“As I walk, I will have hoofprints beside me“
Dusty was the sweetest little mare imaginable, and after her accident with the round pen, she demonstrated to me over and over how wonderful she truly was. After the accident that tore gashes in Dusty’s chest and legs, she was to be laid up for a few months at the minimum. Because I had been planning to lease Dusty, this put a wrench in the plans for my summer, but I transferred my lease to another horse, Brassie, a cantankerous gelding who taught me much about dedication and patience when working with horses.
Dusty was relegated to a stall, with both of her front legs wrapped nearly from hoof to shoulder, and her chest lathered with gauze. These dressings needed to be changed every day, without fail, and I willingly took on much of that responsibility. She and I spent many of our summer days in cross ties while I dutifully changed her bandages and cleaned her wounds. Dusty might have had the attention span of a bird when she was in the pasture, flitting from place to place, staring at the horizon, and undersaddle she was constantly pulling for her own ideas, but on these long summer days, she patiently stood while I worked. She followed my movement with her eyes, trusting me to care for her, and at the same time, must have been enduring sever pain. Her already short stride became a limp akin to a shuffle step, with each foreleg barely surpassing the last when taking steps. It was heartbreaking to watch, but she kept her eyes on me with every step and trusted that I would not ask her for anything that might harm her. I spent hours in her stall, sitting in the shavings while she stood, or laid next to me, dozing or asking for pets, she adored company, and I think it comforted her during her time in confinement.
During the summer I spent time building a pool at the barn (yes, we used nail guns and everything to build a pool that for the latter months we would lounge by religiously), riding with my friends, taking lessons and doing the occasional schooling show with Brassie, but my most important chore was working with Dusty. About 3 weeks after her accident we had progressed to taking long slow walks around the property, her on a loose line, and me chatting with her about everything. She stayed right at my shoulder then entire time that we walked, and I matched my stride to her slow, shuffling limp. Those walks eventually came longer and longer and less halting, the bandages were reduced and stitches removed… my mare was on her way to a recovery.
By the end of the summer we had progressed to my most favorite thing in the world, bareback jaunts. Everyone at the barn constantly made fun of me (and people still do today) for my dislike of saddles. Ok, it’s not a dislike, but a preference for bareback was fostered when I was very young, and I still adhere strongly to it today. Dusty and I would wander the property endlessly, for walking was the best thing for her at the time, and I was more than willing to allow her to wander at will. She and I would stare off into the horizon for minutes, so connected that it felt like our brains were buzzing on the same brainwave. I rode her for hours in shorts and a t-shirt, endlessly circling and walking. Her step became livelier and livelier as we progressed and eventually we were trotting. Still bareback, her shuffling trot was like glass to ride, and we went from ten strides on the straight aways, to entire laps of the arena. I was thrilled! It looked like the mare that they were unsure would ever carry a rider again might be able to be my riding partner once more.
During this long hot summer, I still worked with other horses, but did not find a connection like the one that Dusty and I had fostered over the months. I tried horse after horse when finally my trainer recommended a bay mare named Dalh Whinnie. She will deserve her own blog series, but I did find a horse to love and work with while Dusty was on her long road of rehab.
By the end of the summer, although not one hundred percent, the brave little liver chestnut and I were shuffling around the arena once more, those trademark ears bouncing away, and me feeling like we could take on the world. She was no where near the condition that she was in before the accident, still limped and still needed careful riding and handling, but we were on our way to being back in the saddle.
Dusty remained my best friend. She loved to have her ridiculously long mane brushed and those ears followed the sound of my voice unfailingly. He dark, liquid eyes peered into mine, and she constantly looked through me, as though looking into my soul. The endless walks and wanderings that we went on would become a tradition for myself and any of my horses, taking walks, talking and learning to enjoy each other’s company. Dusty was a true companion, just as any dog would follow you, asking for attention. Dusty’s willingness to follow even though pain showed her trust in me, and my devotion and love to her was unfailing. She and I spent hours by each other’s sides, taking in the sights and sounds, getting lost in conversation, me reading a book and her grazing, anything end everything we did together. Together we allowed her legs to heal and stretch, and I gained a horse best friend that was better than any two legged friend I could find.