For the Love of a Horse Named Stormy
My Million Dollar Baby
"Horse, thou art truly a creature without equal, for thou fliest without wings and conquerest without sword," -- The Koran, Islam's Holy Book.
There are many people who can't see the beauty of horses, they simply see a horse. But I had the good fortune of owning such a fine, spirited animal. He was a beauteous 7-year-old, red-bay Arabian gelding. His registered name was Stormin' Norman, but I just called him Stormy for short. Other than his age, and the fact that he had registration papers, I knew nothing about him. I had purchased him at a local horse auction for $100 because he was en route to slaughter. But he would soon become my million dollar baby. There was no money in the world that someone could offer me for him. For Stormy would be the horse to teach me what love, compassion, and horsemanship were all about--and to open my eyes to the beauty of horses.
I can't say that I was particularly fond of Arabians. After all, I had heard so many unfavorable things about them: "Arabians aren't anything more than a hood ornament . . . a mantle piece . . . a small pony . . . " They acquired a reputation for being "jumpy, flighty, and half crazy!" But Stormy would put all those myths to rest. Anyone who encountered him would be blessed with his presence.
Like a Bolt of Lightening
"Fierce as the fire and fleet as the wind," quote from Adam L. Gordon, a 19th century Australian poet, jockey and politician. I would soon come to know these words all too well.
At first, I have to admit, I was nervous about mounting Stormy. He didn't seem to like the idea of placing a bulky western saddle upon his back. I decided to start him out in the round pen where I had some enclosure. I put a small western parade saddle upon his back that seemed to fit his build well. Stormy did get a little ansie at first; his skin flinched; he laid his ears back; and he did a little foot dance. But nothing that I hadn't seen before. So, I put the tip of my left boot in the stirrup, and up I went, slinging my right leg over the saddle.
"Woww! What a nervous ball of energy," I thought. Scary, to say the least. He was like a time bomb ticking away ready to explode. We made a couple of walks around the pen, then progressed up to a nice trot. I was starting to work the jitters out of him. Then I got a little over confident . . .
"Donna, open the gate up," I shouted.
Donna was a friend of mine that boarded horses on the farm. We often rode together.
"Are you sure you're ready to do that?" she asked.
"Yeah. When I tell you, open the gate," I shouted again.
My adrenaline was pumping--and so was Stormy's. I love a good adrenaline rush--one of my downfalls. Probably the cowgirl in me.
As Stormy and I approached the gate, he started dancing around, flicking his head up and down, snorting out of his nostrils. I could tell he wanted to run, and I was ready for him.
"I'm going to just let him get it out of his system. Then when he settles down, we'll work on the basics," I thought.
The gate opened, and Stormy bolted like a flash of lightening! I about flew off him backwards. It took me a minute to regain my balance, and collect the reins. I had never been on a horse with so much stamina and speed. He was so fast! Obviously, his size had fooled me. And just when I thought he had topped out, he started to gain more momentum.
"Whoa, boy," I said to him, pulling back on the reins. "Whoa."
My commands didn't seem to phase him. He had tunnel vision, and the only thing he wanted to do was run . . .
"Whoa, boy. Easy now. Whoa, " I said to him pumping the reins in an effort to slow him down.
It was like I was speaking a different language. He was oblivious to what I was saying. I could see the open field coming to an end a couple of yards away. I was headed right for the road! Stormy left me no choice. I collected the reins in my right hand, and reached up and grabbed the bridle with my left, pulling him back around into me. It was either take a chance and roll end over end, or get hit by a car. Somehow, I managed to stay on Stormy as we came to an abrupt stop.
I dismounted him, and shook my head. My heart was racing, and my hands were shaking. Everybody was trailing behind me. They knew I was in trouble with this one. I was still trying to make sense of what just happened. I let my guard down for one minute, and that's all it took. Needless to say, it didn't take me long to discover that Stormy had been ridden English, not western.
From Blue Blood
I continued to work with Stormy, and discovered the faults I had experienced didn't lie with him, but rather with me. He was like riding a fine-tuned instrument; I rode with a loose rein and very little leg pressure. Once we became in tune with one another, we rode as one entity in time. Stormy was the Cadillac of horses; he was a classic, a perfect gentleman, and was well-mannered. It became apparent that someone had put a lot of time and training into him.
As we rode in the midst of the day, I caught a glimpse of our shadow reflecting off the sun-dried field. I thought to myself, "What a beautiful, magnificent animal." His movement had the grace of a swan, and his personality was as charming as a fairy tale prince.
When we got back to the stable, I began brushing him down. I could see peace in his big brown, luminous eyes. His eyes were the mirrors to his soul, and as I brushed him gently, they became half closed with contentment. I continued to brush underneath his mane and along his neck. Then, to my surprise, I noticed a freeze brand written in Arabic. "How interesting," I thought. Truly, he must have been born from blue blood. I brushed his coat ever so gently, rubbing it into a satin-like shine. Then I turned him out to pasture. He faded away into the swirling dust clouds created from the dry dirt he had kicked up from his hooves.
Little Horse with a Big Heart
"A good rider on a good horse is as much above himself and others as the world can make him," wrote Lord Edward Herbert of Chirbury, poet and religious philosopher of the Kingdom of England.
A couple of weeks had gone by, and I had broken Stormy into the saddle, and had him neck reining nicely. It was time to test him out on the trails. Before long, I had him climbing cliffs, jumping logs, and crossing streams and rivers. He seemed to be a natural at climbing cliffs. It was as if his tiny hard hooves with double "OO" shoes were meant for rocks. I was sure that somewhere in his breeding he had been crossed with a mountain goat. He never ceased to amaze me. Stormy loved to jump anything in his path, but unfortunately, he jumped logs like a deer--straight up and over!
As for streams, I don't think he had ever seen one in his life. He thought of the fast moving water as some type of serpent, twisting and moving about his hooves. Stormy would stand at full attention, ears perked, nostrils snorting, hooves planted to the ground, then his hooves started doing a nervous little pitter-patter, and over the stream he went! I soon learned that Stormy's fine breeding had left him thin skinned. The slightest touch of a whip, stung him like a bee. A few pats on the chest and some kind words of encouragement were all he needed.
Before long, I had Stormy crossing rivers, too. He loved to dip his muzzle in the water and flick it up over his head, then he would shimmy and shake all the way down his spine to his tail. What an unusual feeling that was while in the saddle! Stormy drank very little water, if any, while trail riding, and it was as though he had a built-in reservoir with a holding tank; he preferred playing in the water to drinking it.
Stormy rode wonderfully by himself, but in the company of other horses, he felt the need to compete, and he longed to be the lead horse. There was a surpressed feeling that I could feel emerging from within him. It was like a burst of energy and power ready to explode at any given moment. But once I learned to harness this energy, Stormy's gait became collected, as he arched his neck and pranced like a prima ballerina. To spectators watching, he was an art form in motion. To me, he was a masterpiece. And only, I, sitting in the saddle, knew that with one smoo--ch, he'd drink the wind and run like a cheetah, fast and sleek in motion.
Stormy became known as the little horse with the big heart. I asked something of him, and he gave himself ten fold. I believe that he would have ran himself into the ground, if I had given him his riens and freedom, merely in an effort to please me.
Federico Tesio, an Italian statesman and one of the most important breeders of Thoroughbreds in the history of horse racing, once said, "A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character." These words defined Stormy to a Tee.
Later, I discovered that Stormy's upper lip had been tatooed. I contacted the Arabian Jockey Association and acquired his racing records for a small fee. From his registration papers, I learned that he was of Polish descent, and that both his sire and dam were national champions. His original owner had purchased him from an Arabian breeding farm in Ocala, Florida as a yearling for a mere $20,000. So, Stormy really was a finely bred horse, after all.
Like a King on his Thrown
"The horse prance and paw and neigh, fillies and colts like kittens play . . . " wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, author and poet, who was regarded by his peers as one of the best writers of the 19th century.
I can remember one day that will always stand out in my mind. It was on a clean, crisp, cool day that Stormy had lost his halter in the field. Without his halter, Stormy felt a kind of freedom that he had never known before. With the unvieling of his halter, he decided to show me his true self. He stood on top of the hill like a king on his thrown, whinnying to me with the wind blowing through his long, silky mane and tail. He looked noble, and I could envision years of breeding sires that must have once stood on Arabian soil in a similar manner. With a few shakes of the ginger snap bag, Stormy raced down the hillside, stopped dead in his tracks, stood proud and confident, and then he whinnied again, debating rather he would give into my request, or not. But he was enjoying his freedom, he knew he could not be coaxed or caught without his halter. I shook the ginger snap bag again, (Arabians have a fondness for spices, especially ginger), then Stormy turned and raced as fast as he could to the opposite end of the field, mystical and gallant, truly a knight in shining armor as he challenged the wind. He turned again, darted back to the other end of the field, carrying his tail with honors as it trailed behind him like a flag heading into battle. He was truly beautiful, extending his trot and gliding over the soil like a horse with wings.
Never in my life had I experienced beauty in its rawest, purest, most natural form as I had experienced it on that day. Then Stormy came walking over to me nonchalantly, and bowed his head for me to rub. I loved this horse with all of my heart, and it was at that very moment that I knew he loved me, too. For the love of Stormy had forever opened my eyes and my heart up to the beauty of horses.
Dedicated to my dear friend Kalena, who loves horses as much as I do.