This week, I’m pleased to hand the blog reins over to my friend and fellow rider Holly. Like many equestrians, Holly was a horse-obsessed youngster who delayed her dreams until she was an adult. She’s graciously shared the story of how her life intersected with that of a curmudgeonly ex-police horse named Roscoe. You can find Holly’s own website with links to her scholarly work (plus photos of her Irish setters!) at www.hollykruse.com.
It was a while before Roscoe could truly be my horse. A local foundation controlled all of the former Tulsa police horses. It was clear that Roscoe was not working out as a therapy horse, and the likely outcome was that he would be sent to another facility, one for troubled, non-disabled teenagers. In exchange, the therapeutic riding program would get an ex-police horse who was currently at the other facility.
This development made me panic for a few reasons. The home for troubled teens was 80 miles away. How often could I visit Roscoe? Would they even let me visit Roscoe? Also, if Roscoe was stopping and refusing to walk while being led, how well was he going to respond to independent riders kicking and whipping him in frustration and trying to make him move? Not well. Finally – and this is a delicate point – the home for troubled teens was very Christian. Very, very Christian. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, except that Roscoe is a heathen. A heathen who, I could tell from the other facility’s website, would have to witness for Jesus. That wouldn’t end well for anyone.
As Roscoe’s departure became imminent, and as I grew sadder, the director of the therapeutic riding facility approached me with a proposition: I could take over Roscoe’s bills (paying for food and board, and for vet bills and supplies), and, for all intents and purposes, he would be “my horse.” I could ride him at the facility when there were no classes, and he wouldn’t be sent away. I didn’t have much, if any, extra money, but I had some savings, so I went for it. I bought a saddle (an essentially brand new Wintec Pro for half price), a couple of saddle pads, a girth, and grooming supplies. I’d bought him a halter several months earlier, and his old police bridle came with him.
A digression: a few months after I began volunteering at the therapeutic riding facility, I started taking riding lessons. Dressage lessons. Finally, in mid-life, I was fulfilling my horseback riding dreams. My first lesson horse was an older OTTB, Heza, on whom I learned to post and identify diagonals. My second lesson horse was much younger but much lazier; Sundance, a half-Thoroughbred/half-Belgian who was almost 17 hands tall.
Once, for a Halloween fun show at the old barn, one of Sundance’s child riders dressed as a Viking and dressed Sundance as a Viking ship. As someone who had recently visited the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, I can attest to the authenticity of Sundance’s costume. He was, and is, not unlike a Viking ship.
It was on Sundance that I started to learn about cantering, and that’s when I also learned that young children at the barn find it highly entertaining when old people yell out obscenities on horseback when the old people think that they’re going to die. This is a problem with starting semi-serious horseback riding at an advanced age. When I was a kid, sneaking around and riding horses, I didn’t think about my safety at all. Now, I’m pretty sure that I’m a good candidate for a traumatic brain injury and a broken hip.
Occasionally, my riding instructor and friend, Richal, would come to the therapeutic riding facility, and I’d have a lesson on Roscoe. Riding Roscoe was a challenge for very-novice me. For instance, he thought standing still in the middle of the arena was a good idea, and I didn’t have the confidence to make him move. Once I got past that stage and was able to make Roscoe move, and even move at a trot, I learned that Roscoe had a habit of veering sharply sideways across the arena toward the gate through which he entered and exited the arena. In addition, he discovered that I would make him stop if he ran my outside leg into the rail. What did I know about making him not do that but instead keep trotting? Pretty much nothing. Worse, there were small plastic baskets used in games that were duct-taped to the rail in four places around the arena, and during some rides Roscoe and I came close to knocking all of them down. With my leg. (Apologies to Stephanie. I always tried to put the baskets back, but I wasn’t always sure where the roll of duct tape was.)
Still, as a team we made slow progress. Roscoe hated the bit, and we made an important equipment change by replacing it with a hackamore. Before that, I often just rode him with reins clipped to his halter. I tended to ride him one day a week on the weekend, or on Friday afternoon when there were no classes at the facility. He was conveniently located between the university where I teach and my home in Tulsa. I tried to visit him as much as I could. Most visits were fairly short, and I would groom him, feed him treats, and hand-walk him to let him graze. Whether he was turned out on grass or in a smaller dirt pen depended on the facility’s needs, and he always had a loafing shed. Roscoe had neighbors, but he was too territorial to be in the same pen with other horses, and that was a problem for the staff, space-management-wise. There were several weeks a couple of summers ago, however, when he shared his turn-out with a cow… a cow who mounted him and just generally didn’t know how to be a cow. It was a confusing time for all of us.
In the summer I would try to make the half-hour drive from home as much as possible so that I could fly-spray Roscoe. In the winter I would try to be there to blanket him if the weather was very cold, and to take the blanket off so he wouldn’t get too hot once it got warmer. I couldn’t always get there.
When Richal got her own farm in 2014, I dreamed of moving Roscoe to it. But I couldn’t, because he didn’t belong to me. The situation at the facility where Roscoe lived was changing, and I was much more limited in where and when I could ride him. What could I do?