A Cinderella Story-Dreams really can come true!
by Laurie Lee
It was March of 2007, after a long sad winter, because the preceding September, I had unexpectedly had to put down my home grown Pinto mare, Shine's Sandy Memory, at only 10 years of age. I felt as though part of me died with her, and I had no plans to get another horse because I didn't think anyone could compare with her. She had been "perfect!" But, my boarder had to go to a small rescue here in Maine , to pick up paperwork that they had completed as a follow up on her rescued mare, Reeka, who she'd found in TX! She thought that I should go along for the ride.
It was nothing much as rescues go, and I stood a while and looked at the large herd as my friend went inside the house to get her paperwork. No one stood out. It was a gray day, and I was in a gray mood, and the horses were covered with proof that it was "Mud Season." As my friend came back outside the Director of the rescue said, "Before you leave, you have to come in the barn and see this mare I got in last night. She is young but has curly hair!" As we walked to the barn she told us the story of how this horse had found her way there. Years before, when I was reading the Genetics of Color list, there was a woman who wrote in frequently and talked about her Curly horses. The stories she told really made them sound like they were different than the average horse, and made me curious enough to look up the breed and study the information. I have to admit that they sounded almost "too good to be true," but since I owned 3 horses at that time, I didn't have to worry about whether it was true or not. Suddenly, as I looked at this poor Curly mare who was covered with scabs and worn places in her curls, all of that information came flooding back! I also remembered that some of them "could" do dressage, so after spending a short time with the mare, I gave the woman a deposit and asked her to hold the horse until I could come back with my dressage instructor/trainer! There was just something about the mare that told me she was supposed to be with me. I felt it the first time she finally looked me directly in the eyes.
The story would end there if my dressage instructor hadn't given the mare her okay. So, a week later I went and picked up my new mare and placed her in quarantine at a friend's isolated pasture, as my vet wanted. The mare was stand-offish at first. She wore signs of obvious abuse, and she was skinny underneath the deceiving coat of curls. She avoided being touched, resisted being caught (only food worked,) and there was no way she'd pick up her feet! But, very slowly her attitude changed and she became more curious about me because I showed up regularly with food! Sometimes I just sat in her pasture and watched her. Sometimes I went about my chores and "ignored" her. Since I wasn't always demanding something from her and I was feeding her regularly, her curiosity outweighed her hesitance, and she began to trust me. At the end of six weeks of living alone she picked up her feet and allowed me to groom her.
So, we started training! My trainer knew all of her baggage, as well as the fact that I hadn't been able to totally overcome her refusal to let me touch her ears. In order to halter her, I had to wrap it up around her neck and do the buckle. This meant than when it came time to introduce the bridle, my trainer had to unbuckle it all and then buckle it back up after she took the bit! Under saddle she was steady, smart, and less resistant, since this didn't have the baggage of her former life attached. My trainer worked with her several days a week, and usually once or twice a week I took a lesson on her. She learned quickly, and she quickly developed a good work ethic. Our relationship grew closer each time I thanked her for another ride. I hadn't expected to have another horse, so every day felt like a gift. Every little bit that she recovered and opened up brought me happiness. After 6 weeks of official training with my trainer at the stable, I took her home, finally! We continued to work, both on our own and with weekly lessons. Since she was doing very well we decided that if they got along well, that one of my trainer's other students would come to ride Dream also, with the goal of attending our first dressage show in October. This was a total learning experience for us all because we had no idea how she would react to a show environment for the first time. Rachel and Dream rode Introductory tests 1 & 2, and did very well, scoring in the low 60's. What an amazing achievement for a horse who was only rescued 7 months before!
In 2008 the Dream Team formed. Rachel and I both rode Dream, along with our trainer. We all got lessons. Dream was cooperative, smart, and easy to work with. Since we were on a roll, we plotted out our show season. Rachel rode Dream at the shows, but it took our entire team to make sure things went smoothly for both the horse and the 15 yr. old who was doing her first real competing! It was well worth the effort and our 2008 show season ended with all sorts of wonderful achievements. Dream and Rachel were Reserve Champions for Central Maine Dressage Association's year end awards. The sweetest of all the awards though was that Dream was Curly Sporthorse International's Horse of the Year Training Level Junior Division! This was such an amazing accomplishment for the mare who I'd rescued barely 18 months before.
Dream proved that the intelligence, level-headedness, and gentle spirit of a Curly will come shining through, despite previous hard times. She can be not only a wonderful show horse, but also a patient partner for the times when my body doesn't work as well as I would like due to Multiple Sclerosis, and having to have half of a knee replaced. She is perfectly content to let me work on figures in the arena, or to trot off up the road by ourselves. If it weren't for the things that I do with and because of my horse, I probably wouldn't be walking as well as I do today. I know that I work harder at Physical Therapy when necessary to make sure that I will be able to ride again. She is my therapy horse right now, since I don't have the energy to train and show right now.
Our newest undertaking is that a family friend asked if I would consider giving her 8 ½ year old daughter riding lessons. While I have been riding for years, and have taken lessons right along, I hadn't thought of translating that into a lesson! This girl is a tiny wisp of a thing, so I wondered if Dream would even realize she had someone up there. She certainly does! She has been a patient and kind teacher. She is helping one little girl overcome her timid nature and reach beyond what she thought she could do.
I didn't choose a Curly horse because I have allergies and needed their hypoallergenic quality. I think I was lucky enough to be chosen by a special Curly, and in rescuing her, I realize now that I also rescued myself! Clearly dreams do come true. All it took was a Curly horse!
About the Author: Laurie is part of the International Ride-A-Curly contest 2010. She has done much to help curlies in need by being a Foster for the Curly Rescue. Read more about Laurie and Dream by visiting the RAC blog.