My notes indicate the following: "Vet check, total time = 6 hours! Muscle soreness along back and croup, very thin (200# under weight). Loose left stifle. Dr. W says backing exercises and walking hills will tighten/strengthen. Racing plates pulled. Radiographs all around with various angles on hooves, pasterns, fetlocks, canons, knees, forearms, hocks, left stifle - all look very good. Minor lameness on RF, additional radiographs indicate nothing. Extremely long toes, no heels. Could be reason for lameness. Extensively pin fired on both front canon bones. Why? Upper respiratory infection (bacterial). Dr. W checked everything, couldn't find anything worthy of sending her back."
I had myself a new horse!
I shortened her name to two syllables - she became Carli, Queen of the farm. It didn't take a week for her to endear herself to anyone who came within her space. She loved to touch her nose to an outstretched hand. She would rub her upper lip back and forth across my shoulders and back while I cleaned her stall. She would rest her head on my chest before she walked out to her paddock. She whinnied when she saw anyone heading out to the barn. She was incredibly friendly.
And she was hungry all the time.
She ate and ate and ate. We started with small meals, constant throughout the day. Then, as the spring grass grew, we turned her out so she could enjoy that luxury. Slowly, ever so slowly, she gained weight.
And with that, she regained her strength. I learned all kinds of things about her. First, she was a handfull. She was never mean or spiteful, but she loved to display her physical prowess. While she never pulled away from me, she exhibited her athleticism by bucking and cavorting on the lead. Her favorite thing was to walk down to her daily turnout on her hind legs. I will never forget the first time she went up. I wasn't just surprised, I was highly aware of the fact that she enjoyed being up there. She gave no indication that she was going to do this. Up she went, effortless, smooth and completely harmless like she was trained for some exotic circus act; perfectly balanced, looking down at me with a joyful expression. She walked along like a dog obedience trained to a leash. I didn't bother to correct her. Apparently, she wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary.
To me, it was extraordinary!
Everything about her was an anomaly. I expected all the normal OTTB nonsense, not this kind and gentle soul. After all that had been done to her, I fully expected to re-train the worst citizen. With all of this in mind, I began legging her up for her first ride.
We lived on a farm up on the north eastern most ridge of the Monument Divide. The ridge expanded across a huge plateau that dropped 7500 feet onto the eastern plains of Colorado. We had pasture and pine trees, along with a deep ravine that cut through the back of the property and abutted a 50 acre undeveloped county park. We lived on that ridge with fewer than ten other families. Wide dirt roads criss-crossed the immense acreage that made up the area where we lived. Those roads became our best friend.
For several months, Carli and I walked those roads together. She eventually stopped walking around on her hind legs and switched to running circles around me. That told me she was getting stronger, so I took her to the hills. That work improved her left stifle.
The long walks allowed me to observe her closely. Her behavior patterns were fascinating. She would dance along beside me, her head titled in my direction, one eye observing me closely, both ears forward and attentive. Then in a flash she would explode with exuberance, but she never tried to leave or pull away. I changed my routine slightly and took her out on a longer lead, thus giving her more room to explore her newfound strength. She wasn't afraid of anything. She willfully and joyfully expended each day's pent up energy, so that by the time we returned to the barn, she was tired and content.
Four months after her purchase, I decided to saddle her up before our walk. I figured it was time for her to carry something. Standing quietly, tied in the isle way, she was the picture of perfection. Her weight was ideal; she had gained muscle. Her black coat glistened. Her mane and tail were thick and long. She was a most stunning creature, until she saw me bring the saddle out of the tack room. The moment her eye caught a glimpse of the saddle, she glared at me with the ugliest snake face I had ever seen. She rolled her eyes with the whites showing and clamped her ears completely flat against her neck. When I moved closer, she violently tossed her head around, snapping big gulps of air with her teeth. I stopped and she settled a bit. I moved in slightly, the saddle cradled in my arms. Lightening fast, she sank her teeth into the leather and pulled the saddle free from my grasp.
Only one thought came to mind...
All righty, then!