After a long day of lessons were finally over, I had my students bring Faith out of her stall and groom her. They brushed her body, combed through her mane, picked her hooves, and made her shine. I began wrapping her hind legs, something I haven't needed to do in a while, but no one questioned it.
Lucy stood next to me and put her arms up towards Faith's withers, her hands stretched upwards, her fingertips a solid foot short of her back. "Wow, I don't think I'll ever be tall enough to mount her," she said. Her observation was ironic, and I snickered to myself. "Oh, I don't know if and when that day will ever come," I replied.
When I was done with her hind legs, I headed into the tack room shadowed by my group of followers. I grabbed a saddle pad, handing it to one of them. She looked back at me with a confused look on her face. We were done riding for the day, and Faith was the only horse on the crossties.
"Go put it on Faith," I said, "Today's the big day". She locked eyes with me, froze in place and then I heard a chorus of, "No way!" and, "Julie, are you joking with us?!" I grabbed a saddle and a girth, and started walking out of the tack room with a big smile on my face. They all started screaming, high-fiving, and hugging each other.
I walked towards Faith and stretched up to put her saddle on her. She stood there quietly, glancing back at what I was doing. The 48" girth was too short for her big barrel, so I went back to get a 52". Even that barely fit.
I put an eggbutt snaffle on one of our schooling bridles and tried it on her. It was also too small, again reminding me that she's not like the 15-hand Morgans or Arabs I typically work with. Back into the tack room for a bigger bridle I went, and a minute later she was ready to go. I told Lucy to grab her helmet, and she did with gusto.
Faith walked calmly next to me, out of the barn and towards the arena. She stood patiently at my side as I made final adjustments and tightened her girth. Her rider stood next to me, a smile on her face ear to ear.
Lucy had always been my pick for the first to ride Faith. She's a good rider, with quiet hands and a solid seat. She is 11 years old, but built small, only weighing in at about 70 pounds. Faith's health and well being are obviously a big concern of ours, so our goal was to put as little weight on her as possible, hoping she'll remain sound. Lucy always knew that she'd be the first one to ride her, but wasn't sure if and when that day would come.
Lucy grabbed the mounting block and carried it towards her. As she climbed up on it, and it was clear that she was battling two emotions. She was excited to be the first to ride her, but nervous since she didn't know how Faith would react. Even on the top step, she still had quite a stretch to put her foot in the iron. With a big jump and a push on her leg from me, she made it up onto Faith's back.
She sat quietly, took her reins and adjusted her position, staring at the back of Faith's ears the entire time. I finally grabbed Lucy's attention and she looked down at me with a big, nervous smile on her face. All she could muster was a quiet mumble of, "Wow, Faith is tall."
The sight before me was both amazing and humorous. Lucy's leg barely came halfway down the big mare's sides, her saddle taking up little more than half of her back. Faith stood patiently and quietly, as though it was any other day.
I walked next to her head as Lucy turned her towards the edge of the arena. Faith played with her bit, but didn't seem bothered by it. I kept my eyes focused on the mare's for the first few minutes, gauging her reaction and watching for clues if something wasn't right. She eagerly walked forward, ears perked, seemingly content with her job. Eventually I strayed further and further away from them, letting horse and rider work as a team.
They practiced stopping, standing and turning, Faith completing each willingly. After about ten minutes I gave her the OK to ask for a trot. She gently squeezed her legs on Faith's sides, and the mare picked up a nice steady trot. Her old legs appeared well balanced and strong enough to do the task at hand.
After trotting around the arena twice, Lucy squeezed back on her reins, said "whoa", and Faith went down to a walk. She didn't appear sore, or even out of breath, and for that I was relieved. They walked for a few more minutes, and then I told Lucy to cautiously give her a canter cue. She pressed her outside heel to Faith's side, and the big old girl stepped into a nice, relaxed canter.
One canter around the arena, and we were done for the day. We let her walk around for a few minutes, went out into the yard to snap a few more pictures, and brought her back into the barn. Her saddle and bridle were removed, she was brushed down and given lots of horse treats.
Today proved that Faith was willing and trained, and not only that, but trained fairly well. It was apparent that someone put a lot of time and effort into the old girl, but we may never know her history.
One hundred and thirty-one days ago, she was days away from death from starvation. One hundred and thirty-one days ago, I never would have thought that I would be writing this. For me to even mutter the words, "we rode Faith today," sends shivers down my spine. I honestly never thought that we would ever get to the point where we could ride her. Granted, we are still trying to diagnose some minor lameness issues with her, and I figure that will probably take a few more months to figure out. However, the recovery that this old mare has made is just... amazing.
Words cannot even begin to describe how I feel about what has been accomplished on my farm. I have never been so amazed by an animal with the determination to overcome obstacles and push through the hard times with grace and dignity. I have never been so proud.