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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The Live In Student

A true story of my summer in Montana, spent with one of the oddest trainers one will ever meet.

That's what I was. Fresh out of high school by literal hours. I took off the very day after my graduation, driving across several state borders to get to Helena, Montana. I drove my old red Ranger through some of the most boring countryside you'll ever see, with an iPod hooked up to my cassette player. 'Sweet Serendipity' was a constant. I was doing this for him, for us.
The sky got wider, I promise that and swear it, too. I hoped it meant new opportunities, and that we would leave here better than which we came.





I was voted cruelly (and ironically) by my peers as 'Most likely to live with their mother until 35 years old'. My father walked out on us two weeks after I began my senior year. My grandmother was institutionalized, or, as I like to call it, 'thrown into the crazy bin'. As a girl who has had major depression since before I could remember, it is a hypocritical term to state. But I have never been known as having an incredible amount of tact. It has made me lose many people out of my life, but the ones that have stayed have found solace in my brash ways.

As I ramble on about my slightly dysfunctional family, you must know from the beginning that I was not raised around horses whatsoever. The only experience I had was as a volunteer with a horse therapy program. I started attending when I was fifteen, having entered the program to help when, in turn, it helped me in more ways than I could imagine. I arrived a mentally deteriorated little thing fresh out of the hospital for an unrelated surgery, which took a toll on the little energy I had. (Look up 'effects of anesthesia' if you find yourself curious enough.) I had no self esteem, no words to speak with, and no social skills to cling to. That could have easily been the hardest day of my week, crying the entire way to the ranch while my mother asked me just why the hell I kept on going.

I don't know. I didn't know. I kept going, every Thursday, and usually ended up crying in the bathroom over being scolded or snapped at for doing something wrong. I was sensitive to even minor criticism, being the perfectionist I still am today. The woman who ran the program, Cindy, terrified me for the first year and a half; I could rarely ever even look her in the eye. The others were kind enough, perhaps feeling a little bad that I didn't know what I was doing.

One day, it was closing in on the final round of kids we had riding. It was perhaps eight thirty, and we were all exhausted, including our equine friends. I don't know why I was given the option to ride- it now irritates me greatly when people get up on these horses after a long day of circling the arena, people crowded around them the whole evening. They deserve a break.
But it was Cindy who gave me the choice. I had nodded, maybe even grew a little bold and actually said yes, I would like to. She put me on her old, gentle gelding, a chestnut named Chip, who I still believe was the greatest asset to the program. (Chip later passed on due to euthanasia.) That tired quarter horse ambled around the arena with me on his back for maybe ten minutes, but it had given me a taste of what I wanted.
I wanted a horse like him. Like Chip. Like that gentle giant with a kind eye and a different feel, hell, even a different smell than the other horses. Call me a little weird, but Chip smelled more like a worn acoustic guitar than the general horsey smell other equines possess. This is not a fact I shared with the other volunteers, since I was sure they found me a little awkward to begin with.



We fast forward a few years. Past the time I could actually look at our program director, or where I began to feel more welcomed into the niche of therapy volunteers. We can eagerly skim past the time I tied Chip to a fence by his reins, or when I tore out in front of one of the horse's being trained and spooked him. There was the days an enemy from my high school began volunteering, and wasn't the kindest towards me. But, for the most part, I grew up, albeit reluctantly at times. I changed. One of the few lingering parts of me was that need for a horse of my own.


I discussed it with my mother. She had given me a sideways glance, a 'I-knew-this-was-coming' kind of look. She had shrugged simply, looking back down at whatever project held her fancy.
"That's your responsibility. You'll need a car and a job. You're going to be the one paying for anything that horse is going to need."

I had basically gotten her approval.



One month after this encounter, my father would walk out on us. No details that are much of your business need to be specific on the manner in which he departed, but I can tell you that he had dropped me off at home after school and gone to the grocery store, when in reality he was driving to his new apartment across the valley. In this painful exchange for my father, he had pitched in with my mother to buy me a Ford Ranger. I loved that automobile, but it still resembled more of a 'sorry I abandoned you' present than much else. Nonetheless, I had a car. The job came two weeks later.

My job duties entailed what I will kindly title 'being somebody's *****'. I was the lowest on the totem pole in my workplace. A kennel cleaner. I worked in a vet office a few times a week, cleaning kennels and feeding dogs and doing whatever lowly job was given to me. Blood caked to the floor of the office? Well, you better call in Savanna. As much as I had to hold back vomit and strings of four letter words at this job, I had given me an income in which to purchase and care for my first horse.


I had no idea how sharp of a turn my life would take after this adventure began to take place.








To be continued, obviously. I want a feel of seeing who's interested in actually reading this, first. I'm getting to my Montana adventures, but I felt a little background on Milo and myself was needed first.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
'Red and white paint. Text for pics.'



That was the beginning of this sharp turn on my icy road towards horse ownership. The very kind of ad I refused to check. The vague ones. The ones that drew me in with the warning Cindy gave me, her face stern and one finger pointing down at me as I sat in the dirt at horse therapy, staring up at my all-knowing horse idol like a peasant gazing up at a queen.
"Don't buy color!"
Too bad my dreamy childhood had made me a sucker for paints.


It was worth a shot. It wasn't like I hadn't scoured over every other ad on the website, narrowing it down to approximately twenty different horses. This one would be no different. I didn't have to make a commitment asking for a few pictures, I just had to look them over and see if the hour and a half drive to the middle of nowhere was worth it. Christmas was closing in on us, and I had the gas money to spare. (I laugh as I type that now, since just a few days ago I literally filled my tank with the dimes and pennies off the floor of my passenger side.) The pictures made him look nice enough, my team of horse friends said he was built nicely, and hey, he was four years old and broke. How could I go wrong? He had even been used for therapy a little. So I set a date and time with the owner to come see this little paint gelding.


The universe was not pleased with this. The morning I woke up to drive out to see my possible horse, we had been hit with the beginning of the worse winter snowstorm of the decade. My mother was sitting on the couch when I came downstairs, petting our black lab and eyeing me carefully. She had noted my appearance, dressed warmly and with my car keys at hand.
"I'm going.", I had stated. I must've been standing in the kitchen, maybe zipping up my coat or putting on gloves. I could still see her, eyes lifted from our dog over to me.
"No, you're not. Your going to kill yourself out there."
"I didn't ask if I was going. I said so."


To this day I seriously wonder how I didn't get my eighteen year old *** handed to me for back talking like I did. I don't know how that woman, instead of putting me in my place, nodded solemnly and told me to be careful. But it happened, and it was the first of many small miracles that would cross my path. Our path.



True enough, that drive was one of the hardest I've ever done. If you have ever driven along the side of a lake during windy, freezing temperatures, you realize just how fast water will become ice over the very road you're expected to drive on.
Expected.

I mostly grit my teeth, swerved and slid, and prayed something along the lines of 'I swear I'll stop mocking my Sunday school teacher if you let me survive th- oh, ****!'

Arriving safely had been one daunting task. The next had been finding the location I was to meet this owner at. I was half an hour late, having driven past his house several times before realizing it. I had stepped out of my truck and promptly watched my legs disappear up to my knees in white powder. I'll tell you right now that I am not a fan of the cold, even though I have lived my whole life in Utah. This was not shaping up to be a good trip, and I could only hope it would get better. The owner had stepped out of his own car, looked me up and down without a word, and motioned for me to follow after him. I did so, with considerable more struggle than him. This man appeared to me pushing close to seven feet tall, and I'm short enough to ride in a youth saddle. Walking out through his cow pasture was a feat in itself, and I mostly lingered behind and tried to step in his footsteps. We chatted a little, mostly about the horse. I discovered he was not actually the owner, but was selling the equine for his grandfather's neighbors. Their young daughter had been in the hospital for some time and they had not had the means or the consistency to take care of the horse, so leaving him in a round ring, untouched, with their six sheep for a year and a half seemed to be the best option.

I had actually held my tongue when I heard that part of the story. I had used up most of my sass with my mother that morning, and I was too tired climbing over mounds of snow to make a retort about proper horse care. Instead I grimaced and kept at it, lifting my head every once in a while to make sure we were closing in on an interested young gelding, head held high and ears perked. He approached us the rest of the way, and I silently thanked him for not making me walk any farther. The big, eager fellow made himself seem a lot taller with his long neck held up, but when he lowered it to bump his nose against the halter, he looked to be no bigger than most the horses I was used to riding. He took the halter easily, and then hung his head and watched us. I kept my voice a low murmur and walked around him, keeping a hand on his back. He swished his tail in slight irritability, but I was enough of a beginner in horse language that I didn't take note of it as much. I was too distracted by his attention, the way he didn't move away, but kept a careful eye on me. His disposition wasn't aggressive in the least, simply curious and a little wary. I inhaled a sigh, maybe to talk to the 'owner' a little more, but that smell hit me and I stopped. I stared at that horse like a person would stare back at a childhood relic, a stuffed animal that had brought comfort, a familiar blanket.
Or maybe an acoustic guitar.


I could slap my past self, say that a gut instinct was most definitely not what you bought a horse on. You made a logical conclusion based on your own abilities and how a half-ton creature would enlighten that. I want to grab and shake every beginning horse owner out there, tell them repeatedly not to follow in my footsteps, to never look back at a man holding the lead of a skinny paint and ask if you can put a down payment on that no name gelding until after the holidays.

Walking back across that pasture, my fifty dollars stuck into the hand of a giant man with giant footprints I hopped through, I wondered just what I had done. I look back on this and realize that I had made the dumbest purchase of my life that day, but, at the same time, it was the one that would be the most worthwhile.








"...So they lied to you."
She nodded her head slowly, eyes set out the window of our kitchen into the dark sky. I shrugged, sitting on a bar stool and poking at the leftovers brought to me. This little Asian woman had listened to my whole story, and I didn't know what else to tell her. This new friend of my mother, who was in town for a visit from her home that I only remember as 'far away'. Her eyes had squinted at me, boring into my own as I stuttered a little around the details of my new horse life. She made me a little nervous with her focus, her attention set on me and no one else.

"We found out he's seven. Checked his teeth. I didn't know how to do that."
Again, her all-knowing nodding, dark hair slicked back in a bun that bobbed with the movement. I took another bite of pizza and watched her lick her lips in thought, both of us looking up at the sound of laughter from the living room. My mother and another one of their friends, watching television.

"Makes sense. If he's not broke, he's not going to sell any better as a seven year old."
I murmured in agreement. Offered her my other slice of pizza. She refused. She stood up, arms folded, walking around the kitchen to look over the pictures on our fridge, the space where my father had kept his medications. A stranger taking in the broken pieces of my home life. She didn't belong here, examining the little things like she knew what they meant. I set down the crust of my dinner, head twisting so I could give her an odd expression, the wary one I was good at giving.
"What'd you say your name was?"
"Romi.", She responded, picking up the magnet I had made as an elementary school student and cupping it in her hands.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
In the first picture is the 'sorry I abandoned you' present. Her name is Beatrice.


Secondly, Harriet and myself. Later we would end up having to give Harriet away to another family, since my father took the house in the divorce that would come two weeks before I left for Montana. The condo my mother moved to did not allow big dogs.


Next is Milo the first day I got him. I only keep it to remind myself of how far we've come. Otherwise, its a rather pathetic sight.


My mother. She rides bikes, I ride horses.


And a major character in this tale I find myself telling you, Romi. She is seated on Nubs, who you will come to realize is my arch nemesis. The small dog is Brutus, and the one who is big enough for me to ride is Hank.





More to follow as they correspond with the written segments.
 

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"Seriously?"
I probably would have had the same reaction, I have to give my mother credit. Here we were, the morning after my high school graduation, six in the morning and she has just come downstairs to see her youngest sitting at a cardboard box, eating cereal out of a pie tin with a butter knife.

I can't make that up. I really can't. I was busy precariously balancing Fruity Pebbles on the end of my utensil, my maternal roommate setting her hands on her hips and looking over her kitchen. Her new kitchen. Her new vases, new chairs yet to be assembled, new fridge that was humming to fill the silence between us.


My father got the house. He received the home he chose to walk out of. Perhaps it was fair, or part of a deal. But my me and my mother, Patty, were sent packing, literally two days before my graduation, two weeks after a finalized divorce, into the neighborhood with the highest crime rate in the county.

Not that you would believe it upon seeing the place. You'd have to live here long enough, in these identical condos stacked flat against one another. You'd have to observe, the police patrolling the area, the way nobody had a friendly wave or a smile. There was also the fact that many of our neighbors had frequent, short visitors, ones with careful eyes as they crossed the road back to their cars, never lingering for too long.

I was nobody's **** fool. I grew up in places like this before, and I knew a drug deal when I saw one.


"Are you ready?", Patty sighed. I shrugged, picking a blue cereal piece off of my pajamas. My cap and gown were still set over the kitchen counter, the diploma stashed up in my room.
"I figure I will be when Mindy gets here. Still have to get my tack in the truck."
Patty nodded, folding her arms and squinting over at me. I didn't look back at her, and eventually she went to sit in the living room, Harriet rising from her spot on the carpet to beg for a little attention. She had decided against bothering me once it became evident that my breakfast was, as stated, mine.



I list names off like you should know who they are. I have a habit of doing that. You may nod and pretend to recall these people, when in reality you've never met Mindy in your life. You'd remember her. Shes the one who beat the beast of breast cancer with fists swinging, all while having a freshly adopted baby and a husband who left her soon after her death was set. She plays Guitar Hero drunk, and doesn't do half bad, and is convinced she was once abducted by aliens on her way to work.
She came waltzing into our house around nine that day, sober, alive as ever and un-tampered with by the third kind. She was jingling her car keys that had a shiny new house key attached to them- one of ours.
"Shopay women, are we not ready to go yet?!"
I threw a hoof pick at her in response. She caught it and laughed, tossing it back into my bag, and then looking at my array that I was carrying out to the truck.
"...You have one bag for yourself. And three for your horse?"
There was something wrong with that?

"I tried telling her to pack more.", Patty scoffed from the stairs, carrying her own bag down with her. Mindy and Patty would be accompanying me from ahead, most likely swerving and laughing in a little Civic. They wanted to make sure I arrived safely, and didn't get lost. I had once ended up two hours away after trying to drive to the town next to us, and it had been rubbed in my face several times.
"You do know that its been raining in Helena for three days, right?"
"I figured it would. Milo's coming."

Every time I had moved my horse it had stormed in whatever area he ended up in. First day I got him? Worst week-long blizzard our state had seen in a decade. It made perfect sense that Montana would get the heavens dumped on it once word was given that a certain paint would be arriving.
This went over my mother and Mindy's heads. They stared at each other, then shook their heads with a unanimous sigh and picked up a few bags to carry to my truck. I needed the help, after all. Harriet was staring at me from the stairs, tail wagging when I reached up to rub her head. I picked up the last bag to go set in my truck, anxious to leave and deciding once I got outside that I would not return to the inside of this house until I could handle my horse.


So I crawled into my drivers seat and wrapped my trembling hands around the steering wheel, staring into our garage full of boxes. Life had changed, and it was about to do so once more.
One thing you end up learning as you get older is that life stops for no one, it simply keeps you held up, drags you along as day after day goes by. Each minute ticks along, each hour passes, and life picks up your foot and sets it in front of the other.

You have no option in the matter. No matter what you do, its a forward movement. Even backing out of that driveway was leading me somewhere ahead.
 
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