I mentioned in my last post that it was homecoming week, but I didn’t want to talk about it until it was all said and done. The big news is…this weekend I drove to Georgia and brought my sweet horse, Sam, home to Virginia. To make a long story incredibly short…(or, now that I’ve written it out, not so short), I’ve known Sam every day of his fourteen years, owned him since he was three years old, and brought him along to the Preliminary level myself. He was my whole life growing up. No matter the circumstances of adolescence, I always had my Sam.
I spent my first two years of college at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton so I could continue to compete with the goal of completing a one-star. We were finally hitting our stride at Prelim, but our last season was foiled by abscesses and general hoof problems. Sam stayed with Mom when I left for the University of Alabama as I was 1. Really anxious to finish school as fast as possible 2. Did not have a truck and trailer of my own 3. Did not have any idea of the horse scene or know anyone in the area to consult for reference. In any case, I was a bit burned out and needed a little break.
I did not really embrace the typical college life. I felt very out of place and alone, and I found myself desperate to be with horses. I did barn work at a local farm in exchange for rides. I was fairly unhappy in Tuscaloosa, and the sweet, misunderstood horse I bonded with there got me through. I finished my last semester of college doing an internship for Mental Floss in Birmingham, Alabama. I got stuck in that city much longer than intended. Once again, lack of finances, transportation, and connections kept me from bringing Sam to me. I did some riding at a hunter jumper barn which was a learning experience on many levels.
I had realized by this time that I didn’t ride because it’s just what I’ve always done, I ride because I love it so. That break, though longer than I’d hoped, made me realize this and put me in a completely different mindset about my life with horses. Sam, meanwhile, was becoming a professional pasture pony and near constant nuisance. He was Prelim fit when I left, and Mom hoped he would pack her around Beginner Novice. Instead, my sweet Sam decided he was not interested in taking care of anybody, and got more and more disagreeable under saddle as time went on. One day, he ended up bolting and, in the heat of the moment, Mom did an emergency dismount, landed on her rear, and fractured her L1 through L4 vertebrae. When I received the phone call that she was in the hospital because of my horse’s bad behavior, I had a complete mental meltdown for worry over my mom, guilt for leaving my horse, and all around sadness for not having my Sam. After that, Sam’s workload dwindled to near nothing. While Mom tried very hard to give him plenty of attention (and succeeded in getting past her fear of him after falling), she simply did not have the time to ride multiple horses and take care of the menagerie at home, too.
Last summer, I decided enough was enough, that I was stagnating in Birmingham, and I needed to get home to my boy. I made plans to move to Newnan, continue with my freelance work, and pick back up riding and teaching. It was during the move that I was offered a full-time job at the USEA. Because I didn’t know where I was going to be living, I once again had to leave my horse behind. I rented a room on an incredible secluded farm near Middleburg and moved into a carriage house on the property in December. I had moved in with nothing but the clothes and few essential items I’d brought with me in October, and Mom and I moved my belongings later in January. We made plans to ship Sam up in March.
Then this happened. Three days before he was supposed to come home, he rendered himself unable to travel for a short time, but mostly unable to be put out in the pasture 24/7, and the window of opportunity to receive him before several consecutive weeks of work trips for myself was gone. We continued exploring different options to get Sam to Virginia once he was healthy, but they fell through one by one. One night over margaritas, I proposed to my friends “what if we just go get him ourselves?” The idea of a road trip appealed to everyone at the time, but life does get in the way of grand plans, and they could not join me. My friend Katy had me take her rig anyhow with the instructions “Go get your boy!” I cannot thank her enough for enabling me to bring Sam home. I’ve met many incredible people since moving to Middleburg, and another of them, Cortney, kindly offered to make the trip with me.
We left Middleburg at 5am last Friday morning and promptly got ourselves rerouted off the interstate and delayed an hour due to an accident. About a third of the way through the trip, we switched seats and Cortney suggested that the trailer brakes did not seem to be responding the way they probably ought to. Further inspection revealed the brake box was toast, and we’d have to take our time on the way down and wait to sort the brakes out on Saturday. Good thing I had a mechanic with me and allotted an extra day “just in case anything went wrong.”
The trip down took a solid 14 hours, and the next morning we headed into Columbus to have the brakes checked. The wiring turned out to be the issue and was causing a short. One shiny new brake box and one fancy, updated wiring system later, and we were on our way again! Since I wanted to be sure Sam had several hours of daylight to acclimate in the pasture (probably more for my sake than his), we decided to depart Georgia at 10pm Saturday night and drive straight on till morning. As I put Sam’s boots on, he seemed to sense the energy in the air. This was not just another trip to the vet’s office, and when was the last time I was the one getting him ready for a trailer ride?
Once we made it through Atlanta and I was able to eyeball Sam the first time we stopped for gas, I relaxed and settled into the drive. We gave Sam plenty of long breaks to stretch his neck out the window and offer water. He didn’t eat much hay and wasn’t interested in water, but he traveled quietly. We made pretty good time through the night, and after switching seats a couple times for much needed snoozes, we pulled over in Lexington, Virginia for our last tank of gas and a decent hot breakfast. We picnicked by the trailer while Sam, though he looked super sleepy, pulled a few mouthfuls of hay and begged for bits of bagel.
Once we pulled off of I-85, we were in the homestretch. I couldn’t help but shout at Sam throughout the trip: “Welcome to Virginia!” and “Welcome to Middleburg!” and finally, “Welcome home!” Driving down the driveway with my Sammy in tow was one of the best feelings in the world. The farm owner was there to greet us, and as Sam backed off the trailer, he took an easy look around. We pulled off his boots and threw him right out into the pasture. He barely blinked before burying his nose in a big patch of clover. Not long after, he found a mud puddle and proceeded to completely coat himself as he rolled off 14 hours of trailer time.
The pretty mare, Lilly, strutted over to the fence to say hello. Sam was too busy munching to notice her then, but he got a few flirts in later. He very much has the “I can take it or leave it” attitude about girls. He knows they love him. He’s too sweet not to adore! Soon, we brought Harold over. Harold is a 15-year-old Thoroughbred gelding who has longed for a good friend for a long time. We threw him right out with Sam and stood at the gate to watch (obviously, this is not the way to introduce ALL horses, but for these two, it seemed like the easiest thing). They touched noses, squealed once each, and then they were off! They trotted, they cantered, they gallivanted around the pasture like old friends. It was. PRECIOUS. Now they are practically glued to one another. They walk about the field with Harold’s face pressed against Sam’s belly. They prefer to eat from the same patch of grass. Sam is even happy to share his breakfast…we’ll have to work on that. Harold is a bit hyperactive and likes to run and play. Sam is game for a few moments, but he’s pretty chill…and pretty chunky…so he just watches Harold cavort while he munches clover: “Oh, there he goes again. I’ll just wait here.”
Everyone loves sweet Sam! Katy gave him a big hug when she met him, and the farm owner says he is “a noble beast.” I am just thrilled to have my sweet boy back. He is closer than ever before. I can literally see him in his pasture from my kitchen window. It’s wonderful just to spend time with him. Brush him, sit with him. Take him for a walk up the lane. I won’t be riding him just yet. He’s been in such inconsistent work for five years, and I’m in no rush. We’ll do some hand walking for a bit to get both he and I moving and get the ground relationship solid again. Then we’ll do some easy hacking around the property before we venture out further into the countryside. The scenery will be very different to what he is used to, but if I know my Sam, he’ll take it (mostly) in stride. It feels so surreal to finally have him home, and his arrival was a long time coming. In the end, it all worked out just right. As mom says: “The order of the universe has been restored.”