A few of my favorite things
He came to me in a dream.
I was taking lessons on my Andalusian, Roble, and having a blast. But Roble had back problems and so riding wasn’t so fun for him. Mette, knowing that my forward progress was going to hit a wall soon, said, “Why don’t you get a school master?” It had never occurred to me to have another horse (I know, horse people are shaking their heads in disbelief). So, I told my trainer I was looking for a school master and would she keep her eye out for me. It was Friday. On Sunday night, I dreamt of a big, red horse with a big white blaze down his face. Monday morning, I opened my computer and there was an email from Diane Rodich, my trainer, with links to two horses for sale. I smiled and was impressed with her speed. I clicked on the first link and it was him, Coriall, a big red horse with a big white blaze down his face. The dream came flashing back and filled my body with happiness. There was my horse. I didn’t even look at the second link.
We went to try him and as we drove to Rhode Island, I felt like a kid going on vacation, “Are we there yet?” I wanted to ask out loud every five minutes but with a navigation system showing minute by minute our anticipated arrival time, it would have been silly. I did anyway and Mette giggled. Coriall was standing in the cross ties, a hind leg cocked, as relaxed as a professional could be. I knew the trainer where he was living so it was easy and comfortable talking with her and getting some deeper information. I didn’t need any of it, honestly. I wanted to take the trailer that day, not the car, but Mette was being more level-headed. He was seventeen after all. It was spring in the Northeast, so the mud was staking its claim everywhere and the ring was a bit mushy. I remember being that nervous excited combination that makes you a little blind and definitely juvenile. Mette rode him first and was skeptical. But he was easy. Do this and he did that. I got on and felt at home. I did my first flying change that day. Mette told me to canter across the diagonal and just shift my weight. I followed instructions and then just sort of prayed. But Coriall was a flying change master and he did it, on cue, without a hitch, without proper aids, I’m sure, and I could feel him smiling as we cantered around the corner and up the long side. I wanted to scream, “I’ll take him!” but being an adult, we had to vet him and then negotiate.
He was over-priced, but I didn’t care. Mette did and the negotiations were dicey. They wouldn’t budge and it was a bit uncool. Mette wanted to walk away and find something else but all I could think of was his face as we walked out of the barn and to the car. I could hear him saying, “Come get me soon.” As things got to the breaking point, I burst into tears. So stupid yet so uncontrollable. “I have to have him,” I said, breaking all rules of horse buying and negotiations. Mette’s heart tugged for mine and she caved, of course. I hooked up the trailer and my friend, Rochelle and I headed off to fetch my horse.
My favorite things about Coriall are too many to list but I will try. It took a while for him to “come alive” after he arrived. He seemed a bit lost and scared and was trying to figure out this new routine and all these new people. Friends were visiting by the dozens because everyone loves a new horse! We rode and walked and grazed on our pristine, specialized grass/clover mix that only New England soil could sustain. He especially loved the dandelions and I couldn’t keep him away from them. As soon as he saw them, he made a bee-line for them and there wasn’t much I could do but hold on and try to keep up with him. It was during our walks that he started to breathe and “talk” to me. And then one day, he leaned against me and our bond was sealed. I remember it like it was yesterday. He was grazing and I was admiring his cute, pink nose and how he moved blades of grass around with his lips before biting the perfect specimen. He grazed closer and closer to my foot and I could tell he was doing something, so I just stood there, open to it. He gently put his neck next to my knee and pressed against it. It felt like a hug. I wrapped my arm around his giant neck and played with his soft mane. We stood there for what felt like forever and hugged. Tears of love and happiness were streaming down my face and his hot breath was covering my boot. His love was so pure and beautiful, and he took as much back from me as he gave. My soul sang, his soul sang, it was our song.
Coriall made this silly sound with his lips when he was on the cross ties and he was famous for it. He seemed to know it made people laugh and would do it on cue. Mette called him “The Professor.” He was wise and calm and patient, and was so tall, he looked down on all of us, like a professor would. He was so easy to ride, it was as if he read my mind. I would think, “shoulder in” and he would do it. He made me look like I knew what I was doing because all I had to do was shift my weight and he would do a flying change with pride. When anyone else would ride him, he would do flying changes constantly, without them asking, frustrating the hapless rider. He would look over and wink at me and then carry on.
It was January and there had been a big storm a few days before. We were finishing a lovely ride in our incredible indoor and our manager was sitting on the mounting block, chatting with me as I walked him around. The sun was up and was, without my knowing, defrosting the ice that was precariously resting on the roof. As we walked through the corner, on the buckle, a patch of ice directly overhead let go and slid off the roof. It sounded like a helicopter was landing on us. Coriall took off in terror and I scrambled to gather the reins. He was on the diagonal so was gaining speed. I must have unintentionally jabbed him with my spur, so he started bucking. One, two, three, hang on, four, five…launch. It was one of those moments that lasts forever. As I was in the air, I remember thinking, “let go of the reins, twist so I don’t hit the wall, and man, is this going to hurt.” I went ass over tea kettle and landed on my back, and yes, it hurt. Stunned for a moment, I looked for Coriall. He was standing nearby, facing me, shaking so badly the ground was shaking. Poor baby, he was a wreck. Mette was outside and someone ran to get her. I got up and Mette suggested I get back on. Old school, ridiculous thinking. “No.” There was no way I could have given the pain and the terror we both were experiencing. She got on and calmed him down and I limped to the house.
My sacrum was knocked around enough to provide some lovely pain, but I recovered quickly…physically. But then, for the first time, I was afraid to get back on. Everyone kept saying the longer I waited, the harder it will be. I thought that was a load of crap and from a psychological perspective, still crap. The horse world is full of “sayings” and many of them are a load of crap. When I thought of getting back on, all I could wonder was what I would do if the same thing happened again? I had no answer for that and was not willing to just say it would all be okay. So, I talked to Mette about it and we came up with a strategy for how to handle a bolt like that. And then, we practiced it. She rode Coriall and taught him and I rode Roble and taught me. We both developed muscle memory around our “safety measure” and after a week, I was ready to get on. Our first ride was eight minutes. Walk, trot, canter (with heart pounding), employ safety measure, make sure he responds, and then I stopped. I felt great and he was happy to be carrying me again, so I slide off and we went to find some dandelions. It became part of our warm up and gave us safety from then on during our rides. Only one other time did he spook and take off and because we had practiced so much, I naturally engaged our safety measure and on we went with our ride. With this experience, Coriall taught me how to teach others about fear and how to prepare for it. There is no “overcoming fear” but there is preparing to be courageous. His gift has allowed me to help hundreds of scared riders find safety with their horses. Always the professor.
Old age takes its toll on a body, especially a big one. As he got older, it got tougher. Cushings, an insulin-resistance disease, began to give us problems. Coriall was a brave soldier and never complained about a thing. He taught me so many things as we navigated his health and we found some wonderful people to help hold us up. His feet were the great challenge and the one horse saying that isn’t crap began to terrify me, “No hoof, no horse.” Dr. Brent Barrett kept Coriall alive for a year with his genius, creativity, compassion, and love. Doc, as I called him, would try to hide his worry as his hand would reflexively cap his head in the body language of concern. I would touch his shoulder and remind him that my commitment to my horse was quality over quantity. “Every body has an expiration date. I want Coriall as happy as possible for as long as possible, but I will not trade time with him for pain to him.” Doc would sigh deeply and go back to making miracles. Dr. Marybeth Stanton, another genius with compassion oozing out of her careful pours, kept his blood pure. Marybeth is a wonderful combination of scientific brilliance and spirit, with a subtle wrestling match between the two. Her herbal recipes, nutritional guidance, constant care, and acupuncture needles made Coriall happy. The greatest gift she gave was to help me say it was time and to gently help him, with Mette holding his head, out of pain. The cocoon of healers, helpers, profits, and lovers made Coriall’s death a profound and even proud event. We all gave him everything we had, and he gave it right back. He told us when it was time and we listened. Beauty.
One of my best friends in the world is Doreen. She loves horses like I do, and we met and became friends as a result. She makes me laugh, that deep, cheeks hurting, eyes weeping laughter that weakens you for a spell. She is also soulful and wise, and she knew and loved my Coco, aka Coriall. I was worrying about him being in pain to her one day and she gently pulled me back from the ledge. “How much pain do you have daily, Jenny? After years of being an athlete and all your injuries, you definitely limp more than most! It doesn’t seem to stop you so why should it stop him?” Wow, instant relief. I had never thought of it that way. I wanted his life to be perfect and pain-free, a fantasy that is not for those effected by gravity and years of using the body. And so, we limped on together, singing our song on our long walks.
He left his body when I was out of town so I wouldn’t have to be there, at least that is what I made up about it. Our last walk together was magical. It was the night before I went away, and he was in a different stall for a reason I can’t remember. I took him out to put him in his stall, a glorious in-and-out that oversaw things, as a professor should. It was evening and the weather was cool and the grass was green. We walked and talked like we always did, and I rubbed his strong shoulders as I pressed my nose against him to soak up his yummy smell. He was in great shape and that made me happy. His feet were improving, his blood work was good, his energy and color were great, and our walks were spirited and energetic. He was on an upswing and I was relieved and elated. As I put him in his palace, I told him I was going away tomorrow for three days and I counted on my fingers, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and I’ll be back to see you on Friday. I always tell my animals when I’m going away and when I’ll be back. I would want to know.
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of his death and while I woke up sad, I went to sleep happy. Coriall was all around, all day yesterday. I could see him, and feel him, and smell him, and all of that made me happy. I got wonderful text messages from my family telling me they loved me and were thinking of me. I don’t have children, so my family knows how important my horses are to me and they honor that so beautifully. Doreen is in Ireland on vacation but sent me this text: “Hey thinking of you – especially today. I hope it’s a good day of happy memories and that you can feel him with you strong as ever. I remember how very much he loved you. It was incredible. I remember his incredibly kind, wise eye. And all the yellow buggers he blew on me when I gave him treats. ❤️❤️❤️❤️ he knew how loved he was and he completely returned it with you. How humbling when they choose you. And you were his. ❤️❤️” I had forgotten about the buggers. A deep, Doreen-induced belly laugh took over my body as I reveled in the magic and dream of Coriall.