Thursday, June 15, 2017

Miramar Remembered

I think every horse owner has had that one special horse in their life. The one they will always remember either because it was an outstandingly good horse, or maybe bad horse, or as in the case of Miramar, both.

Miramar in her Younger days
Miramar was 35 years old when she died Thursday, May 28, 2009. She was a registered half-Arabian, although the folks I bought her from said she was really a purebred. She didn’t live with me in her final years. Friends were keeping her on their farm in my hometown. I retired from running a lesson barn because I got just too old to be lifting hay and unloading bags of feed, and the cost of keeping horses had become more than I could make teaching lessons. I was very blessed that my friends wanted Mira. See, Tara had taken lessons on Mira as a little girl. She, like many others of my students, loved Mira. She said yes when I asked if she wanted her, and I realize they did that for me as much as any personal reason. They knew how important it was for me to know Mira would be loved and cared for the way I wished I could do myself. I rested easy knowing Tara and Wyatt would do that for me. What a blessing to have such good friends.

Tara, and her husband Wyatt, drove all the way to my house – about a two-hour drive – to tell me in person that Mira had crossed over the rainbow bridge. “We just didn’t think it was the kind of news to give you over the phone,” Wyatt said.

They told me the vet suspected Mira died of a heart attack. I could see over the winter Mira had failed quite a bit. Winters have taken a toll on her for the past several years, but when spring rolled around she would seem to bounce back. But she always was just a little older looking and acting than the previous year. I’d been thinking about whether or not the time had come to talk about putting her down. I am glad nature took over where we did not want to go.

Tara and Wyatt spent the night and left Friday morning. That is when I gave myself permission to take the day off to grieve for my old friend and business partner. I pulled out the scrapbooks and photographs. My youngest daughter called after reading my email. We talked about how many kids and grownups have been taught to ride by Mira —hundreds I suppose. We also laughed a little as we remembered some of Mira’s antics. She was a good broodmare and a wonderful lesson horse. She could have been a great show horse, but nine times out of ten she’d find a way to make us look like idiots at the horse show.

One time I especially remember was at the NC State 4-H Championships. We were talking off her halter to put on her bridle when she slung her hear in that way only an Arabian can do, pushed past us and through the open stall door. She didn’t stop running until she reached the in-gate of the main area. Terrified 4-Hers who were inside showing had to stop their horses. Dr. Bob Mowery borrowed a halter and handed it to me. Yes, I’d followed Mira across the grounds

to the area without thinking to grab the halter first. No one was hurt, unless you count my feelings of embarrassment. I am pretty sure I heard Mira laugh at us when we got back to the barn and put her in her stall.

She was not a good trail riding horse. She did not like stuff touching her! So, woodsy trails through weeds and vines irritated her. Even riding through a field of tall grass that tickled her belly sent her into crow-hopping and sometimes bucking. We could ride down a road without too much ado, unless we passed by cows. Then it was “Nelly, hold onto your hat!” Mira would spin around, leave you hanging in the air, and run toward the barn before you could even think about gathering leather and reining her in.

Yes, we remember two Miramars. The gentle, sweet old gray mare who tolerated little kids bouncing on her back until they learned to post, and bumping her mouth with the bit until they learned to ride with a fluid hand. Those people knew Mira during her golden years.

But, others, who knew the Queen of the Barn in her younger days, remember a horse full of “presence and attitude.” She was the mare who when she trotted looked like a helium balloon dancing in air. She was the horse that beat the local favorite quarter horse stallion in a halter class at the Albemarle Circuit Horse Show in Windsor, NC many years ago and the same mare who ran away at the 4-H show I described above.

Mira let me cry into her neck many nights when I slipped out to the barn for the solace I knew I could find there. She kept all my secrets. I think we had an understanding by the last leg of her life. We knew we’d weathered some storms together. She talked to me. Even bystanders could see her tell me where I could go with that horse wormer, and that the only reason I successfully got the dose in her mouth was because she decided to let me. And when it was time for a lesson to be over, it was over sister. OVER!

I still miss the old girl. Miramar, you were The Queen of the Barn.

Miramar is one of the main characters in my children's book Puddin' Tain Comes to Twin Pines Stables

Monday, June 12, 2017

Memories of the NC State 4-H Championship Horse Shows

I am planning to be a vendor at the North Carolina 4-H Championship Horse show July 5-8. I’ll be selling my horse books. It has been a few years since I’ve been to this show, but in my younger days it was the biggest deal of the year for my 4-Hers and myself. We worked and planned all year long for this wonderful show – which always fell on the hottest four days of the year.

The first time we attended the show was held in Dorton Arena. We hauled our paint mare, Cherokee, and my daughter, Deborah, to the fairgrounds – a two-hour trip. She showed in a couple of classes, then we hauled back home – ALL IN ONE DAY. To say we were novices was an understatement. We didn’t bring home a ribbon, but we’d gone to the State Championships and Deborah rode in that big indoor arena. We were thrilled.

The next time we went “prepared.” The stalls were temps set up in the Jim Graham livestock building. We – my daughter and I – slept on that concrete floor with sleeping bags. Well -- sleep we did not.

The first time we showed in the new Hunt Horse Complex I remember Deborah sat up all night polishing her tack. Again, we slept in the tack stall, but this time we brought cots. I’m not sure there was any silver was left on the bridle’s silver-plated conchos by morning. At this show we were rewarded with Deborah and her Arabian gelding Kossack winning a first place in trail class. That was just the beginning. We hauled kids and horses to Raleigh every summer for years. We added a stall for “living quarters” with fans, chairs, and the cots for sleeping. Still, we didn’t do a lot of sleeping. The kids were too excited and there are all those night-noises like horses kicking the walls or neighing to one another. By the break of dawn, we were up. After breakfast, everyone was hard at work grooming, schooling, and grooming some more. Then the days got frantic as classes began with getting the riders dressed and making some last-minute grooming touches. Then began the waiting and waiting for huge classes to finish before it was their time to show. We called show days the hurry up and wait days.

Jeesica and Coco
After my children were grown, I took my granddaughter, Jessica, and a car loaded with a new crop of kids. I hauled their horses in an old 4-horse stock trailer to the show. By then I had moved to Wake Forest, which was only about forty minutes from the fairgrounds, so we came home every night to sleep the first time. After that, realizing I was too tired to be driving after a day of showing, we got a hotel room. The added fun of a swimming pool was a great relief for the kids after a hard day of working and riding in the brutal heat.

Getting home after the show we had to unload all that stuff. First the horses were settled in their stalls, fed and watered. Sometimes we left a lot of the unpacking for Monday morning. But the children always found their the ribbons and hung on them the fronts of their horses’ stall before leaving with their parents to go home to their own soft beds.

I am sure my 4-Hers have different memories of going to the State 4-H Championships than I do. I mainly remember the relentless work involved before, during and after. But I also remember the children all working together, helping each other. I remember their faces beaming when they were handed a ribbon, and the do-better-next-time attitudes when they didn’t get a ribbon. I look back and am so amazed by how hard we all worked for that two-dollar bit of ribbon. But, it was more than the ribbons. It was learning that you have to work hard to achieve a goal, the importance of practicing good sportsmanship, and of putting the comfort of another living being before their own. It was the comradery and it was the building of memories. It was all worth it.

I'll be looking forward to seeing some old friends at the 2017 NC State 4-H Championship Horse Show. 
Books by Donna Campbell Smith
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