Horseback Riding

A Tribute to Tim

Tim - Horse

{Tim & Me — March 2009}

Over the summer, I posted about my friend Tim. But he isn’t like most friends. He’s non-verbal, more than 1500 pounds, and will love you to death if you bring treats. Yes, Tim is a horse, and it is with great sadness that I must tell you of his passing. To read the full post about our bond, click here.

I was just finishing up kickboxing class on Saturday when I received a text message from Tim’s owner. The text read, “Tim is down and it looks like today is the day.” Tim had a wonderful life with his long-time owner, Loraine. Seriously, if I come back in another life, I’d like to be one of her horses.

Loraine owned Tim for most of his life. She purchased him when he was a youngster, around 5 years old, and he was in his late thirties at the time of his passing. He was a loyal companion, barn favorite, and easily identifiable with his big brown spots.

Tim - Horse

As I sat at my computer desk last night contemplating a topic for today’s post, I knew I had to honor Tim. He was a huge part of my life growing up and his photos still reside on my nightstand—long after my years as an equestrian.

I am so grateful that I had the privilege of knowing Tim. From riding him bareback on a warm summer day, to taking him down to the field for some grass, life always seemed a little brighter when he was in your presence.

Horsin’ Around

Appaloosa Horse

Meet Tim! A thirty-something year old Appaloosa with an infectious personality that could rival most humans. Tim and I go way back — to my days when I used to ride regularly and spend most of my waking hours at the barn. While my life no longer revolves around horses, I made an exception this past weekend.

I haven’t seen Tim in seven years. Yet somehow, this cantankerous Appaloosa didn’t forget the sound of my voice, or that I nicknamed him “fluffy” because he always grew such a thick coat in winter. No, this senior horse knew me by the way I slipped the halter over his head and how I talked to him as we walked side by side in the courtyard. He recognized an old friend. For both of us, it was like we had just seen each other yesterday — without missing a beat. I guess that’s how you are with old friends.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, well known for an apt phrase, once commented “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” I’ve always found that it is impossible to be upset when you’re in the company of an animal — whether it’s a cat, dog, or horse.

Tim is quiet, seldom uttering horse sounds. Yet as a non-verbal animal, the best therapy I ever received was from Tim. He will unconditionally listen to anyone he meets, and he never passes judgement (unless you forget to give him a treat!). That’s the greatest characteristic anyone could ask for in a friend.

The Making of an Equestrian

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In a few of my posts, I’ve alluded to the fact that I was an equestrian growing up. Over the weekend I spent a couple of hours at The Gold Coast Classic at Old Field Farm. This was the first time I have gone to a horse show at this venue, although I have passed the stables numerous times on my way to nearby West Meadow Beach. Nestled between The Old Field Club on one side and surrounded by water and the beach on the other, these stables are truly idyllic. They are in the process of being restored to their former glory, but in the meantime they are a tranquil setting for a horse show.

I spent the morning relaxing under the grandstand overlooking the main ring. I watched a few rounds of the hunter and equitation classes, which reminded me of my horse show days.

I began riding at the age of seven. I had been a figure skater until my parents decided to enroll me in a horseback riding summer camp at Thomas School of Horsemanship (TSH) in Melville, NY. That’s where my obsession with these majestic animals began. Even though it seems like an eternity ago, I vividly remember my first day of camp.

Summer camp began in late June. I knew no one at this camp, but quickly made friends with the horses. My first activity was a stable period where we learned to brush and tack the horses and also studied basic horse care. I was so excited for the riding part! The first horse I rode at camp was a palomino gelding named Tigger. He was very gentle and I spent most of that summer riding him when I could. I learned to walk and trot with him on my own. I felt like I was born to be on a horse. When it came time for our summer camp horse show, I showed on Tigger–and we placed first out of six riders in the ring.

I was sad when the summer came to a close and I thought I would have to say goodbye to the horses until next year. I had made lots of friends at camp and my love for horses was a complete obsession by now. In my free time, I read everything I could about riding and horse care, and I devoted hours to perusing the State Line Tack catalog making lists of items to purchase for my future horse.

Fortunately, my parents recognized how much I loved being with horses and kept me riding year round. I spent as much time as I could at TSH and went back to camp every summer.

By the time I was in middle school I was riding a minimum of three days a week. I had moved on to another stable in Huntington, NY and was working with a trainer regularly. I had always dreamt of owning my own horse one day, but understood the financial pressures that accompanied it. Prior to purchasing my first horse, I began leasing a horse at the barn and riding every day. Glory was a beautiful bay gelding. He was the perfect horse for me to start seriously competing on. I went to my first “away” show on him, and although we did not place, I learned a lot from the experience. After a few years with Glory, I was ready to move on to my own horse.

Steely was a beautiful 16.1 hand dappled grey gelding. He was 11 years old when we purchased him, and a great horse. Steely and I spent the first few months learning from each other. He was a show horse, but he was a bit out of shape when I got him. By the following summer we were off to the show ring. We competed in many local Long Island horse shows, but my dream was to compete in The Garden State horse show in New Jersey.

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{Steely and I at Good Sheperd Farm, Yaphank, N.Y.}

After suffering a setback with Steely (he tore a tendon and required rest for about six months), we were back on track and ready to head to Garden State. That show was my first competition off Long Island. We spent five days in New Jersey competing almost every day. By the time the show was over, we were both exhausted and Steely had earned quite a few days off. I was pleased with our placing at the show, and it still remains one of the highlights of my riding career.

I was about 16 years old when Steely got sick. I went to the barn one day and noticed that both his hind legs were inflamed and he was having trouble walking. I immediately called the vet in a full panic. The vet said Steely had lymphangitis and needed antibiotics, but should be fine. Yet each day I went to the barn, Steely seemed to deteriorate. My vet and I decided to send Steely to Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center, a specialty facility in New Jersey, for further tests and observation. Unfortunately, the diagnosis was uncertain and all I knew was that my friend was suffering. After Steely returned home to Long Island, it became clearer that the only humane decision was to euthanize my friend. It was an incredibly painful decision for me, but I knew that we had done all we could and it wasn’t fair to let my friend suffer.

After Steely passed, I didn’t ride for a while. I can’t remember how much time went by before I returned, but every time I looked at a horse I saw Steely.

When I went to the horse show over the weekend, there was a grey horse that reminded me so much of Steely when I first got him. I watched this rider and her horse gracefully glide over the fences and they worked so well together as a team – like Steely and I had.

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Although I sorely miss my days in the saddle, I am eternally grateful to my parents who understood my crazy obsession and did everything they could to nurture my talents as a rider. I feel like I grew up and matured at the stables, and riding also taught me important life lessons. Through Steely, I learned the importance of teamwork, hard work, dedication, patience, love, responsibility and forgiveness. As much as I enjoyed riding and showing, my first priority was always the well-being of my horse. If that meant missing a show or a lesson, so be it. I just loved being with Steely and grooming him, or taking him for some grass. For me, the love wasn’t purely for riding, it was also the nonverbal connection I had with my friend.