It’s probably fair to say we’ve all made some questionable purchases during 2020. There’s nothing like a lockdown to encourage online binges at Dan Murphy’s, Amazon and eBay, not to mention sneaky trips to Bunnings to buy all manner of household items that suddenly seem crucial.
But I took it one step further. My COVID-19 present to myself was a horse.
I’ve never owned a horse as an adult, nor have I ridden for close to 10 years, but it seemed to make sense. I mean, when was I ever going to have more time for a horse than in the middle of a global pandemic?
Solid reason, or so I thought, until I entered the weird and wonderful world of horse people.
Fortunately, I had a knowledgeable friend to guide my purchase:
“No, you don’t want a thoroughbred – she’s only just off the racecourse.”
“Yes, I know he’s only $1000, but there’s a reason for that.”
Then along came Molly. Five years old and a beautiful paint. She stole my heart on sight.
She followed the trainer like a big puppy dog, lunged like a dream, stood to be saddled and rode smooth as silk.
“I’ll take her!” I said.
First mistake. Apparently that’s not done in horsey world. You ask for a trial, take her home, settle her in and see how you get on. Fortunately, my friend set me straight, but deep down I knew Molly was already part of the family.
When I came back and she ran to meet me, I felt I’d found that horse-human connection I’d read about (yes, now I know it wasn’t me she was excited to see, just a walking treat dispenser).
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and Molly was welcomed to the property like a homecoming queen. The whole family turned out to watch her step off the float.
We ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’, patted and preened, and generally just played with our new pet as only the blissfully ignorant truly can.
Not knowing any better, I fumbled through my groundwork, took forever to figure out how to put on a bridle and faffed about with the saddle until Molly was pawing the ground with impatience.
Life was good. We were going for rides and spending time together in the paddock.
I discovered a whole new way to blow money.
Purple shampoo to whiten her white? Sure.
A new hoof pick? Check.
Mounting block, brush, curry comb, check, check, check. I was like a teenage girl in the first throes of love, and nothing was too good for Molly.
Then one morning I was met by a monster.
Who was this horse who rolled her eyes, turned her back and tried to kick?
“Oh, she’s settled in,” said horsey friends, knowingly.
“She’s a mare,” they added. “She’s in heat; it can make them irritable.”
I see. Fine, I’ll stay clear for a week. Once a month, that’s doable.
But, no. Instead of getting better, Molly gets worse. She’s the ultimate wild child – unless there’s a man around, when she becomes a shameless hussy.
Suddenly I realise how little I really know. Do I need a physio, a chiropractor, a vet? Do I need to harden up and show her who’s boss? (Clearly it’s her, but apparently she’s not meant to know it.)
Ulcers. It’s ulcers, I learn.
“She’s been through the Cobargo bushfires, been relocated three times and now you’ve changed her feed,” I’m told
Hundreds of dollars later and the ulcers are healed, but Molly still has attitude. It’s the remembered pain, apparently.
Where to go, what to do? Facebook, of course, the font of all knowledge.
I join countless groups and find owning a horse is a bit like raising a child. There are numerous ways to do it but everyone believes their way is the only way, and you are going to hell in a handbasket if you don’t follow it.
Do I clicker train? Do I follow Clinton Anderson? Warwick Schiller? Neil Davies? The Parelli horse training style?
I’ve hit the stage of conscious incompetence and the fear of doing something wrong and ‘wrecking’ my horse is overwhelming.
I feel like giving up.
Then I decide, if it’s like parenting, I’ve just got to figure out what works for me and for Molly. There is no absolute wrong or right. It’s a matter of doing everything with love.
And we’ve got there, Molly and me. She’s not the perfect horse, but then I’m not the perfect owner. We muddle along and make it work.
I’m still not convinced she loves me the way I love her, but I am her favourite food dispenser and while ever I keep the hay coming, we’ll have a special bond.