I've often wondered about the first person in history to consider trapping a horse, buckling a saddle to its back, and climbing on the two-thousand-pound muscular creature. Then I always wonder how someone could train these horses to perform on command. Attend any horse show and you will see the relationship between rider and horse. It’s not one of control and submission but of respect and understanding. Each horse has its own personality, much like we do. Learning these personalities seems crucial to being able to teach them and, in some cases, ride them.
Out past the major cities like Tampa, you will find farmland for as far as the eye can see. Horses are a common sight while traveling these quaint roads far from the highways. My destination was a town called Lithia about an hour from my home. I was invited out to the ranch by horse enthusiast, Savannah. In her spare time, Savannah takes care of a beautiful horse named Dee Dee. She’s a friendly horse with a lot of character and had once taken home third place at a horse show.
First, we had to make our way out and retrieve Dee Dee. Savannah told me she wouldn’t allow herself to be reined in if Savannah was holding the harness. I followed Savannah to the back of the ranch, stepping through patches of mud and puddles. It had been advised to wear boots to the ranch and I now understood why. It was, unfortunately, an advisory I had neglected to follow. But a pair of muddy shoes wasn’t going to stop me from getting up close with these magnificent animals.
I waited as Savannah approached Dee Dee with careful concentration and gave her a calming rub. Dee Dee stood proud and waited for Savannah to clip the harness around her. With that, we led her back through the muddy field and to a large wooden post. This was where Dee Dee would be groomed. A brush was handed to me and I went to work trying to brush out the shedding coat. It’s not as easy as brushing, say, a dog or a cat. No, this coat takes a bit of hard work to brush it out. Before my arm could grow too weary, Savannah informed me it was much harder to brush out their winter coat. I had never been more relieved for summer to be upon us.
There’s a lot of terms when it comes to horses. For example, a gelded horse is a male that has been castrated. A horse between the ages of one and two is known as a yearling and anything younger is foal. You can also call a baby horse still nursing a suckling. It seems like too much to remember but Savannah cited it like letters of the alphabet.
One of my favorite questions to ask during these adventures is “How did you get into this?” because the answer is never simply “Just felt like it.” Everyone has a story to tell about their favorite hobby and Savannah’s is no different. Since she was little, she had always wanted to work with horses but never had the opportunity. One day, her aunt invited her to climb up on a horse and rest in the saddle. From there, her aunt proceeded to smack the horse’s rear end and shouted after her, “You either hang on or fall off.” From that moment, Savannah was hooked.
After we were finished brushing Dee Dee’s coat, we lead her to an open field were Dee Dee could get some exercise. I watched as Savannah led her around the field, leading her left and right with nothing more than a shift of her body. She could get her to trot and stop on command. Of course, I was impressed by their combined showmanship.
Naturally, it was my turn. Savannah handed over the rope and gave me a quick rundown of how to get Dee Dee to move how I wanted. There was a warning, however. She would try and test me. Little things, like stopping just after I wanted her to or taking extra time to turn. Like I said before, they do have their own personalities. But she walked with me with very little effort. She turned when I wanted, walked where I wanted her to and came to a stop when I pulled on the rope. However, she did always make it point to be ahead of me, apparently letting me know she was the one in charge. Then, Savannah asked if I wanted to make her trot. I was a little reluctant but went for it all the same. And I’m glad I did. She told me to take two large steps forward as we walked and Dee Dee would follow with a trot. As I did, she trotted along. Guiding an animal larger than myself with nothing but a short rope, and at a trot no less, was powerful, to say the least.
Finally, it was time to end our time at the ranch. It was fun meeting the horses, the barnyard dogs, the wonderful people who work there, and Dee Dee, of course. Being out in the hot sun can be brutal and yet, working with these majestic animals is rewarding. It’s not hard to see why someone would spend their time caring for these wonderful animals and training them for the shows. Savannah invited me to come along with her to the ranch sometime later, when the weather was a bit cooler. I had such a fun experience, that I might just take her up on that offer. Of course, I’ll bring you all along as well. Thanks for coming with me on this Avocation Adventure and remember to keep wandering, just not alone.
Evan Bond, author of To the Wolves and Death Can Wait, is a thriller/suspense author. When not writing, he can be found hiking or camping in the beautiful state of Florida.