A long, long time ago (or so it seems to me), I had a horse named Allen.
I loved every hair on that horse. From his scarred face to his very expensively shod hooves, I adored him. As far as I was concerned, he was perfection. He was black bay and had no white, seventeen hands tall, and all Thoroughbred. He was too big for me and too strong for me, to be honest, but that didn't matter. I loved him from the day I saw him to the day I lost him.
Like all horses in my life, he just kind of showed up. My trainer at the time pulled him from the kill pen, thinking he'd make it as a school horse. That same weekend the horse I'd been leasing bowed a tendon and was looking at six months off. My trainer joked that she'd bought him for me, and I anxiously wanted to meet this horse. He arrived while I was teaching lessons and some teenagers rode him first. I didn't get to meet him until he was resting in his stall and the first assessments were in. He had all the buttons, was well schooled, but horribly out of shape. He was very skinny, badly cut up, and old. Mostly old.
I want to say that I saw a future show horse, or that I knew he was going to come back to being an awesome jumper, but I didn't. I saw some of the saddest eyes I'd ever seen. Just sad eyes that wondered what he'd done to end up like this. Skinny, cut up, and wondering when he was going back on the trailer. I fell in love with him standing in his stall. He had three cuts running across his face that were infected and earned him the nickname Scarface. He was clearly someone's show horse, he knew everything right up to half passe. In hindsight, he was someone's eventer. At the time I couldn't figure out why anyone would clip his tail along the tailbone, it took me forever to grow that out. Knowing what I do now, he was someone's event partner, at least at preliminary considering his dressage knowledge and jumping skills.
None of that mattered. I loved him. I renamed him Al, for Al Pacino in Scarface. That evolved to Allen when he needed a full name for being naughty. When he started getting the food he needed and started to get his energy back, it was apparent that he wasn't going to make it as a school horse. He had the alarming habit of taking off or bucking when beginners made mistakes. Hell, he took off with me on a regular basis, but I still loved him. He never scared me. When it came time for him to get expensive shoes to make him comfortable, someone had to buy them since he wasn't going to be a school horse. I declared that I would buy him and his shoes, even though we never thought he'd jump higher than 2'3" and would never make it to a show. I couldn't let him go back to auction, I knew what would happen. I named him All In Good Time.
This is what he became.
He became my open jumper, my equitation partner, and my teacher. He taught me how to ride a Thoroughbred, how to laugh when I'm being taken off with, and how to accept being dumped in an oxer as 'well, I done screwed up' rather than 'stupid horse'. I took that kill pen horse to the New England Equitation Championships and rode him in the coliseum. It was the highlight of our time together.
He was sixteen when I got him, and at nineteen, he was ready to retire. He was probably ready to retire at sixteen, but he gave me a couple years because that was the kind of horse he was. He retired not long after I found out that he was the Open Jumper champion for the year. His navicular finally caught up with him. He was retired to pasture and spent several years in the high demand position of babysitting Thoroughbred mares that were being let down from race track life. He got fat and shaggy, living in a pasture with his mares and bare feet. He was put down when he broke his leg in a freak accident after four years of retirement.
While going through DVDs recently, I found the video clips of us together. It's still hard for me to watch these, remembering the first horse I ever owned. But at least I have these reminders of him, and everything he taught me Fiona is benefiting from. I couldn't have handled her without the lessons he taught me. As electric as she can be, she was nothing on the Hellbeast.
Here's to the old, arthritic, sometimes grumpy schoolmasters in the world. May they all be happily retired to a harem of mares.