Monday, January 2, 2012
R.O. Tana – the horse that saved me
As I entered my teen years I began to outgrow my little friend Passu. Not by height – I hit 5’0” at age 13 and thanks to my Irish ancestry I would grow no taller. I felt I had outgrown the pony in experience. Passu was an excellent confidence builder and a wonderful teacher, but I had started taking lessons with a Hunter/Jumper trainer who wanted me to buy a real show horse. Said trainer wasn’t very thrilled when my dad came back with my new horse budget of $600. I seem to remember her laughing when I told her, she thought for sure I pulling her leg. I’m not sure how she pulled it off, but she got my parents to look at a gelding one of her students had listed at $3,000. He was a been there done that hunter who was ready to pack me around a 3 foot course. My dad made an offer of $2,500 dollars, but another offer of $2,800 beat out his and the horse moved on to its new owner. Smart trainer then showed my dad another student’s horse, a solid bright bay Appy mare priced at $1,800. She wasn’t as broke as the gelding, but she had a good foundation and she was beautiful! Dad saw the $1,800 as a deal considering that he had been willing to spend $700 more just a few weeks before, and I made a mental note on how to get Dad to spend 3 times as much has he had originally planned. The bay Appy mare with only a triangle on her forehead for a marking named R.O. Tana was now mine.
Tana and I started showing at local Playdays and eventually moved up to rated Hunter/Jumper shows. She was also my Pony Club mount, taking me to show jumping rallies and combined training events. She was a very sensitive mare who didn’t need a lot of leg and hating having her mouth touched. She would do anything for me as long as I stayed out of her sides and off her face. Tana didn’t fit in with the fancy horses at the big shows; she had the build of a Quarter Horse and was a bit rougher around the edges than the Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods everyone else was riding. I didn’t fit in either, my mom refused to purchase me a pair of leather boots until my feet were done growing, so I rode in knee high black rubber boots until I was 18. At our first hunter/jumper show I wore my black hunt coat and white breeches, having no idea that I was supposed to be in navy blue and tan. My tack was a mishmash of used gear I was able to buy from my allowance and pet sitting jobs. It never compared to the brand new latest high quality leather that my fellow competitors rode in. Not caring much to fit in, Tana and I explored the world together. We spent hours at the Bainbridge Saddle Club and Manzanita Park jumping everything in our path. We hit the trails and the beach with friends, and spent one week every summer at Pony Club camp. One year Todd Trewin moved us up into the Training Level group and we got to jump every fence on the cross country course. Even with the resulting concussion from a fall that day, it was one of my proudest achievements in the saddle.
At the age of 14 I discovered that I could stuff my inadequacies and feelings of not belonging with alcohol. My Irish ancestry quickly brought to light my lack of an off switch when it came to drinking. What started out as teenage experimentation quickly became full blown alcoholism. Before getting sober in May of my Freshman year of high school, I had walked away from Tana and horses all together. I had started playing guitar and had dreams of being a rock star. Early in sobriety I put Tana up for sale, it just wasn’t fair to make her sit around if I wasn’t going to be a partner to her. One day that summer I tacked her up and took her to Saddle club. There was a course set, most likely for an upcoming horse show. I took Tana over every fence and she jumped each one without missing a beat. For the first time in a long time I remembered what it was like to feel again. I drank to stuff my feelings, to find numbness. In treatment they always ask the dreaded question “how do you feel today?” That ride was the first time I could answer the question, I felt amazing, alive, exhilarated and like I had finally come home. I believe I took Tana off the market that day. I kept her until I was 17, and found her what I thought was a good home. She was moved from owner to owner over the next few years, each time her price dropping dramatically. I was told that she had taken to bucking kids off and now was a man’s horse. I often thought of tracking her down and buying her back, but was not in a position to do so. I don’t believe that it is any coincidence that years later a similar looking bright bay mare with a triangle marking on her forehead has found her way into my heart. There are days that I can’t help but to see Tana in Grace’s eyes. Once again my relationship with Grace is my apology to a horse from my past.