When I was 13, my dad fell in love with a horse, Brumbie. Brumbie was a 5 year old, skinny, lanky, bay Thoroughbred with donkey ears, a star on his forehead and one teeny white sock. You could call him an ex-race horse, but he broke his leg on his first attempt and was instantly retired to a field. He spent the next year or two working as a “pony horse” – when a race horse is frantic on a track, a slower, more chilled out horse will be ridden beside that crazy race horse to calm him down. Somewhere along the line, he was adopted by a jockey, who brought him to a barn where her friend taught horse riding lessons so he could be used in the rehabilitation program for sick and disabled children. On his first day on the job, he panicked when he was tied to the super heavy, disabled friendly wooden mounting block, and dragged it all the way across the arena. So he was brought over to the lesson program for the more advanced riders, where he showed real potential to be a hunter and equitation horse.
A year or so later, I started taking riding lessons at that same barn. Not long after that, so did my sister and my dad. My dad is 6’4″, and needed a big horse. Brumbie was the tallest horse in the lesson program. What started as a match of practicalities turned into a “boy meets horse” story. My dad loved Brumbie, and they both trusted each other completely. Probably because my dad was tall enough to look him right in the eye when he was acting squirrely. So my dad adopted Brumbie and spent the better part of the year taking riding lessons and buying him special food to fatten him up. My dad tried to get me to ride him, but I wasn’t into it. Brumbie freaked me out because he was young and sometimes flighty I had a deep seated PTSD of flighty, bay thoroughbreds. But, he was our horse now. So we were matched by default.
I was already working with a very shakey confidence in my riding, so I didn’t have high hopes. The first time I rode him, I was all nerves, and so was he. We were having a lesson in an open field and he bucked and nearly took off galloping with me three times, so I ended up switching horses with one of the older girls. I spent the rest of the year carefully avoiding riding him at all – and things were good. But then – at the beginning of spring, my competition team and I were having a meeting to discuss the upcoming show series when my coach announced:
“Audrey, you’ll be on Brumbie, because you’re showing him this summer.”
Extra great. Not only was I terrified of him, he hadn’t showed before, and I could only imagine how much of a spaz he would be.
So that afternoon, I brought him out of his tall to get him ready for our lesson. I went to our locker and got a handful of sweet grain for him. As I fed him, I said “Ok, I know you don’t like me, and I don’t like you. But we have to work together, so let’s make the best of it.” We were the only two in the aisle, and everything was quiet (which was weird for a Saturday), and I swear I felt a connection. Like he understood me. Like me, the way to his heart was through his stomach. That lesson everything seemed to click between the two of us, and I actually enjoyed riding him.
That first lesson was the doorway into a five year partnership with him. If I loosened up and trusted him, he would do everything I asked. He would change leads without tossing his head or bucking and he would drop his neck and bend and he would find his own spots to the jump. But the second I started to fight with him, he fought back. We definitely weren’t soul mates. But we were very similar to each other. We were both young and full of potential. We both knew how to do things well, and when we were both in sync, we were on fire. But we were also pretty damn lazy and we both knew how to work just hard enough to get the job done. We were both pretty green, and we taught each other a lot along the way, though. I learned how to actually take care of a horse, how to train and condition him, how to listen to his ticks and whirs, how to protect him when he was scared and when he needed to be pushed.
We weren’t the flashiest (unless we were running around out of control taking jumps in black out speed, whoops), but occasionally we would win ribbons at a show, and that was cool. But my heart wasn’t in competitions. And eventually my coach moved out of state, and work, school, boyfriends, teenage blues and college applications got in the way and I grew out of riding. But Brumbie is still kicking around, teaching new little kids to sit back, use their leg, and back off the bit. My sister remains devoted to him, taking care of him and riding him, and using him to teach her son all about horses.
Happy birthday, Brumbie, you handsome lawn ornament. It just seems like a life time ago that we both frantic little kids let loose in a show ring.