Amateurs Like Us: Coming Home—A Re-Rider’s Journey Back Into The Saddle

Jan 13, 2016 - 4:06 AM
It took me a while to find Aria, but it was all worth it!

Introducing the Chronicle’s newest amateur rider blogger, Lindsey Long!

I spent four months of my life tirelessly scouring dreamhorse.com and reading every ad for every sale horse in the 48 contiguous states. Each evening after dinner I’d pour a glass of wine, pull out my iPad, and start looking within a 100-mile radius of my southern California zip code.

Inevitably, my search parameters slowly expanded as my buzz became stronger and my frustration mounted. I mean, Vermont is not THAT far from California if you really think about it (after polishing off that bottle of wine).

I’d print some ads, laugh at some ads, wince at the price tag on some ads, and become ecstatically hopeful over some ads—at least until the next day when my trainer would shoot down each of my printouts one by one. Too young, too green, too big, too small, too high-strung, too low-key. Almost none of my wine-induced ad clippings were even worth making a phone call for.

My darkest moment: “Siri, I really need a horse.”

Siri’s response? “I found an equestrian center near you.”

Except it was MY equestrian center that Siri listed for me, proudly providing the address and phone number I already knew by heart. And believe me, I had been up and down the barn aisles at least 109 times plotting which horse I could steal and re-paint and present the next day as my very own new horse.

What’s that you say? The big bay is missing? Well let me saddle up my new black horse and go find him. What? No, of course that’s not black spray paint on my breeches…

“Siri, do you have any other suggestions?”

“I’m sorry, Lindsey, I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”

And for a while it seemed like no one could. I printed ads for hundreds of horses, requested more info about at least 75, and test rode 13 noble steeds, including:

  • No less than six who were at least 2 inches shorter in real life than their claimed internet height, causing uncontrollable flashbacks to my sad, sad online dating days
  • One or two with crazy looks in their eyes which I climbed aboard despite my gut rumbling about survival being more important than pride
  • One who seemed sane by comparison until he threw me off over a fence and ran SCREAMING back to the barn like he was escaping a rabid zombie coyote
  • Two who were seemingly perfect, and then, heartbreakingly, failed vet checks

Before beginning this journey, my expectation was that the horse shopping experience would be a thrilling fairytale adventure in which I would meet colorful, benevolent, Godmother-like characters who directed me along a flower-lined path towards my ultimate destiny. Of course there would be bumps and wrong turns—what good story is without a few of those?—but I would handle them with perfect Disney-princess humor and grace until I finally emerged from the forest mounted on an unimaginably perfect equid crafted by the horse gods especially for me, and we would complete a victory lap in complete harmony while my trainer nodded approvingly and my barn friends looked on with thinly veiled envy.

Reality proved me to be a dismal excuse for a heroine. I hated my (kind, smart, wonderful) veterinarian for saying no. I hated my (experienced, savvy, wise) trainer for every you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me look she shot me when evaluating yet another horse. I hated my (loving, generous, supportive) fiancé every time he responded to my whining by reminding me that my biggest problems were the kind that most people only dream of having in their lives.

And I especially hated anyone who told me to “be patient.” Minutes after saying no to horse No. 9 during a trial ride, my trainer and another trainer ganged up on me (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

Ingrid (my trainer): “Your problem is you’re in too much of a hurry. You’ve got to be patient.”

Shelly (the other trainer): “That’s true. The right horse is out there for you somewhere. Just give it time.”

My blood was boiling: “Shelly, how many horses do you personally own?”

Shelly counted on her fingers and toes to 13.

“And Ingrid how many do you have?”

Ingrid: “I’ve got Shelly beat: 14.”

“You two have NO IDEA what it’s like to want a horse and not have one!”

They laughed good-naturedly, and I turned on my heel and stomped away like an insolent teenager. I’m 33.

Perhaps therein lay the problem. The last time I owned a horse, I was 17. And then, like multitudes of teenage girls before me, I gave up my favorite pastime and my handsome Quarter Horse gelding to go to college out of state. It was not a tough decision. After all, a degree was the best way to ensure employability and hence was the best way to ensure I’d always be able to afford a horse, I reasoned. And of course I would “get back into it,” just as soon as I finished school.

Graduation came and I decided I needed a break before joining the real world. I packed up my car with all my earthly possessions crammed in from the floorboards to the ceiling. I couldn’t see a thing in the rear view mirror but that didn’t matter. I was headed due west, straight to the Golden State. After three days on interstate 10 I moved into a tiny apartment in the middle of Hollywood. Not a horse in sight; in fact, not even any grass in sight.

I pushed this deficiency out of my mind and I lived my life, a life exhilaratingly different from anything I had ever imagined. I worked some: I bartended, modeled, started a business, and wrote a book. But mostly I played. I spent my days on the beach and my nights at bars and rock shows. I met celebrities and supermodels and entertainment execs. I said yes a thousand times more than I said no, for better or for worse.

And then the dissatisfaction started to creep in, a sense of emptiness that gnawed at my gut. It became particularly acute when I saw a man with a polo logo on his shirt or a woman in designer “riding” boots. I’d lie awake at night trying to remember the smell of a horse’s neck or the feel of a crisp canter, like the gentle push and pull of a tropical tide, only better. I had supplied myself with a million and one distractions, but I still had the craving.

So I did what any city-bound horse lover would do: adopted a Great Dane and cheered when she achieved perfect poll flexion at the trot or caught the correct lead during her morning jaunts around the yard. I may or may not have occasionally straddled her and clucked just to see her reaction, and I probably went one step too far when I bought her a cute little western saddle sized for a mini horse as her Halloween costume.

My intended one-year California break morphed into 10 years, and I did the best I could to survive my ungulate-deficient life. Then, fate took an unexpected twist in the form of my new fiancé’s new job, a full two hours from the city but minutes from several show barns. As soon as I visited the new digs for the first time I knew. It was time.

It was as if I’d been on a long, winding journey with no predetermined end date, and then suddenly I knew I had to go home. The fact that I willingly chose the journey didn’t make the need to go home any less desperate.

So I started taking lessons at the closest hunter/jumper training barn, and set out on my horse search, certain that “home” was only four hooves away.

Ultimately, I found her. She wasn’t the thirteenth horse I tried; she was the eleventh. When we called to make an offer on her, another offer had already been accepted, and it seemed there was no end in sight to the emotional roller coaster that is buying a horse. Then that offer fell through, but at that point I had one potential horse on trial and another waiting for a vet check, because when it rains it pours, and also because, as I may have previously mentioned, I needed a horse. Then those horses didn’t work out, and horse No. 11 was still available, but my vet had reservations, and my trainer had reservations.

Luckily, I had my nightly wine ritual, and one night, towards the end of a bottle, after yet another in-depth recounting of everyone’s thoughts and opinions and pros and cons and costs and benefits I turned to my then-fiancé: “I think I should just buy her.” He agreed, most likely because he would have gone completely postal had he had to have these conversations for one more minute.

The next morning, after a wire transfer and a few e-mailed signatures, she was mine. It was four months from the time I started searching to the day the shipper arrived, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of normal for a horse purchase. But it was a decade and a half in the making. One long journey was finally over, but the pounding in my chest as I helped my beautiful mare off the trailer suggested that a new one was just beginning.

Lindsey Long lives in Southern California with her one tabby cat, two Great Danes, three hunter-jumpers, and a husband. She recently returned to riding after a 15-year hiatus and is desperately trying to make up for lost time. Her goals include winning pretty ribbons, finding appropriate distances with some degree of consistency, and not losing her breakfast at the mere thought of a hunter derby course. 

Read all of Lindsey’s COTH blogs.

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