I had a chance to ride Dolina the other night.
Dolina (or Dolly-Dolly, as one of Charlotte’s therapeutic riding students calls her) is a tiny bay 13+ year old Arabian mare. While Arabs aren’t really my thing, this one is special. She’s a rescue who has come so incredibly far in the past six or so months she’s been at the barn it is amazing.
This little mare is currently under the care of a lovely 40-something woman named Carolyn. Carolyn is kind and patient, gentle but firm when she needs to be, and has turned an extremely underweight, unbroken and scarred horse into a pleasant little mount who can walk/trot/canter and trail ride. And I have a feeling that I’ll be roped in to helping teach Dolina how to jump before she finds her permanent home!
I say “under the care of” Carolyn as she is only fostering this horse. I believe this means she pays her board, her vet bills, farrier and all other assorted costs while rehabilitating the horse and giving her the skills to become a great companion for some lucky partner in the future. In Carolyn’s case, not only does she foster Dolina, she also volunteers at the rescue she came from once a week and works some weekends at our barn.
Back to Thursday night. I had just arrived at the barn and was beginning my frustrating ritual of care on Day 13 of “Jorge’s Shoeless Riviera Holiday.” Unwrap shoeless foot, apply iodine to abscess, paint Keratex on feet, check for ticks, search for missing fly masks in pasture, shovel endless treats down horse gullet… But no riding quite yet. Carolyn was brushing Dolina nearby and we were chatting about wormers and rain rot (you know, the sexy side of owning a horse), while I lamented my lame horse. So when she asked me if I would get on Dolina for her, I jumped at the chance to be back in the saddle. Turns out I was the second person to ever ride this horse.
I’ve been watching the progress this pair has made over the past months and often remark to Carolyn what an amazing job she has done with the mare. When she first came to the barn you could barely get her halter on, she would pace around her stall and now she was hacking around the ring on a loose rein for me. I am honored that Carolyn thinks enough of my riding skills to ask me to give her horse a quality experience with a new rider. Even though my stirrups were way too long – especially for a thin little Arabian frame – we trotted and cantered around the ring for about 10 minutes before I handed her back for the rest of her ride.
I’ve been thinking about that experience ever since. At first I thought about what a selfless task this woman has taken on – to jump right in and commit to an animal so damaged rather than a nice pleasurable ride. And not only that, but knowing a successful end result is seeing your hard work enjoyed by another. Sweat, money, tears (and most likely a little blood) poured into bringing along a safe and dependable mount for its next owner.
Then I thought some more about “rescues” and animals in general. We don’t just rescue them, they rescue us, too.
Take my Jack Russell, Bones. He came from a shelter in New Hampshire. When I got him they said he’d bite people, bark endlessly and made sure I knew what I was getting in to with a Jack. Turns out he’s the happiest dog in the world who loves to go anywhere with me – the barn, the post office or a 15 hour drive to Wisconsin. Bones knows when I am sad or angry, he clings to me when there is a storm and he does all but get inside a suitcase that’s being packed in case I would forget to bring him along. He does silly things that make me laugh, like chase his tail in both directions or play “go dog go!” tearing through the house. I tell him every day that he’s not allowed to ever leave me because I don’t know what I would do without him.
Or The Mouse. The Mouse wasn’t exactly a rescue, as being dragged off my parents’ little farm in Door County and stuck in a show barn probably wasn’t his idea of an upgrade. But he and I rescued each other in so many ways. He needed his own person, someone who would love and understand him. I needed to find my true self again after years on the road with campaigns and he was just the horse to help me.
And Jorge. Jorge rescued my broken heart. He filled that empty space I thought would forever remain when I lost The Mouse. He has given me back so much confidence that I seem to have lost over the years. In return, I hope that I give him a life he loves living, rides he enjoys and care that is second to none.
I watch others who are rescued by the animals in their lives, whether it be dogs or cats, horses or mules. Sometimes they save us from meltdown at the end of a day, other times they provide the neck to cry on. Most often they just give us an intangible joy that makes us feel whole.
Even though Carolyn talks of how excited she is for Dolina to find her “forever home” I know she has to be a little sad, too. She’s brought this horse so far, bonded on many levels and I know she will miss her. But part of Carolyn’s rescuing of herself is to give unselfishly to these broken horses – a trait I cannot admire enough. I’m so glad to know this woman. I hope to find this in me some day.