Schoolmaster For A School of One


I’ve been thinking lately, Why?  Not a big Why, like “Why hasn’t winter started yet even though it’s mid-February?” Not even a middle-sized Why, like “Why can Jeremy Lin, a kid from Harvard who’s been sleeping on his brother’s sofa, outshoot Kobe Bryant and lead the New York Knicks to multiple victories?”  This is more of a small Why, like “Why do I own a horse? Why now? Why Huey?”

It seems like that ought to be a huge Why, given the cost of owning a horse, given the time involved, given the demands on personal growth.  So Why is it a small Why?

Because asking this question is a lot like asking “Why is there air?”  Bill Cosby’s theory (that air exists to inflate basketballs) aside…it’s an impossible question.  You can’t ask that question without air.  You can’t be around to ask that question without air.  Does this mean that the air exists to make that question possible?  Can you even separate the existence of air from the existence of the question?   Is it different from “Je pense, donc je suis” (I think, therefore I am)?

Le cheval est, donc je suis.

Horse is, therefore I am.

And really, much of that Why is just that simple (or complicated, however you choose to view it).  I have Huey because he is there and because I have him.  I can’t imagine Huey being there, and not having him.  I can’t imagine being here, and Huey not being here (and I’ve tried, just to see if I can’t maybe spread some of that awfulness out over time and make it less of a crash when it happens, but it doesn’t work.  My imagination slides away from that like 15 lb salmon escaping the clutches of a grizzly bear).

I wasn’t planning on having a horse right now.  My plan was to have a horse in another year or so, after we’ve finished paying off the kids’ college educations.  My plan was to spend a year or so shopping on, finding the Perfect Horse.  In my plan the Perfect Horse was around 10 years old, already started in dressage, with a fairly mild temper, an inclination to cuddle a bit, and with a little more Whoa than Go.  My plan was to get a Schoolmaster, as is fitting for a First Horse. In my plan I was going to visit a large number of barns within a hundred-fifty mile radius and meet a lot of horses and go on a lot of trial rides.

But, as they say, if you want to make God laugh, tell him (her, or it) your plans.

God’s laughing plenty now, I’m thinking.  Because the reality is that I’ve got the horse well ahead of schedule, I did no actual shopping, he’s almost twice as old as I expected, is learning dressage from scratch right along with me, has a very strong personality, isn’t very cuddly at all, and doesn’t understand the concept of “Whoa” (because he’s All Go).

And a Schoolmaster?  God is really laughing now, and I’m laughing right along with him (her, or it). Huey is a retired Grand Prix show jumper.  He collects and launches over a 6″ cavaletti like he’s planning to leap over the moon. He’s so responsive to the tiniest changes in his rider’s seat or hands that he’d seem almost psychic, to the untrained observer.  Not to mention that he assumes that “HO!” is the product of a speech impediment, and that what you really meant was “GO!”  Schoolmaster?  Maybe to a School of One, as my trainer said last week.

He was tried out as a Schoolmaster, because while he’s not cuddly, he is sweet, and he is willing – beyond willing.  And he’s fairly steady.  He’s not crazy, like a lot of high-level performance horses can get.  Pushy? Yes.  Neurotic? No.  He stands for grooming, the farrier, the dentist.  If he’s not personally vested in holding your attention, he’ll stand quietly for ages. But…he’s a little too high-performance for Schoolmastering.  He listens to and interprets every twitch of the seat and the reins, which lead – rather predictably – to any number of episodes involving shouts of “Huey! HO!!  HO!!  HHHOOOO!!!!!” and an adolescent girl being led away in tears.  Or, for my first time riding him, with a middle-aged woman being hauled off in an ambulance.

Now, because there are some who read this who don’t know that back story, I did not fall off the horse.  I jumped off the horse.  The distinction is important.  It was all, 100% of it, my fault.  The concussion was neither his fault nor mine.  It was an accident.  I have to make this clear because this happened well before I bought him.  I also have to make it clear that – once I could remember what happened (in general terms only) I had no concern for myself, but was vastly concerned for whether the horse was OK.

When I look back on it all, that’s the point where I started to know.  Know that this was my horse.  Or would be my horse, anyway.

So Huey’s second career as a Schoolmaster was a bust.  Too sensitive, too smart, too powerful.  He hated it, except for the pieces that involved me and a teenaged girl who rode him for lessons as well.  The two of us, he liked, and would do anything for.  I’m told that the saddest day (so far, in her relatively young) life was the day she heard I was buying him.

I didn’t know I was buying him until it happened.  The trainer needed to downsize the herd for winter.  Huey, who had been acquired due to his Schoolmastering Potential, was not working out in that job.  He was on the chopping block.  I received all of this information while we were doing serpentines in the ring.  I was startled.  He started to drop out of the trot in response.  I said “No, Huey, keep going!” and he picked it right back up while I thought.

I thought about riding any other horse after having experienced Huey.

I thought about any other human riding Huey, and maybe not being able to handle him, and passing him along, one person who wasn’t able to handle him to another, until he got sold for dog food.  This isn’t an absurd prospect – when the trainer bought Huey, he was in a chain shank over the nose because the handlers had such a difficult time with him.  He’s not actually difficult to handle, mind you, he’s forward and powerful and energetic and willful – all of those things you need if you’re going to compete successfully at high levels of show jumping.  He requires a combination of firmness, consistency, and patience.  He learns fast, but if he thinks his handler is meek or indecisive, he’ll take control and do what he thinks is best.  He’s not a kicker, or a rearer, or a bucker.  He’s smart, and he’s bossy. He’s not a horse for everyone.  He’s probably not even a horse for most people.

But, I knew, he is a horse for me.  And even though I can’t even count the number of horses I’ve ridden in my life – maybe 30? or 40? – I couldn’t remember a single one of them that could even touch Huey.  I couldn’t imagine wanting to ride any of them, when I could ride Huey.  And I didn’t want to imagine Huey winding up in the hands of someone who couldn’t handle him.  And, really, I did have the resources to have a horse now, even though that wasn’t the plan.  And my trainer, who loves Huey and wouldn’t have sold him for any amount if he’d been able to Schoolmaster, is willing to advise me on handling my challenging boy.  I do need that from time to time, but mostly, she says, we have a good relationship, he respects me (mostly), and I have a lot of common sense and know when to ask for help.

So Why do I have a horse? Why now? Why Huey?

Because any other outcome was unthinkable.  Because Huey is, therefore I am.  Because there is air.

And now, I’m going to have to go grapple with my boy who is bored and crabby because he’s out of work for the winter.  And when I saw him yesterday, his face was covered with effluvium from one of Uncle Jimmy’s Hanging Balls (no, really), which means that today is the day for a sponge bath.  I don’t think he’ll like it, but I’m sure he’ll deal.  I won’t give him an opportunity not to.


About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner will take you right there.

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