Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The One That Got Away

By Laura Crum

How many of us can think of a horse like that? One we wish we had bought, or worse yet, wish we hadn’t sold. A horse that, if we had it to do over again, we would still own. Or have kept until he/she died. Fugly has created a website where horse owners can find these horses, and I would be using it myself, except that the horse that got away from me is certainly dead. She was my riding horse when I was fourteen, and she was in her teens then. I’m fifty two now. I think we can all do the math.

Ramona was her name—a little pinto pony mare. She stood somewhere shy of fourteen hands, a big pony/small horse. She had the sturdy pony build and the slightly fuzzy pony mane. She also had the wide flat back and smooth gaits so essential for riding bareback. It wasn’t until I bought another similar pony for my son and started riding him, that I realized these traits were common in ponies. Like Ramona, I could sit Toby very comfortably bareback at the trot, something that has not been true of very many horses I’ve owned.

Ramona was always ridden bareback. She didn’t even have a saddle. She belonged to my friend Kristie, who kept her at a small barn that was walking distance from my house. At fourteen, I was a horse crazy girl who desperately wanted a horse of my own. I was allowed to ride my uncle’s horses out at the family ranch, but since I couldn’t drive, I only got out to the ranch when my parents would take me. And that was once a week. Not enough.

Kristie came to the rescue. She had recently bought a fancy QH gelding that she intended to run barrels on. She wasn’t interested in Ramona any more and offered to let me use her if I would pay for Ramona’s feed. I took the little mare for a few rides and found her to be an absolutely reliable trail horse. She would go anywhere you asked her. She was sure-footed, with smooth gaits, including a sweet little rocking chair lope. She had the slightly stubborn pony personality, but no vices. She was perfect. I accepted Kristie’s offer.

For the next year I rode Ramona everywhere—through the neighborhood, on solitary trails through the mountains, across the river where we had to swim, down to the local pool to show off to the other kids. You name it, I did it. Mostly by myself. Kristie had moved her fancy gelding to a proper training barn with an arena and didn’t ride with me any more. Ramona never put a foot wrong.

And then, when I was fifteen, my parents decided to let me buy a horse of my own. Of course, I thought of buying Ramona. I figured Kristie would sell her to me if I asked. However, my advisor was my uncle, a team roper who raised Quarter Horses. My uncle was not willing to give me one of his horses, no. I was buying a horse with my own hard-earned money. But my uncle thought I should buy a proper QH type horse that he, Todd, could potentially use as a practice team roping horse. A useful horse. Useful to my uncle Todd that is. My uncle did not think much of the humble pinto pony, good only for trail riding. And a mare besides. He advised against buying her and said he would help me find a better horse.

I listened. Why wouldn’t I? My uncle was my hero. I continued to ride Ramona while we shopped for a horse I could afford and my uncle approved of. And eventually my uncle picked out Jackson, a fifteen-three bay gelding who was priced cheap, seemed reasonably gentle, and did, indeed, look like a team roping horse. I bought him.

Unfortunately, Jackson was not the kid’s horse Ramona was. Though superficially gentle, he was a lazy, uncooperative beast who was quite willing to rear in a vertical manner when he didn’t care for the look of a trail and also willing to kick hard enough that the horseshoer, another tough old cowboy, refused to put back shoes on him.

Jackson kicked me in the head one day when I was saddling him—knocked me out cold. I was finding it impossible to take him out for trail rides, he simply stopped and reared when he didn’t want to go. Ramona was still at the stable where I kept Jackson, and I took to riding her instead. It was a lot more fun.

Finally my uncle decided that he’d better help me sort Jackson out. He came up to the little barn where I kept Jackson and went for a ride with me. I rode Ramona. When Jackson balked and reared, Uncle Todd pulled him around and beat the crap out of him. Jackson was a smart beast. He gave up the rearing pronto. Todd put me on Jackson to be sure I could convince the horse that I was now in charge. I got it done. And Todd and I went for a ride. We loped up the little hills, Todd riding Ramona bareback, me on Jackson. And when we got back to the barn, Todd slid off Ramona and said, “This is a pretty nice horse.”

I think that’s when it dawned on me. I should have bought Ramona. Ramona was the perfect horse for what I wanted to do. Ramona fit me. I had allowed my uncle to convince me to buy a horse that fit him. Not me.

But I was young and I wanted to please my cowboy uncle, who remained my hero. I kept Jackson. When I was sixteen and could drive, I moved Jackson out to the family ranch and my uncle turned him into a practice team roping horse. Jackson remained a stubborn, uncooperative horse, prone to rearing. And I never knew what became of Ramona.

Kristie was fond of her and said she would retire her. But I didn’t keep track of her. I wish I had. I can still see her little pinto pony face in my mind. I remember the fun I had with her and how safe I felt on her. When I bought Toby for my son and began riding him, it all came back to me. Toby was very like Ramona.

To this day I wish I had bought Ramona and kept her until she died. I did keep Toby until his death, and I feel he was a great gift both to me and my son. And now I have Sunny, my little trail horse, who looks something like a pony crossed on a Quarter Horse. He has that pony personality, and the surefooted, go anywhere pony ability. I love riding him on the trail. Sometimes I ride him bareback (he has the wide flat back, too). It takes me right back to my youth, and Ramona—the one that got away.


KB said...

I am so fortunate, because I was able to buy back my "one that got away". My mare was bred when I bought her, and when her filly was a yearling, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I was too overwhelmed with life to train a baby, so I sold her to a "friend". Once my husband was finished with treatment and healthy, I realized what a mistake I'd made, but it was too my ont t9me friend wanted to keep my baby. Unfortunately, my little filly was injured in her two year old year, and her owner was unable or unwilling to provide her the care she needed. At that point, I was able to buy her back. We've had a long road together, but I'm so thrilled to have her home, and she'll be with me as long as she lives.

Laura Crum said...

KB--I hear you. I will wish for the rest of my life that I had bought Ramona and made sure she had a happy retirement. Or at least checked on her. But I was young and dumb. I have tried to remedy the mistake by retiring other deserving horses. I hope it atones for the mistake I made.

Laura Crum said...

KB--I hear you. I will wish for the rest of my life that I had bought Ramona and made sure she had a happy retirement. Or at least checked on her. But I was young and dumb. I have tried to remedy the mistake by retiring other deserving horses. I hope it atones for the mistake I made.

Shanster said...

Oh, we are ALL young and dumb - I think it just "goes" with being young. Don't be too hard on yourself...

Great story - I love Ramona... what a great name, sounds like a really cool pony!

autumnblaze said...

I'm so glad the that first horse that I've been able to ride on my own, whose REALLY taught me could become mine. So I never felt like he got away... in this market I'd have gone bonkers wondering if he really suited a new owner. Would they show him into the ground? Would he (as he's smart and picky) hate his new rider and be miserable? Would his new rider hate him and send him down the road...

Nope. Glad I don't have to worry about that. As long as he lives he will be mine. I may have to lease him to keep him worked or pay board BUT he will stay in my care (hopefully it never comes to that).

Ramona sounded like a real doll.

Laura Crum said...

autumnblaze--I'm glad you got your horse bought. Hope you and he have many enjoyable years together. I have five retired horses right now, and I find its a very rewarding thing to retire your old riding buddies and see them have a happy old age.

stilllearning said...

I half-regret losing every horse I've ever sold. My project horses were all OTTBs. After I spent a few years sorting out what worked for each one and turning them into useful horses, it was wonderful but sad to sell them.

Every time I learn something new I think of how that might have helped solve a problem on a horse that is not mine anymore.

One horse in particular that I sold as a hunter, I wish I had kept as a dressage prospect. But I sold him to a "forever home" where he's done well, so the regret is only for myself.

I wish I could have kept them all