Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Little Gray Mare With A Heart Of Gold

It was a early November morning when my good friends Brenda, Mary and myself headed south to Oklahoma in search of that perfect horse for me. I was looking for something special to replace the role of my great gelding, Smoky. These were pretty big shoes to fill.  

 It was a bay gelding in particular that brought me to OK but it was a little gray mare that stole my heart. I had the opportunity to try four horses while I was there. I remember seeing the fourth horse, a gray standing by the trailer. I thought to myself, there's no way I'm buying another gray. Having a gray barrel horse and rope horse, I was constantly teased that I didn't see a horse unless it was a gray. I was bound and determined to add a different color to my trailer. 

But fate had another plan, which led us on the long road north with a little gray mare in my trailer by the name of Holly. To say that it was a perfect match from the beginning might be an over statement. Holly having been blown up on the pattern was just being brought back by the gal that I bought her from but she still had a long ways to go. Loaded with unimaginable talent and ability she felt like a runaway tornado at times. I can still feel the way she could turn herself inside out and you didn't even know it was coming. Although she was talented, her poor mind was a mess. Damaged and untrusting, she needed confidence in the worst way. But her heart, it was golden and whatever you asked she put her whole heart into.  

 We were side tracked in our journey together as she started to grow in the belly. A few months after I had bought her, a gray filly was born. I didn't buy her knowingly bred, but apparently she was. Time off though was just what was needed for her sanity and the filly turned into be a great blessing. When finally the day would come to be able to get back on her, that's when the real work started. I won't go into all the trials and lessons that I learned but she taught me as much as I taught her.  

 Holly became the standard for how I wanted my horses to turn and feel going around the barrel. The effortless way she could inhale a barrel and pull herself around was something that still leaves me in awe. She could keep her inside hind leg up underneath herself and drag her butt leaving tracks around the barrel. Her first barrel when I had bought her was her nemesis. If you went faster than a slow lope holding onto her face you were bound to go up the fence. She was fragile and broken.  

 I knew that if we could get that first barrel down that we would really be onto something. However any sort of speed, there was no way you were turning that barrel. If you touched her head, she'd speed up, put her head in the air and fight you for a split second enough to run by the barrel. We needed to figure this out. My horsemanship background reminded me of a drill that John Hovde would have me do all the time. Without the reins, I would ask her to walk slow, walk fast. Soon we started the trot slow, trot fast until finally we could lope slow, lope fast, trot, walk, and stop with just the use of my body language. It took time to perfect this but it was the door opener to conquering that first barrel. We would head to first barrel free as a bird. I'd sit down as we crossed the timer and drop my rein about half way to the barrel never touching her head but relying only on my body, trust in each other and confidence in herself. It was then that we truly connected, gaining trust with each day and instilling the confidence that she so desperately lacked before.  

 She made me think outside the box. She made me become a better horseman and a better trainer. She made me. She made people stop in their tracks and run to the fence. She loved her job and people loved to watch her. She was incredible.  

 As time went on, priorities changed to colts and babies. In the time that I was pregnant with our first child I bred Holly to our stud for his first foal. It was only fitting to breed the best mare I knew to him. The result was a palomino filly that earned the name Honey. As the number of colts to ride grew and my time went short, Holly was put on the back burner. Holly was meant to be running under the big lights and at the time I was lucky if I could run her at something in the daylight! I knew she deserved to go on and do greater things and the hard decision was made to offer her for sale. People called and a few people tried her but it just never was meant to be. She had earned so much more that I turned more people down if I didn't think it would be the right fit. She deserved the best that I could give her.  

When the perfect fit wasn't found, it was decided that Holly could live out her days here with us. By this time we were riding Honey who is like a young Holly but not broken as she once was. We were beyond excited to see Holly crossed on Elvis for years to come. I dreamt of the foals. Would they look like just like Honey? Would they have the same effortless move around a barrel? Would they have her big doe eye? My heart danced with excitement and anticipation. I couldn't wait to see what was in store for Hollys next chapter. 

Holly and Honey 2010
Just as I was seeing a new chapter beginning, God was ending it. As I went out to do chores on that January 12th morning before church, I saw my Holly laying there; already gone. My heart shattered in a million pieces as I cried over my beloved mare. I will never know what could have been. I will never get to see another colt from her that I dreamt about. I will never get to feel her as she inhaled that first barrel again. I will never get to see what could have been.  

 As I sit here going through the what ifs and the why did it have to happens, I try to think of the good times. There are so many great memories, so many lessons learned, so many smiles, sweat and tears. I remember after Holly had Honey I was anxious to get back on her. I started legging her up when Honey was two months old and although Holly was in good shape, she held onto that baby weight. I entered our first jackpot in preparation for a rodeo that Holly always loved. We took Honey along with us and away we went to make our first run in a year at a jackpot. We ended up winning it. Later that week at the rodeo, we again took Honey leaving her at the trailer as Holly and I warmed up to run. On a soft and wet track we ended up winning that rodeo, the only 16 second time to beat the rest of the field by 3 tenths of a second. After the rodeo, two little girls came searching for the gray horse that won the barrel race. As one pointed to Holly and said, "Do you think that one is it?" The other girl shook her head and said, "Naw, she's too fat!" Overhearing them I giggled knowing that it was in fact that fat mare that smoked 'em all.

 I will always remember one of my last runs on Holly. Out of the thousands of runs I've ever made, this one was as near perfect as any that I've ever ran. To achieve a run like that was a result of complete trust in each other, willing submission and confidence, all things that we lacked when we started this journey together. We ended up placing 2nd out of 300+ runs that day. The feel as she inhaled that first barrel, how she effortlessly turned the second and the power as she left third will always be with me. Reliving it gives me the chills. 

There are many memories that I shall keep near and dear to me. She took a piece of my heart that day when she left this earth. However, I shall always carry her with me. Because of our time together she has made me be the rider that I am. She gave me the knowledge, the feel, the memory of how a winner should feel. She will be with me with every horse that I swing my leg over and every run that I make. I still can not believe that she is gone but her legacy lives on through a palomino filly named Honey. A legacy that I hope will do her proud.
I will never forget the rush, the thrill and the heart of that little gray mare. 

May you rest easy my dear girl. May you enjoy the belly deep grass of heaven and the feel of Jesus' arms around your neck. I will love you forever but shall see you again someday. I hope to see you at those gates of heaven so that I can ride you once again. May your legacy live on.  

 Rest In Peace Mae Holly Fire
1999 - 2014 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jer 29:11