Friday, May 9, 2008

Limerick--The Beginning

I feel like it's about time I told you how Limerick came into my life. She is my co-star here, after all!

In fall of 1995, I had finished up a year-long lease of a red roan Appaloosa mare named Frost. Frost was absolutely bombproof; nothing fazed her. Her only quirk was getting excited and shooting forward when you asked her to canter at the start of a jumping session. I had taught her how to get her flying lead changes. I showed her in all the schooling shows. I jumped course after course of 2'9" fences. Since Frost was still a school horse, she couldn't jump any higher than that. For equine safety reasons, it was the barn rule for the school horses.

After Frost, I rode a floppy-eared bright chestnut sabino gelding named Timmi. Also a school horse and limited to 2'9" fences. Then a couple lessons on a 16-hand Thoroughbred gelding named Moo. Moo was gorgeous, a flashy bay with a large blaze and tall socks on all four legs.

And then came Mandy.

It was March of 1996 and I was fifteen years old. An awkward teenager, I wore glasses and kept my long blonde hair in a ponytail. I didn't know where I stood in life. Horses had consumed my entire life, but as a freshman in high school, I was realizing that they weren't "cool".

"You still like horses?" my school friends would ask me, eyebrows raised. "Forget that!"

Their disapproval never quelled my desire to be around horses, but I began to wonder if I was doomed to be cast even further into the "uncool" category. Not being able to hear normally had already made me and my deaf friends automatic outcasts, and now I was being frowned upon by them because of my obsession with horses. At that age, your friends are a powerful influence.

On a cold March afternoon, my mom asked me to go check out a horse with her. We walked down the long concrete barn aisle and stopped at one of the stalls near the end. My mom peered in and I followed suit.

A small bay horse with a punky mane and huge blaze stood in the stall, eating hay. A too-small green stable blanket hid her body. I smacked my lips at her and she looked up at us, bored, still chewing her hay. She put her head back down again.

"Connie says you can ride her for your next lesson," my mom said.

"What's her name? What kind of horse is she?" I asked.

"Her name is Mandy, and she's a Thoroughbred."

"Wow, she's small for a Thoroughbred!" I said.

Little did I know I was saying something that would be repeated to me many times over the next dozen years of my life.

I don't remember much of that first lesson on the little bay Thoroughbred mare, other than she was unlike any other horse I had ever sat on. She wasn't the first Thoroughbred I had ridden, but she was remarkably different from the ones I been on. Those Thoroughbreds were school horses; they had power but it was a controlled, gentle power.

Mandy had gear after gear after gear. I would gently squeeze her sides and she would explode forward. Another tiny squeeze and she would jump up three more gears. She was exciting, scary, and the most fun I had ever had on the back of a horse. We jumped crossrails and small verticals and she sailed over each fence in a natural bascule with plenty of room to spare.

I asked my mom how old Mandy was.

"She's four years old, she's just a baby," my mom said. I was amazed. After a lifetime of riding teenaged horses, four seemed so....advanced.

On my second ride, I got a better idea of just how much power Mandy stored in those mighty hindquarters of hers. We had just completed a line of verticals. I asked her to slow into a trot around the curve of the arena and she obliged. Suddenly it felt like she lifted herself into the air and shot forward at light speed. The motion was so quick, so mind-blowing that I didn't realize what was happening until I crashed into the dirt on the other end of the arena.

It wasn't the first time a horse had taken off on me, but previous bolting-and-falling incidents were nothing compared to this. As I sat there, dazed, all I could think was...

Holy shit!

But I still loved her. Within her was a power I had never tasted on any other horse before. It was thrilling and I loved it.

Connie held Mandy's reins as I brushed the dirt off my breeches. Mandy's nostrils blew, the whites of her eyes flashed, and her muscles rippled beneath her glossy bay coat. What a horse.

A couple days later, my mom asked me what a better name for Mandy would be. Mandy was short for her registered name, Amanda Bry, but it didn't fit her.

"I don't know, good question," I said as I lounged on our couch, paging through a book.

"How about Limerick?" my mom asked.

I thought about it.

"Sure, it's cute," I finally said. I didn't think much of the question.

A week later, on March 26th, my I was hanging out in the lounge area of the barn while my mom chatted with Connie in the office. My mom beckoned me over. Connie gave me a stall sign, the type with the horse's name, amount of grain and hay to feed, and the vet's info.

"We changed Mandy's feed, can you please put this on her stall?" Connie asked.

As I walked away, I looked at the sign.

NAME: Limerick


OWNER: Heidi

jumped out at me.

What the hey? I thought. I promptly turned on my boot heel and walked right back into the office. My mom and Connie beamed. I am sure my mouth was closing and opening like a fish's.

My mom told me later that after I fell, she had her doubts about getting Limerick. I just laughed and told her the truth--it didn't faze me, it just made me admire her.

The day she was mine.

Over the next few years, what I learned on past horses didn't hold a candle to what Limerick taught me. How to have soft hands and legs. How to ask, not demand. How to be confident, both on the flat and going over fences. How to have a seat like velcro. How to stop a young Thoroughbred in full, fearful flight. How to deal with a hot-blooded mare. How to handle a dancing, prancing, head-shaking racehorse in the paddock...or at least, a horse acting like one.

Limerick at five, me at (almost) sixteen. She was watching kids
jumping on a trampoline a half-mile away. She still has
eyes like a hawk.

There were many times when Limerick frustrated me. On some days, she was so hot that I could barely contain her when standing, much less reasonably ride her on the flat or over jumps. On other days, my confidence would falter and she would refuse fence after fence after fence.

She was an amazing jumper, the best I had ever ridden. She would round her body and tuck her knees up high and neat over every single fence, including crossrails. She always cleared them with plenty of room to spare. And yes, we progressed past the 2'9" mark; working our way up to 3'6" and even 3'9" on some days.


You had to hit your spots just right when jumping her. She would get excited and speed up towards fences, and you had to hold your shoulders back and contain her enough to maintain a steady rhythm to the fence. A steady rhythm allowed you to see your spots well (and for the non-horsey folks, by spots I mean the area in front of the jump where one lets the horse take off. A long spot is far from the jump, a close or short spot is very close to the jump. Long and short spots disturb a horse's rhythm and can cause problems if other fences are coming up soon after the first. It takes time and good hand-eye coordination to learn to hit spots perfectly).

It took confidence and strong arms to keep Limerick's rhythm going perfectly. And then you had to find the perfect spot. If you didn't, she would most likely refuse, and if she didn't, she would refuse the next fence.

If you were perfect, then she was.

One of three schooling shows we entered--don't let the picture
decieve you; she was a handful!

A jumping lesson.

In the meantime, my confidence about my love for horses grew stronger. I no longer cared what my friends thought. I had this rocking little Thoroughbred mare and I invited them all to meet her. A couple did and they actually thought she was cute. From then on, I was proud to say that I rode horses, that I loved horses.

The confidence I had to have with Limerick spread to other parts of my life. I was still an outcast in high school because of my hearing loss but I didn't really care anymore. On the days that it did bother me, I had Limerick to look forward to. She never judged me. I could talk to her without worrying she was laughing at me inside, as I knew many of the kids at my school did. Whether I was grooming her, bathing her, or on her back, I was always in the moment. And best of all, she was mine.

I loved the school horses but in the end, they weren't mine.

When I went to college, my mom debated selling Limerick. I knew that it was ultimately her decision since Limerick was a financial responsbility for my mom. Yet the very idea tore my heart in half. Limerick was my rock, the one steady thing in life that I could count on. After several long discussions, my mom decided to shareboard Limerick. When Limerick foundered and had to be retired, we decided to move her from the training barn to a casual boarding stable five moments from my parent's house.

I feel truly blessed and fortunate that my mom saw how important Limerick was to me and held on to her while I attended college. I took the train home from Chicago every weekend to visit Limerick. As soon as I got a job after college, I pitched in with the finances for Limerick as much as I could, adding to the amount each year as I got raises. I had dreams of taking over Limerick's care completely.

Those dreams came true when my parents retired last summer and moved to a new home two hours away. I kept Limerick at the old barn while I searched for a new one closer to where I worked. Twice a week after work, I would take the hour-and-a-half drive to the barn, then drive another hour back to Chicago, where I still lived. Every Saturday and Sunday, I would make the drive up to the barn and back home. Finally, last December I found the perfect barn. In April of this year, I moved from Chicago to a new home approximately one mile from Limerick. I see her daily now and I am in heaven.

I have been with Limerick through twelve years, six years of regular lessons, and four barns. Since taking over her care, I have been with her through one emergency veterinarian call, four regular ones, and a trip to an equine hospital. I found a new, wonderful farrier. I researched the nutritional needs of laminitic horses for hours and decided on a new feed for her. I researched arthritis, laminitis, insulin-resistance, Cushing's, equine anatomy, and hoof-balancing with newfound purpose. I compared and decided on supplements. I decided to try riding Limerick on the trails, and I decided to take a dressage lesson after a six-year hiatus.

I may be "handicapped" but when it comes to my horse, I am fully independent and I absolutely love it.

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