponies

Good instincts usually tell you what to do long before your head has it all figured out – Michael Burke

I recently found myself in a situation that made me think of my horse, Riley.

Riley was an Arabian-Welsh cross that Dad bought  for me when I was 9. I’d been riding for several years by then but had never had my own horse.  I rode JJ and Queenie, my cousin’s horses, as often as I could, and our draught horses Tony and Bruce,  but that wasn’t the same as having my own.  When you’re a full-time cowgirl you need a full-time horse! So when Dad asked me if I wanted to go with him to deliver a load of hay, I answered, “sure,” figuring that, at the very least I’d score a pop and some candy. That’s what you get when you take a trip with the Candy Man.

Slipping on my jean jacket and hopping into the truck cab, I didn’t even notice the horse trailer behind us.  Flipping through the AM stations, we shared peppermints and listened to the farm reports.    Arriving at a farm I didn’t recognize, I helped Dad as he offloaded the bales.  I noticed an older man, the farm owner, approach the truck.   I half-listened as they talked about grain costs and hay availability but, truth be told, I wasn’t paying them much attention because it was around that time that I spotted a dark grey horse looking at me intently.  He, with the most beautiful and inquisitive face, stared at me from a cow-filled corral and with cow pies up to his knees.  I abandoned the hay and sloshed through the barnyard muck, my rubber boots making a squirsh squirsh sound as I rushed to meet him.  Slowly and deliberately, he approached the fence but maintained a 3 foot distance from the rails.  Hardly daunted, I scaled the fence and, perched on the top, and reached out my hand so as to pet him. He snorted, stamped a foot, and backed away.

From behind I heard an unfamiliar voice ask, “So I hear you’re in the market for a horse?”

“Huh?” I said, looking in confusion over to my Dad, who stood at the truck grinning.

“What do you think all this hay is for?” giggled Dad.

Still confused, I looked from man to man and realized what was really going on:  they were trading hay for a horse – MINE!

I could hardly stand the ride home and I barely heard Dad as he explained, “You do realize he’s at least 5 years old and not even halter broke yet. He doesn’t know anything. You will need to work with him every day and teach him. You know that, right?”

Did I?

I spent nearly every day with Riley, after school, all weekends and every summer that followed.

So I brushed him. I spoiled him. I told him all my secrets. He greeted me with a nicker , ears up and one step forward, every time.  I laughed at his antics as he stole treats and opened gates for other horses but he’d redeem himself by obediently giving rides to children who visited us.  When he misbehaved, and he often did, I’d have him back up in straight lines. Doing so won us both ribbons at the local 4-H show because, unbeknown-st to me, being able to back up through an L corner was a key part of the “Western Trail” class competition. That horse could back a perfectly straight line the entire length of the arena.

There were many things that he was not: he was not tall and he was not lanky, and that was OK ’cause neither was I.  He was, however, as dignified as an Arabian desert racer could be and as smart, stubborn and dependable as Welsh ponies are known to be. He was perfect for me.


He did more than listen: he provided therapy to a girl with a head full of dreams trying to find her place in the world.

He taught me more about trusting my instincts than any person ever has.

Once, on our way home from yet another adventure with the cousins, he kept stopping every 20 feet or so.  Growing impatient, I urged him on. Finally, he stopped firmly, planted his feet, swung his head and bit me on the foot.   He got my attention, and as I spun him around there, about 15 feet directly behind us, was the largest male coyote I’d ever seen.  Clearly Riley had sensed what lurked behind us but could not see it clearly.   The coyote, no threat to us, locked eyes, looked down and loped away.   That day, I learned to listen to what he had to tell me:  I know better than you kid, and you might just want to pay attention.

Me & Riley, 4-H Achievement Day 1979

Me & Riley, 4-H Achievement Day 1979

What brings me to this tale?

A situation presented itself to me recently that just didn’t sit right with me. I tried to brush it off, to no avail. I finally spun around and stared it down for what it was. I recognized it, I dealt with it, and I moved on.

Thank you, Riley, for teaching me to trust what my gut’s telling me long before my head has it figured out.  Thank you for teaching me that it’s perfectly normal to sing into a prairie wind and that gates only exist to be opened.

What have your animals taught you?

*originally posted by Emjayandthem on April 1, 2011

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Categories: Animals, Faith, Family, Friendship, Growth, Joy, Life, Life Lessons, Personal, Relationships, Self Discovery, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Acquiring some horse sense

  1. I was smiling the entire time I was reading this post. I’m not sure when we discovered each other’s blogs, but I really don’t recall reading this before. Thanks so much for reposting it. I love it!

    • I’m glad you were smiling through it; I smiled re-reading it :). He was a great horse and he and Frankie have a very similar personality – mellow, sweet, smart and hilarious! I remember discovering your blog shortly after you were FP’d for your post about storm damage; I became a follower after that 🙂 Cheers, MJ

  2. Believe it or not, I grew up on a horse farm. At one point in time we had a stable of 25 (harness horses). There was one, Smokey Guyron, that WE taught something to…how to sweep his stall. He would take the end of a broom in his mouth and rock his head back and forth whenever we said, “Sweep you stall, Smokey!” Thanks for bringing that wonderful memory back to me!

    • That is so cool, Guy. I grew up with a stable of Thoroughbreds — he could outsmart all of ’em. I loved your story about Smokey Guyron and could picture him shaking his head side to side with the broom in his teeth .. ha! What a great memory 🙂 MJ

  3. I recently heard faith described as an attraction. You don’t learn what it is and then you know it. There’s always more, thus the attraction. Faith never ends, nor do all the lessons we learn yet we keep following its path.
    I can imagine Riley was filled with attraction.
    Our ole T-Bob is not a kitten any more filled with the attraction of kittenly ways that made Rick bring him home one day. We are watching him every day go through his older phase of life and following what needs more patience, more acceptance, more care.

    • I have never heard Faith described as such but I sure like the description; like your T-Bob, Frankie is aging and slowing down — and needing more care and patience. Riley lived till his early 20s and one day he just lay down in the pasture and passed away. He had a great life; after I went off to college, my brother’s kids rode him but he still nickered to me when I came home to visit. Those furbabies are something else, regardless if they are 8lbs or a 800. 😉 MJ

  4. I missed this the first time around, so thank you. A great lesson, beautifully told.

  5. Nice story about your very own horse, and the lessons learned.

    • I’m fortunate to have had a kind and loving Dad who made sure the cowgirl had a horse .. and a mother who didn’t mind me smelling of one! Now I know that not everyone had that kind of childhood and I’m all the more grateful for it 🙂 MJ

  6. I owned a horse for about 2 years. He taught me not to turn my back to him especially when I had a carrot in my back pocket as he would nudge me into a dung bucket! Bless his heart! Wonderful story!

  7. Being a city kid, I never understood the bond between horses and their people. But being a dog lover gives me some idea. All animals have their own ways of communicating with us. Mine have taught me how to relax and enjoy the simple things in life when I most need to.

    • Agree — they all have their own way of communicating with us. He was the best therapy and in riding him or even just standing near him, I felt free. All of our furry friends help us do just as you described = relax and enjoy life 🙂 MJ

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