My horse Bandit is the one ALLLLLLLLLL my best horse stories are about. He was spooky, kinda decrepit, beat to hell, and neglected. I was horse-obsessed, but I'd had the fortune to spend a couple of years at a barn with free rein to ride any of the horses (except the stallions) as long as I cleaned stall, hosed out the wolf and cougar pens, fed, watered...you get the idea. Far from discouraging me, I spent every day of every summer and every weekend from 7 am to 8 at night at that barn. I rode bareback, self taught, and fell a lot. When the barn was sold and the horses dispersed, I was despondent. I lost track of all of my favorites, save one--the Arab stallion Serasun, son of Serafix. Look him up. His lines are very old, and beginning to be lost, but he was a big deal. Anyway, I digress.
The barn closed, and I was horseless. I spent the following summer pining away at a rough pasture where the Cuban ropers kept their horses. My mother grew increasingly worried about my safety. I was 16 or so...in a field, where strange men came and went. At some point, I learned that there was a boarding barn nearby, and the board was only $25 a month! (18x10 paddock with shelter, made of plywood, self-care)
Well, I told my mom, and she insisted on taking me to look at it. I was reluctant, because I KNEW I wasn't getting a horse. No way. It wouldn't happen. Got there, saw an available stall (needed a lot of repair), and talked to the owner. Turned out, she had a niece or cousin that was selling a horse. Of course. My mom made arrangements to see the horse, which we were told was PERFECT for a first-time owner. Of course.
I was still reluctant, since no way was I getting a horse.
The next day, we went to the barn to see the horse. My heart sank a little. He was AQHA 15.2-ish, gray, depressed-looking, with an obvious old bowed tendon, horrific scarring on his heels, clear wire scars all around his legs and middle, three brands--cheek, shoulder, and rump--a permanent quarter crack in his hoof, huge scar on his shoulder (including staple scars where a vet put him back together), another scar and lump on his butt, and about seventy-five pounds underweight.
He was 11.
I got on and rode him bareback, and I could barely get him out of a walk. Finally managed to get a slow jog and an labored canter out of him, and said to my mom, "I love him! He rides just like Blue Chip!" (my favorite horse at the old barn, and btw, this horse was nothing like her)
My mom arranged for a vet check on my advice, and we went home. As expected, my brother nearly talked her out of the horse that evening, and I blew a gasket. Long story short, the horse passed the check, and he was mine. Bandit.
I didn't ride him for a few days, since I had no bridle, rake, bucket, food, brushes...anything. I borrowed stuff from good hearted coboarders for a week. When we went on our first ride, Bandit saw a leaf skitter across the road and dropped spraddle-legged into a full-blown spook, reared, spun, and bolted. I was bareback, and somehow stayed on, pulled him around, and made him face it. **** horse was a wreck. Spooky. Jumped lines on the pavement, jumped sideways from bushes and garbage cans. Wouldn't tie. NEVER. I tried all the tricks of the time. He would have preferred death to tieing. But he'd ground tie like a champ for up to twenty minutes before he got bored--unless I was working around him--and then he'd just stand. He wouldn't load in a trailer unless it was a stock trailer. And did I mention he was spooky?
So I worked with him. By the end of the second year, we had changed barns to a better facility, he had filled out, gained weight and muscle aplenty, and was a different horse. We ran barrels, and he loved it. We became the Jr. barrel champions in our division in the third year, and one day his old owner came to visit. We were doing flying changes in the field--every other stride--an exercise I did to school for pole bending. I saw a stranger pull up, and went to investigate.
I learned a lot. He had been sold for being too spooky. They were afraid to run barrels on him. They had drugged him the day I test rode him in order to get him on a trailer. AND they had used a cattle prod to get him on the trailer. The fact that he was now running good times, loading on a trailer, and had become this beautiful athletic horse amazed her.
We conquered his demons. But we also conquered mine: I stuttered, was afraid to talk to people, had no friends, lacked self-esteem, was verbally and emotionally abused at home (my mom had a thyroid condition and a prescription that was badly dosed--so she had manic panic and depressive attacks and flew off the handle over small things), and I was socially inept. Through owning Bandit, I learned to speak clearly (who else would order feed, talk to blacksmiths, vets, and barn managers if not me?), made friends, and gained confidence. I will always remember being tortured at school for my stuttering and going home early, only to spend the day and late into the night at the barn, sitting in his stall, laying down with him, just being with him.
I sincerely believe he saved my life.
I gave Bandit to friends when he was almost 16. I told them I would never ask for him back, but if they couldn't keep him, to call me. I'd take him always. I wanted a younger horse for barrels, and Bandit's war wounds were beginning to take their toll. They kept him, and we kept in touch. I was the last person to ride him, when he was 25. He began having seizures a day or two later. Within the week, he'd been put to sleep. He had a brain tumor, it was discovered, and it was the most humane thing they could do. That last ride, I was offered a saddle, which I declined. I would never need a saddle for Bandit. We rode bareback, and he spooked at the garbage cans, jumped the yellow lines in the road, and dodged the palmetto bushes. Some things never changed. He was not the best horse for a beginner, but he was the best horse that I could have ever hope for, and the best horse I've ever ridden. I will always compare every horse to him. By the time my time with him was over, he would do ANYTHING I asked, no matter how scary. He'd put his head down, blow and snort, then tiptoe over, around, under, or past a dragon. He'd have run through fire if I asked.
In short, he was the most honest animal I've ever known, and he overcame a lot in his short life. And he rescued me most truly.