SNOW WAS FALLING last Sunday when I drove our little mini-horse Gypsy to meet Porsche, a very energetic, restless and lonely French Warmblood horse.
It’s not unusual for highly athletic horses to need a constant companion to help calm the nerves when not working or in competition.
The need for some well-known race horses to have one came to light in movies, such as the one featuring the champion race horse Sea Biscuit, who’d become unmanageable until the right companion was found for him.
It’s not that I was looking for a new home for little Gypsy.
I’d brought her home to be a little horse for my grandnephew Isaac, 5, last May and featured them both in my May 26 Horseplay column.
Gypsy is a fun and sassy little mini who I knew would need some training before I could let Isaac ride her unattended.
In truth, the timing to bring her home wasn’t right; it was just a week after the passing of my beloved mother, from Alzheimer’s disease, and I was still in a chronic state of exhaustion from being her longtime caregiver.
Of course I also was grief-stricken, so for several months I found myself not wanting to get off the couch much as I recovered.
I got Gypsy at the urging of my niece, who promised to help train her. I should have known better.
After many years away, my niece re-entered my life the week before my mother passed.
At the time she was a recovering addict and had just re-entered the horse world (see my July 7, column).
From the start, my niece Brooke was only focused on her own horse and barrel racing — which she excels at — and was even given the horse, Sunny, she raced last summer.
That left me, with very little energy, to train Gypsy for Isaac. Basically it didn’t happen.
Gypsy had no problem being saddled up and led around while Isaac rode her, but, like most ponies, when the lead rope was unhooked she took off running as Isaac hung on for dear life.
Mind you, I knew not to unhook the lead rope, but someone else ignored the admonition and when Gypsy went running she did some quick turns and dumped Isaac, understandably scaring him.
And then Gypsy, who’d spent most of her previous life not being handled at all, started biting at the always energetic and pesky Isaac whenever he came close.
Before long Isaac lost interest.
While I committed to caring for Gypsy the rest of her life, and I still will if needed, it was a personal struggle for me to keep the tiny horse, with her mini-sized tummy, from eating too much grass and hay, and keeping her weight down.
Lately I began to wonder if there was a better home for her.
Enter a visiting friend and fellow Leonberger dog owner, Polly Sarsfield.
She mentioned her friend Nikki Gold was down to just one horse and was looking for a companion horse for her “big huge horse,” and that’s how Gypsy came to meet Porsche.
I knew from past years Gold was a very dedicated horse owner so I was happy to see if Gypsy would work out for her.
I should mention the majority of big horses freak out the first time they see a mini-horse. They just don’t get the mini-me thing.
Lacey and Indy were no exception. Gypsy knows this.
When she first came here and I let her loose she charged at them as if she were the big bully and they fled to the other side of the pasture.
There they stayed for a few days despite Gypsy being locked up in my one paddock.
When Brooke was given Sunny and she came to live with us Sunny busted up a farm gate trying to attack Gypsy, which caused Lacey to come to her defense and fight Sunny.
It took a while for them to become friendly to each other.
Until they did it was nerve-wracking for me to ensure they stayed far apart.
Naturally, then, I was a bit nervous when I led tiny Gypsy to meet Gold’s towering, 18-hand, lively French warmblood named Porsche, wondering if they, too, would try to bite and charge at each other.
At the very least, on greeting horses will sniff noses and squeal, often stomping a hoof when greeting.
As Gold and I stood by to watch, we both suddenly felt flush with awe as the two greeted each other through a non-energized electric fence and, as Gold stated so well, we saw “a gentle conversation and introduction from one to the other. It was very dear.”
Wow, no squealing or stomping. It was as if the two were instantly harmonious.
When I led Gypsy into the nice box stall next to Porsche’s she had a look on her face which I interpreted as saying, “Finally, the life which I deserve.”
Later, Gold sent me photos showing me Gypsy was still looking happy and content, with neither horse anxious or pacing. What a relief.
Gold is looking forwarding to working with Gypsy, teaching good ground skills through both dressage and natural horsemanship techniques.
Although her background is in dressage, Gold related what she teaches applies to every form of equestrian participation, saying, “Whichever discipline you ride, whatever saddle you’re in, it all comes down to balance. The only time it doesn’t is when you are bareback, because if you’re out of balance you’ll fall off.”
She embarked on a quest for balance after two accidents and two compression fractures of her lower back that left her feeling as if she was merely perched on a horse rather than feeling a part of her horse, and she was in pain.
“This resulted in my going on this incredible journey of discovery of all my body parts and watching closely the biomechanics of the horse,” she said. “The goal of every rider should be to learn how to make riding comfortable for both you and the horse.”
She’s taken a lot of lessons over her lifetime, but after her accidents realized no one had really taught her how to fix things that didn’t feel right, such as when a shoulder was too forward or her riding felt too tight and restricted.
“My goal became to create a tool box so when things weren’t working, instead of feeling frustrated now I reached into my tool box to figure out what I’m doing wrong,” Gold said. “More importantly, I’ve learned to assess my balance by feeling if the weight in both of my feet in the stirrups is truly even.”
She said a lack of balance is usually what throws the horse and rider off.
A horse is always reading our body language and adjusting to our movements, however slight, so when we think the horse isn’t listening to us the problem often is that the horse is listening and responding to our cues, but inadvertently we’re giving the wrong cues so the horse isn’t responding the way we’d like him to.
Through her studies she’s also learned the proper stretches to help overcome her weaker muscles to be a balanced rider.
For those interested in learning more about dressage and balanced riding, Gold gives lessons to those with their own horse. Call her at 720-501-8548.
In the meantime Gold tells me she “cherishes Gypsy,” which warms my heart and brings a smile to my face.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.