February 2, 2011

The Early Years, Part II

I'm taking advantage of this ice-day off of work to write the second part of my "early years" saga.

When Willowbrook Farm, a Thoroughbred racing stable, took over the old Standardbred farm in my hometown, I was ecstatic.  Imagine how excited I was when their daughter, two years younger than I, enrolled at my Catholic school.  Our parents became friends, and I started going over there, a LOT.

One thing led to another, and in the summer of...2003?  2004?  I started going over every morning to clean stalls, watch, learn, and simply exist in a facility like that.  120 acres of white vinyl fencing, a red and white 30 stall barn and a smaller breeding barn, a 1/2 mile training track and you can imagine that I was in heaven.  They both went out of their way to teach me how to handle the horses, how to wrap legs, bathe, catch horses coming in off the track, put them on a hot walker, clean stalls, take care of post-surgery patients, and deal with owners.  With them, I went to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, got my grooms licenses in two separate states, threw a jockey up in the saddling paddock, and did a lot of things that I would never otherwise have gotten the chance to do.  Without their teaching, going to an equine college would have been a much tougher prospect than it was.

They also let me gallop a few times which I proved to be terrible at.  For one thing, I wasn't strong enough, but for another, I just suck at it.  I had no idea what I was doing on a horse going that fast that only went faster when you pulled on it's mouth. I might be better at it now, now that I've grown a spine around horses, but I wasn't back then.  Still, I was grateful for the chance.

What I did enjoy most was riding the lead pony and helping ride the young two year olds.  Galloping wasn't as intimidating when I was on a horse that knew less about what was going on than I did, and I really had fun doing it.  It was during one of these times that one of the scariest things to ever happen to me while riding occurred: Meghan and I were teaching two babies to go back and forth with each other down on the rail, my horse on the outside, when suddenly her baby flipped forward, end over end.  My horse skittered sideways, unseating me, and took off running.  I had visions of her pinned beneath her horse's body, but when I got there she was sitting up and picking the dirt out of her ears and laughing.  That horse was eventually disclosed to have Wobblers by the people we were training it for - would have been nice to know before that happened, but oh well.

It was through the Rakers that I got my first horse - sort of.  His name was Will the Thrill, and he was a mild-mannered gentleman they'd retired from racing.  In exchange for doing his stall and a nominal amount of board, I got to ride him whenever I wanted - which ended up being not as often as I wanted because I was only allowed to ride when someone was there.  And also I was still a big chicken at this point.  But we did quite a bit together, including take lessons from Laura Nickels, who will have to be the subject of my next post.  I had him for about eight months until one day Kevin called and told me they'd sold him.  I was sad, but I wasn't ready for a green bean, and I'd gotten what I could from him.  It was time to seriously take lessons, and as luck would have it, two trainers moved to my area at the same time - finally!

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