Well, we’ve done it! We finally found our horse. He’s a 15 year old, 16.2 hand, Friesian/Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse cross gelding. And his name is Charlie Brown…
We’re keeping the name. Nevermind the superstitions about changing a horse’s name. It suits him. If you remember the old cartoon character of the same name, he was sweet and honest and tried his best. When you messed up, he kept plugging away at his assignment. And this horse seems to know his namesake. He carried me over fences in test rides where I blew the spot because of nerves. But he took care of me. He packed my daughter around a jumping ring with no fence, and never once even hinted at bolting. He just offered himself, and tried his best. What more could you ask?
He was previously a foxhunter, so he’s used to lots of commotion going on around him, and staying calm in the midst of it all. He goes on the flat, and jumps. He’s marvelously level headed. And he’s got good brakes – an important quality when you’re trusting this half-ton beast with your 11-year old child. Personality-wise, I’m not sure he got the message that he’s not a dog, because he follows us around the paddocks, even without a lead rope. If I sat down on the bench in the grazing area, I almost think he’d try to sit in my lap.
We picked him up from his previous owner, Devon, at her farm in Virginia at 8:00 on a Sunday morning. My husband, Bob, my daughter, Rachael, and I drove the hour out to the farm together. Our trainer, Lauren, and our friend, Quincy, who was trailering for us, both met us there. Everyone was there by 7:45. They all knew how important this was to us.
The actual “sale” was almost anti-climactic. I wrote a check. Devon and I signed the bill of sale. Lauren signed as our witness. We wrapped Charlie’s legs, tossed on a light blanket, and loaded him onto the trailer. By 8:15, we were on the road home.
We tailed Quincy and Charlie all the way back to our barn. Charlie kept turning his head, as if to check and see if we were still behind him. So we rolled down the windows and talked to him whenever we could. When we got closer to DC, we found Rock Creek Parkway closed, so we hauled our new horse through the heart of downtown Washington! We drove past the White House, my office, and Rachael’s school. And we all got a good laugh out of it. Charlie didn’t seem to care. He just kept munching his hay.
When we got to our barn, the place was just waking up. Early classes were underway, but not a lot of people were there. We unloaded uneventfully. As soon as we tossed the lead rope across Charlie’s neck and dropped the ramp and butt bar on the trailer, he backed himself out quietly, and waited for us to show him where to go next. His stall was ready, but we wanted to give him time to see his new surroundings, stretch his legs a bit, and get acclimated to the barn and the people. Charlie acted like he had been here a million times. Nothing fazed him.
I felt like a new parent with him that day. My husband, who admittedly isn’t a horse person, said he knew we were going to be there all day, but asked sheepishly what we were “waiting” for. I told him it’s like a new baby. You have to make sure they eat, drink, pee, poop, and roll. Once he did all that, I could breathe a sigh of relief. And it took all day, but he did. But in the meantime, he greeted all the public visitors, and all of Rachael’s friends, and all of my friends, and the barn staff, as if he had known them all forever.
He’s now on a semi-regular schedule of eating, exercising, and turnout. Like a new baby, we are still feeling our way through some things. He has seen all three of our riding arenas, and the turnout paddocks. He has ridden alone, and in a group. He has lunged and gone in classes. He has made friends with our public visitors, and our barn friends alike. He even made friends with the snarky pony mare, Bobbi Sox. Trust me, that’s saying something!
It took us a year to find him. While we were going through that year, it was horrendous. I can’t tell you how many nights I lay awake, wondering if we were ever going to find anything remotely close to what we wanted — especially when I couldn’t tell you exactly what that was. But, I decided I would use the experience to become both a better rider, and a better horsewoman.
It’s tough learning to feel for the chemistry with a brand new horse. It’s even tougher to keep them all straight in your head when you’re riding so many that they all start to blur together. Thank goodness for my combination spreadsheet and journal. If it weren’t for those notes and quick links to a farm’s website or the horse’s ad, I’d probably still be driving around the Pennsylvania countryside looking for a horse that lived in Virginia Beach. A link to my Vimeo video postings from each ride would have been a good idea, too.
In the spirit of remaining open to the process, we knew what we wanted, but tried not to be rigid about the criteria if a horse looked like he might be a fit. We rode mares and geldings; Thoroughbreds and warmbloods; 6-year olds and 15-year olds. We didn’t get stuck on color. Bays, grays, and chestnuts — we rode them all. I’m grateful to each of them for teaching us something new, even if that was showing us what we didn’t want.
Charlie isn’t the fanciest of the horses we rode. He certainly isn’t the hottest. He isn’t the most or the least expensive. But he’s an authentic and honest ride. When I took him in his first lesson, my dressage instructor, Sisse, challenged me to be particularly trusting with him, especially while our relationship is new. She said if he’s a bit more forward, let him be. Show him that you trust him so he can learn to trust you back. That wasn’t a problem. He was attentive to everything I asked for. We weren’t perfect. But we’re new to each other.
I’m over the moon — ecstatic with our new four-legged family member. We stop in before school and work to check on how the night went. And we go every afternoon after school and work for either a lesson or some less structured exercise.
To paraphrase Elizabeth Taylor from her famous post-Oscars interview about her Harry Winston earrings, “And he’s mine!” But with respect, Liz, your earrings ain’t got nothin’ on my boy.
You’re a good man, Charlie Brown!