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The Quest For A New Heart Horse

The challenge of finding a new heart horse when you've unexpectedly lost your horse of 16 years is not for the faint of heart. Feelings of guilt, abandonment, recurring waves of mourning and the ebb and flow of tears for the horse partner you have lost will haunt even the most stoic soul. In fact last night I was dreaming and was shouting in my sleep for Charlie. Evidently I am nowhere near 'over it'. Even if it that is a possibility.

Charrington WVH   2000 ~ 2019

Is there such a thing as rebound? Taking on a new horse is a big decision and the common psychological idea that one should never make major life changes when you are at an emotional low is perhaps valid, even when it comes to the fact that you are torn between wanting a new riding horse and waiting until you are in a more 'normal' frame of mind. And let's face it, have saved up some money to make the purchase.

People say that time heals loss but I don't agree. I do believe that over time the acute pain and grief stages become more bearable. But the wounds while they may heal do leave a scar and learning to live life differently while still allowing yourself thoughts of that and those that you have lost and to move forward is key to making personal progress.

So I found myself shopping for a new horse within a few weeks. The empty stall my beloved Charrington left behind was almost impossible to walk by - and as impossible to go inside. I missed the connection, and wanted to establish it again with another horse and get busy and back to riding and training. This despite the fact we own other horses and the idea floated by my husband Paul,  that I could take on one of our other horses or even take up his 24 year old horse as my own. 

That just didn't seem fair. He indeed, is grieving as much as me - as he said to me through watery eyes with a sad smile, " Don't worry. I've buried it." Our standing joke about how men handle emotion and communication compared to women. Not true at all by the way. We are all deeply affected by loss.

So off we went, shopping via Facebook messaging (naughty us), reaching out to friends/colleagues here and abroad, talking with fellow horse breeders and combing the world for a new horse. Trips and travels to ride and try horses ensued. 

But as we followed our usual and ancient protocol of Paul riding the sale horse first, and then only recommending me to ride it if he felt it a good fit, we both felt the sands start to shift. Much time was spent in ardent discussion about what horse would suit me best. Paul prefers an "A" personality horse with lots of get up and go and enjoys challenges in the saddle. I however, already laden with plenty of "A" personality myself, am better suited to a "B" personality horse with a more stoic nature that I can bring out to be more exuberant.

As many of you know, we recently retired from horse breeding and sold off our broodmare stock. All but one mare had sold, Gambol's Georgy Girl. After Charrington had passed I adopted Georgy Girl and tried hard to develop that one on one connection with her. 

Gambol's Georgy Girl WVH ( Gambol DWB/GOV x Ms. Montana TB )
We bred this mare on our farm, and had guided her through her maiden pregnancy and motherhood, so I have a solid relationship with her. But something was missing. And it's something I don't believe you can force. That special telepathic connection. Hence the search and shop for a new horse for me. Preferably a male, as Paul worried that otherwise I would once again be tempted back to horse breeding. He knows me well and I have proven that to be true many times before. We have declared ourselves retiring from breeding, only to be lured back into it notably at my direction. Naughty me! But a good job as it turned out.

One day when we were back home, tired from our journeying and having just brought our herd back in, Paul turned to me and said in a very earnest tone,
" I want you to have my horse {Extravanganza WVH} aka Snoopy. Now he is gelded he has calmed down a lot and definitely has a "B" nature. I was just watching you with him when you brought him in and I have been thinking about it ever since Charlie died."

Gambol's Georgy Girl WVH with her Lusitano colt Extravaganza WVH
Gambol's Georgy Girl WVH with her dam, Ms. Montana

I was as the British say, 'gobsmacked'. This was the last horse we had bred and Georgy Girl's son. The sire carefully selected to include proven Olympic horses on both sides of its pedigree - a horse that we had both ridden in Spain ( although it is a Lusitano), and owned by a longtime friend and noted breeder. It had always been pegged as Paul's next lifetime horse. To replace his aging Grand Prix horse Tiberio Lafite. Snoopy is just two years old with plans to start his work for saddle next Spring and if we'd stopped breeding years back when we said we would, Snoopy wouldn't be on the ground.

Paul's Tiberio Lafite - 24 years young

Naturally I gently refused the offer. How could I take away from him a horse he clearly admired and loved. 

But Paul can be very determined, as those that have met him know. Would I love to take on a stunning colt now gelding, that we had helped birth and had horses personally known to us in his pedigree on both his dam and sire line? Horses we had owned and/or ridden. A parent we had produced. Of course I would. But it just didn't seem right.

When you want, underneath, to be convinced of something, obviously you will be convinced. And I had to take a long hard look at myself. Was this fair? No of course not. 

Paul persisted arguing his case with logic and with his depth of knowledge about how I ride and how I work with horses and which horses suit me best.

" I love Gambol's Georgy Girl and have that special connection with her. I never wanted to sell her in the first place. We can still shop for a Lusitano or Andalusian stallion next year. I'd like to have more than one horse and would like to have a stallion or gelding. But you do have a connection with Snoopy and he is perfect for you," he insisted.

"I will get to do lots with him anyway, we always train them together. But you need to have your heart horse and starting over with a strange new horse altogether is not as easy for you as it is for me. Look how Snoopy responds to you when you massage his neck as I trim his feet. He drops his head in your lap. You have done a lot of the difficult handling - hustling him back when he misbehaves, almost all the handling when he was a foal. Teaching him to lead, stand, turn, halt on cue, hold his feet up and match your stride. He is meant for you."

So after several days of careful thought, reflection, much inquiry and 'what ifs', I accepted Paul's wonderful offer. It's a funny thing but even when you are husband and wife and work and co-own horses in your yard, each one of us takes on different responsibilities and decision making on our own horses. Through our 38 years of horse ownership as spouses, every horse has had a specific person as their own.

Both Paul and I train horses slightly differently even though we have long studied dressage together and lesson each other. There are areas where we both excel and areas where neither of us are particularly good, and areas where one of us excels and the other is not so good. 

Our marriage counselor at the tiny Stony Brook church on Long Island where we tied the knot, was not just the vicar/priest at the church, he was also the chair of the Dept. Of Psychology at Stony Brook University. He advised us both not to try to change our marriage partner, but rather to embrace the things they were good at and let them take care of those things, and to share equally the responsibility for doing the things neither of us were particularly good at doing. Great advice! It has worked well for us and we have always worked together that way.

Even when we give dressage clinics, Paul will work best with the neophyte dressage rider or a rider less used to lessons or more nervous in the saddle. His focus will be very much on the rider and how what they are doing is working for them. While my eye will go more to the horse and his responses to the rider, and I love working with riders who can address the small corrections to help the horse and are thus usually riders that are more advanced in the saddle. Thus our duo clinic giving is an unusual symposium style built on total respect for each other, jumping in or taking over a lesson for a bit to work on something perhaps the other has not seen or chosen to address and combining our knowledge for the best possible result.

This has transcended into all our work with horses, including those we own. 

So as I sit here on this rainy New York morning, still earnestly reviewing plans for horse shopping for Paul in 2020, I am content and feel extremely blessed. 

It does feel different 'owning' Snoopy. I have already put a training plan into action, refreshing myself on my Tellington-Jones inspired methods, excitedly fitting bit and bridle, spending time tidying up his mane and tail and taking on more of his daily routines myself. 

I feel more than see, Paul's eye upon me at times. When I turn to meet his gaze it is a look of sincere happiness. 

That my friends, is true love.

Paul and Nikki in the Algarve, Portugal


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