On Owning Horses

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There are places in my heart occupied by a handful of horses that belong to others, but I had not owned a horse since my wonderful childhood steed, Diamond Lil'.

Running single pole on Lil' - gotta love that outfit.

Running single pole on Lil' - gotta love that outfit.

Last spring, the owner of one of those horses of my heart - probably the dearest - called to ask if I wanted to take her on.

Tosca is a 15 year old purebred Arabian mare.? She was my project horse at a barn full of endurance prospects and, with a little help from people with better understanding, I started her when she was four.? We went on to be a fairly inseparable pair for about four years.? When I moved on to riding other horses for other people, I missed her sorely and so I kept in touch with her owners and let them know that if ever they were looking for a home for her they should think of me first.

Tosca is a pretty decent endurance horse - not particularly speedy but dependable and she and I finished Tevis twice, coming 20th on the second trip.? But she has a ?broken' leg.? Some sort of catastrophic accident she had when she was a crazy two-year-old in pasture and out of sight and mind left her with a significant chip of bone - detached from who knows where in her leg - fused to the outside of her fetlock on one hind foot.? When interested buyers from Japan had pre-purchase x-rays done, it was discovered and her fate was cemented - never to be successfully sold for endurance.

Tosca carries me up Cougar Rock in style in 2004

Tosca carries me up Cougar Rock in style in 2004

So she was leased several times for Tevis (she finished a third time) and she became one of the easier horses to ride at that barn and carried many a rookie rider over trails in the East Bay hills.

Something that must come out in the telling of this story is that Tosca is a hussy.? Really, that mare comes into season more than any other I've known and she is very communicative about it to any male horse in the area.? This is not in small part an explanation for why I ended up with her.? In the late summer of 2011, Tosca - in heat and left to roam the barn area loose with a couple of other mares - decided to pay a visit to the stallion on the property.? That stallion had no previous carnal knowledge, but he did not hesitate to obliterate an innocent gate and do the deed.? Because of his inexperience, the humans who arrived to disrupt this illicit behavior concluded that nothing had resulted.? Oh, so wrong.

Around December of that year I got a call alerting me to the irrefutable proof that a little Tosca was on the way.

I was actually really excited about it, she's a beautiful mare with a wonderful disposition and I'd always wished she would be bred.? And the stallion, despite being a young punk, is really a nice guy with lovely breeding (and not at all related to her, phew).

Tosca as an infant - circa 1998.

Tosca as an infant - circa 1998.

Little did I know that a few months later I would get a call from her owner.? Faced with an expanding herd when what they really needed to do was reduce it, they had decided to move a few horses and she was on the list.? So they asked if I was interested in taking Tosca on - like I'd always said I was - knowing that she was a two-pack now.? I said yes, absolutely.? (Here's where it becomes clear that I'm completely nuts.)

So in May I picked her up and brought her to live at my good friend Julie Buxton's.? Julie had had a handful of foals born on her property and promised to hold my hand through the experience.

For a couple of months, I took my lumbering mare for hand walks on nearby trails and gave her baths and brushed her mane and tail and generally fussed over her like a little kid with her first pony.

Then on July 27th - one week exactly before Tevis last year, I had started to get really nervous - she presented me with a stunning chestnut colt.? I was somewhat disappointed because I had specifically requested a chestnut filly, but what can you do.? And he was adorable so all was good.? Little did I know that my dreams were to suffer another blow.? Desperately seeking reassurance, I had yanked out some of his mane hairs and sent them off to UC Davis for analysis (yes, you can do this and yes, I did it) only to be crushed by the news that he would turn grey.? Like his cursed punk dad.? Ah well.

My horses - July 2012

My horses - July 2012

More on Claudio Chiappucci later.