November 30, 2010

Dear Gunner

Growing up I was a very fortunate child, no monetarily, but in love and support.  My parents saw the passion and dedication I had to riding and did all they could to encourage me in my endeavors.  They financed 2 horses, 100′s of shows and 1000′s of lessons.  They went to all my shows and rallies, and dropped me off and picked me up from the barn everyday until I was old enough to drive.  They helped me wash my tack and horse for the shows and were my doting grooms, learning just enough about horses to keep me safe (and shiny) when we were out away from home. To sum it up they did A LOT.
And when I graduated high school and became “an adult” my riding “scholarship” was cut off.  And rightfully so, no bitterness hear.  But this meant a hiatus from riding for several years.  I joined the equestrian team in college and helped some friends ride horses for clients just to keep from having complete and total withdrawal.  But riding a horse isn’t quite the same as riding your horse. 
After college it took me a few years to get to where I had the finances, space and courage to start looking for a horse of my own.  I had moved to Texas, and what better place to find a horse.  I looked for a while.  Trying to find that perfect mix of talent, personality, looks and the ultimate deciding factor— budget.  I looked at a few and fell in love with every single one.  Fortunately I had a practical friend/trainer back home I would share my pictures and thoughts with, who would remind me that certain things can’t be fixed and not to get in over my head with the first one. 
But after several months, I drove about an hour to go see a 10 yr old bay thoroughbred named Gunner.  He wasn’t flashy, he wasn’t in great shape, he was a little lazy, but he was honest.  He knew basic dressage and was a pretty enough mover.  I was looking for a horse to get back into riding, not a show horse, just someone to take me around the ring and with a few flaws I could fix.  I’m not a push button type of girl, if I’m not learning or the horse isn’t learning I get bored (and I imagine so do they) very quickly.  I rode him a few more times and finally decided he was the horse for me.
As we got to know each other some of his quirks started  to shine though.  For one, despite the video showing he doesn’t mind being clipped, as soon as I turned on the clippers (10 feet away) he snorted and started to rear a little on the cross ties.  And despite many therapy sessions with getting treats and getting petted with the clippers off, I never won the clipper debate.  I decided it wasn’t important enough to stress him over the day he very accurately kicked the clippers out of my hand.  I know it was probably by chance, but I still appreciated the fact that he missed my fingers as the clippers went flying.  He also didn’t like things that moved in general, whether it be a shadow, cat, piece of hay, whatever.  Usually once a ride, we would be going along the rail and something would move, without telling him first (how rude), and he would jump sideways or backwards or forwards, give a good snort then go back to work.  So needless to say, he wasn’t a perfect horse.  None of his quirks were particularly dangerous or anything I couldn’t handle, they just kept me on my toes .
Gunner was a nervous horse with a lot of heart.  But he loved being ridden and would follow me around like a puppy dog.  One of my favorite things to do after a ride was get off and jog around the arena while Gunner followed my every move.  It was a game of follow the leader, I’d walk, he’d walk; I’d run, he’d run; I’d back up, do a circle, etc., he’d follow suit, all without me touching him or his reins  And at the time I bought Gunner I was living by myself in a city far from home.  I had friends, but a work schedule that didn’t facilitate a lot of socializing.  And my job often left me tired and stressed.  So Gunner, as horses often do, became my best friend and therapist.  A bad day always started to melt when he would nicker at me from the stall when I showed up at the barn.  And his dodging tricks kept me from being able to think about anything else but him when I rode.  So that stupid thing my boss made me do quickly was sent to the back of my mind when the barn cat made a sudden appearance on the hay bales. 
For 2 years me and Gunner rode together.  We never left the property (the devil cows across the street scared the crap out of him) but still had a lot of fun riding and galloping in the fields.  We even jumped a little when I felt brave.  And one of the most satisfying thoughts was he was all mine.  I had bought him, rode him’ trained him, everything he did well or not so well was a product of our teamwork.   Then the time came to say good-bye to Gunner.  I had taken a job in Colorado and couldn’t take him with me.  I was moving in the middle of winter and knew the cold would be too much for him, plus I couldn’t find anywhere to board out there and didn’t want to leave him alone in Texas while I tried to find him a new home.  So I sent him to Florida to some friends who I knew would ride him and eventually find him a new home. 
And Gunner did find a new home, with some young girls.  He was getting used more and was getting to do all sorts of exciting things I didn’t have the finances to do.  Apparently he loved to jump and was going out and riding cross-country jumps and being a brave little soldier taking care of his new riders.  After a while I lost touch with the owners and I was getting less frequent updates.
On a recent trip home (back to Florida) I was visiting with my friends that initially took Gunner in.  They had some bad news, Gunner had coliced and passed away a few months ago.  It had only been a year and a half since I had sent him to Florida, and he was only 12 years old.  I had already found a new horse and a new place to board in Colorado, so the second guessing of whether or not I should have taken him with me and the feeling that I had abandoned him started to set in.  I couldn’t help but feel like a bad parent, that I had taken responsibility for him then just passed him on because I couldn’t fit him into my new life.  I know I’m not the first to mourn the loss of a horse, a friend.  But I was taken aback by the amount of guilt that came with this loss.  All the things I should have done… taken him with me when it got warmer, asked for more updates, etc, still go through my head.  He deserved better.  I hope Gunner knows I was trying to do the best for him.
Thank you for all the rides, laughs and even the scary times.  Thank you for taking me over my first jumps in 6 years safely, and for allowing me to be lazy some days.  Thank you for stopping when you felt me start to fall off those days we rode bareback.  Thank you for reminding me you are an animal with spirit and never giving me more than I can handle.  My hopes for you are that horse heaven is full of treats and no clippers, that nothing moves without telling you and there are no scary cows.

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