Good instincts usually tell you what to do long before your head has it all figured out – Michael Burke
This is not my Riley: this is a Welsh pony photo from evans-welshponies.com
I recently found myself in a situation that made me think of my horse, Riley. Riley was an Arabian-Welsh cross that my 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 draft 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 cab of the truck, I never even noticed 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?”
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 gave rides to small children who visited. When he misbehaved while we were out riding, and he often did, I’d have him back up in straight lines. Doing so won us both ribbon at the local 4-H show because, unbeknown-st to me, backing through an L corner was 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 hardly lanky, but he was as dignified as an Arabian desert racer and as smart, stubborn and dependable as a Welsh working horse can 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 a horseback 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. What? 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 he had sensed the danger 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.
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’s figured it out.
What have your animals taught you?