Some horses come into our lives forever, others for a short time. I try hard to be open to whichever that is…
Many years ago, I fell in love with a thoroughbred named Canonize. I first saw him romping (literally all feet off the ground one second, on the ground rolling the next) in a demo at the Equine Affaire nearly a decade ago. At the time I was working through the Parelli Levels with my horse Manny, who was a naturally introverted horse. He has very little real play drive and I was craving a horse who liked to move their feet. It was love at first sight that November day and as soon as the trainer reported that he was available for adoption through the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, I knew he would be mine. Many of my friends would tell me I was crazy to get a second horse…that I couldn’t keep two horses in work with a full time job. Those of you who know me well, know the easiest way to get me to take on a challenge, is to say I ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’…so of course, I did.
Here’s how he is described in the Jockey Club Registry: Chestnut horse, foaled May 13, 1997 in Florida. 10 Starts. Winner. Arbitrator and Bold Ruler on his sire’s side. Native Dancer and War Admiral on the Dame’s. Holy Crap! What the hell had I gotten myself into? I thought hard about changing his name to something cute, like ‘teddy’…but was told it was bad luck to change the name of a winning racehorse. Bad luck….I did not need.
Canon turned out to be my first real rehab project. He came off the track with a tendon injury. Although he was sound on it, his body was in a twist and he moved crookedly. Some of that is from the racetrack, some of it him, and some of it the injury. And it was probably a good thing I had to take some time to get him sound and healthy, so our relationship could get solid. Canon taught me alot about colic. He, like so many hot blooded horses, was prone to scarey tummy aches. Almost monthly I would get a call about him not feeling well. I had been researching equine nutrition prior to this, but his propensity for this really drove me deep into natural, holistic horse care and feeding. Over a year or so, he cured himself of this tendency and has been colic free since.
I remember the first time I cantered on Canon…like it was yesterday. I was scared. I’d had some bad experiences on racehorses in the past….have a metal rod in my lower leg as a result of a fall off one. And Manny, my other ride, was a consummate bucker at that time. So I had all this ‘stuff’ in my head.
Well, he wouldn’t go. Seriously? He would start to go, then resume his trot. I knew I was the problem, but couldn’t figure out how to let go of my fear enough to make it ok for him to move out. He was taking care of me in his way, and I never loved a horse more than in that moment. I happened to be in the arena alone that day and in what has now defined my style, I forced myself outside my comfort zone and took Canon’s bridle off. I set off around the arena with a string around his neck and asked him to move out, promising myself only that I would keep breathing, hold the horn of my saddle and go where ever he went. It was a profound ride. The two of us trying to figure out how to help each other. Stop. Go. Stop. Go, go, go.
An hour later, a woman entered the viewing area. A stranger who would later become a dear friend, she would frequently remind me of that day when I was zooming around on a racehorse, giggling like a school girl, without a bridle. Later that summer I would learn the exhilaration of galloping though the fields or on the beach on that horse. Pure joy and freedom.
Canon would go on to challenge me to improve my horsemanship in so many ways, but more than that he required me to be a better person.
So when I noticed him becoming apathetic and thin 2 years ago, I had to make a plan for his future. My busy farm and work life had left me little time to play with or ride Canon and he was becoming disengaged and depressed. In a stroke of luck or fate, a friend who lived just over the river in Vermont was looking for a horse she could ride and give lessons on. Brilliant, I thought! He would love that. She had kids and lots of students to dote on Canon….it was perfect. I liked the idea that he was happy, but close enough for me to visit occasionally. In fact he did so well there, they decided to formally adopt him from the TRF last year. I was thrilled he had found a place in which he could thrive.
A few nights ago I dreamt of a big red racehorse. Having recently watched ‘Secretariat’, I assumed it was the famous ‘Big Red’ in my dream. The next day, I read the news on facebook that Canon’s family was moving. My thoughts returned to my dream, of a beautiful red horse carrying me around a racetrack…me giggling on his back. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him living thousands of miles away from me. I was sad. Maybe alittle worried. But the truth is…I had not really said goodbye to my friend. I had shared him with a family who loved him as much as I did, assuming I would see him whenever I wanted to. So now I really DO have to give him up.
I stopped in to see Canon a few days ago. He was happy, healthy and quiet as I stroked his face and kissed the cresent moon on his forehead. Good bye my friend…may your life be filled with green fields, lots of friends and games to play.