I had never planned for that scruffy, lice-ridden, pony-looking Thoroughbred to win me over in such a monumental way. In fact, peering into his stall, I had decided that he would be one of those horses that you ride without much enthusiasm - just put in the obligatory time, do the routine horse-care, and be done.
Dante was a sale horse that had come from Minnesota to Virginia to be sold, and I was a working student - riding multiple horses per day and falling in love with few of them. I was also an outsider; the youngest of the group, the most homesick, and thus, the one that was pushed away. It had become easy to wallow in self-pity, but it was high-time I got something more out of the experience. So, because he and I were both outsiders, Dante became my project.
I gave him a bath, banged his tail, and pulled his long, thick mane, and discovered that the horse underneath wasn't pony-like at all, but rather a strapping, 16.2hh spitting image of Seattle Slew, his grandsire. In pulling his mane, I discovered an infestation of lice, and so daily lice-baths became another chore I willingly accepted. The daily attention brought out his Jim Carrey-esque personality - he pulled faces, unzipped my jacket with his curiously mobile lips, and waggled his rabbit ears to express his every emotion. I started riding him, and discovered the most wonderful canter I had ever felt - silky smooth and not entirely half-haltable. I would start cantering around the arena, and although Dante liked to lengthen into something a little more racetrack worthy, I would be grinning like an idiot, enjoying the ride. In the field, he would come running if he heard my voice, and at the end of the day I would sit on the fence, his head in my lap, and talk to him about life.
But he was a sale horse, and with my triple-figure budget, I couldn't afford his five-figure sum. I cried into his (now lice-free) mane, wished on stars, eyelashes, and 11:11, but I knew that it was hopeless. Dante would never be mine.
A few weeks later, my sojourn as a working student came to an end, and it was time to go home. I walked from stall to stall, saying goodbye to the horses I had come to know so well, giving each a kiss on the nose. But Dante deserved more. I slipped into his stall and gave him a hug, and he reached his head around to groom my back with his elastic nose.Forcing myself not to cry, I fed him an apple and smoothed down his fluffy forelock.
"Make sure you find a great owner," I whispered. "Buck off the mean ones."
He snorted his understanding and I pulled myself away, knowing that leaving would never be easy. During the eight-hundred mile journey home, I willed myself to forget about him, forget the huge, caramel eyes and the deep, silky brown coat.
A few days later, after my eighteenth birthday had come and gone, I received a voicemail message from my former barn. Assuming something awful must have happened, I fired off a quick email to find out what was going on. Shortly thereafter, I had an answer.
"Dante has been vetted for a prospective buyer," it read. "It turns out he has an old injury in his stifle and needs annual injections. Rather than put money into management and training fees, his owner wants to give him away. If you want him, he's yours."
I read the email five times before it sunk in. Bawling my eyes out, I ran downstairs to tell my mother, who had heard about little else but Dante since I'd met him. Shocked, she agreed to let me take him.
A few weeks later, Dante arrived. Every day, I'm amazed at my good fortune - to be given a horse is a wonderful thing, but to be given your favorite horse is something indescribable. As corny as it is, I feel like we were fated to be partners-in-crime. He's my best friend, and my teacher - he'll lick my face and smile on command, but when I saddle up he expects me to really RIDE, use my legs, and get the heck off his face! I've improved in so many ways since he came into my life - he truly is my best friend.
In Virginia, before I knew that he'd be mine. :)
The dorkwad at home in Maine on Christmas Day! :)