Sunday, August 31, 2014


Doing another bummer of a post. This is probably going to be more a venting/pity party type post, but bear with me.

It's weird how your life can revolve around one or two things, and then when those things are gone, there's suddenly this void that you don't know how to fill. That's really what Candy's semi-retirement is right now, a big void. I'm finding myself stuck with free time (I'm in vet school, so it's not quite "free time" but my schedule is more flexible), and I'm finding my bank account a little bit fuller (no tack sprees when there's no horse to tack up).

Candy is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime horse; not in the beautiful or athletic aspect, but I have never ridden a horse that I have clicked so well with. My trainer back home calls him "my first love", and he really is. He has done nothing but give me 110% since the day he became mine. I truly believe that horse would do anything I asked of him, and he still does. Every time I go to the barn, I am in breeches, half chaps, and boots, and before I do anything, I pick his hooves and lunge him, hoping he will be sound. He doesn't have a floaty trot, or a particularly fantastic canter, but he is Candy, and Candy will leg yield at the trot to the left onto his bad hock, because that is what I ask of him. There's no drama, just a slight pinning of his ears to say "Yes, there is pain here.", but those stubby ears are flicked forward almost as quickly as if to say "But let's jump. Let's do what we love." and that is what breaks my heart.

Candy and I got off to a very, very rocky start. I was a gangly fourteen year old and had run out of lesson horses in my lesson program that were big enough for all of my leg. I had just started riding 2 years prior, and my parents were still convinced I would quit at any second, so there was never a discussion of me getting my own horse at this point in time.

One crisp autumn Wednesday, I went out for my weekly lesson and was told to get Candy, the "fat bay with a star" in the gelding field. Grooming and tacking up was uneventful. I got on him, and was told, "He's a head flipper, so don't worry about where his head is, and be prepared to grab mane when you jump." Well, these were the understatements of the YEAR. Any gait faster than a walk, Candy would methodically flip his head violently up and down, sometimes sideways or in a circle. Jumping was not much better; he would LAUNCH himself a good 3' over cross-rails; all four feet left the ground at the same time, and all four would land on the ground at the same time. The concussion of all four feet on this 2000 lb. horse hitting the ground would startle him (or in retrospect, probably hurt...), so Candy would then violently buck into the corner, settle, and the process would repeat for the next line. I HATED this horse; I hated him. I was riding hunters at the time, and just wanted to win, but here I was on this useless green horse who barely knew what any of his extremities were doing at any given time.

Showing was not better; he was spooky and stubborn. At our first show, he refused to pick up the canter portion of our opening courtesy circle, crowhopped to the first jump, and jumped from a standstill. On the other side of the vertical, he planted his feet and refused to move forward any further. I asked to be excused from the ring, and my trainer grabbed a stick and got on him. He was not much better, jumping jumps sideways, at a standstill, even crashing through one. He was frustrating, hard-headed, an ugly mover, and an ugly horse, but somewhere along the way, I fell in love.

We've had our ups and downs. We've gotten into fights I'm not proud (in and out of the show ring), I've gotten so angry with him I've had to leave him in the field for weeks at a time and ridden other horses, but somewhere along the way, he claimed me as his.

He's not the horse I would have chosen for myself when I was 15, but he chose me. He chose me rather aggressively- biting other people in the field who tried to catch him, dumping other riders, and even threatening to kick me when I brought in other horses. I once left on vacation for a week while leasing him, and he refused to turn around and be caught the next time I went out to see him.

But once I realized this obese, cranky gelding had decided he liked me, we were inseparable. I worked in at the barn doing evening turnouts and feedings to ride Candy on the weekends. We started placing in equitation rounds at local shows. He stopped refusing jumps (although to this day, I still carry a stick, just in case), and began to jump across them, rather than up and over. We still were never a flashy pair, never particularly noticeable, and never placed well in hunters, but I loved him and he loved me.

Before college, I leased another horse with the hopes of showing 3' in the hunter ring; it didn't happen simply because I wasn't ready, and the timing just wasn't right. I left for school, and left Candy behind. Then in April of 2010, I received a Facebook message from the woman who had bought the lesson facility asking me if I wanted Candy for free- I had one week to decide before he went up for sale. My parents reluctantly said I could have him (my dad even said he would buy me a "nice horse" instead).

I went out to see him the first day of spring break my freshman year. I walked up to the fence and called his name, and I saw him in the back of the field lift his head, and gallop towards me whinnying.

Since I've owned him, he's become a different horse. He's now a loving, cuddly, always-in-your-pocket horse. He's still pushy, and still demands to be ridden a certain way, but he is much more forgiving. He's honest, and will jump anything I put in front of him. He will never be a beautiful horse, but he is handsome with his shiny bright bay coat, his sturdy build, his Roman nose (which has grown on me), his too-short-for-his-head ears, and his soft, kind eye. He will never be a beautiful mover, but he loves lateral work, has automatic changes, a balanced canter, and can turn on a dime.

This is why my heart breaks to think of retiring him. We have come so far in the past 10 years, and neither of us are ready to quit. I will probably be exploring a few more options, and praying the hock fairy comes and fuses his hocks so we can have a few more years in the low jumper ring. But if not, I will continue to hack him, laugh when he spooks at a butterfly on trail rides, curry him for 30 minutes and massage his tense muscles, and pop him over small jumps as much as his hock will allow.

I will do all of this because he's my Candy Man, and he chose me.

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