20 Gratitudes (Happy Birthday, Maria!)

Today is Maria’s 20th birthday. Truthfully, there have been moments throughout our time together when I wasn’t sure we would make it this far (see “Maria the Misfortunate”). For Houdini’s birthday, I did some research and shared all about Spanish Mustangs with you, but I’m certain that most of you are much more familiar with Thoroughbreds than you might have been with Spanish Mustangs. I was so in love with the birthday post that Bailey from Joyful Dressage did for Apple on his birthday, that I decided to copy take inspiration (?) for Maria’s birthday, with a slight twist:

1. Thank you for teaching me how to rehab a horse from pretty much any ailment. Soft tissue injury, laceration (large or small), abscess, colic, we’ve been through them all. I’ve thought about getting certified as a vet tech, partially because I feel like I already have a lot of knowledge and experience, partially because I think I might be able to save a little money.

2. Thank you for showing me that not all OTTBs are hot/racey/competitive. You have about a 20 foot stride sometimes on cross country and you can really eat up the distance, but you pretty much couldn’t care less about another horse running alongside you.

3. Thank you for bonding with me. Houdini is basically the friendliest pony there is and will just about crawl into anyone’s lap who feeds him treats, but you’re a little harder to read. First of all, you’re not that interested in treats. Having Houdini as my first pony made me realize all that much more how special it is that you open up and show me your personality more than most people.

4. Thank you for showing me that dressage can be fun. Before you, it was nothing but a struggle with Houdini. With you, I realized how much more was possible. I learned that I didn’t need a big, imported Warmblood to do dressage, my skinny little Thoroughbred could hold her own as long as I knew what I was doing.

5. Thank you for jumping that big green ramp at Pine Hill when we were there schooling once. It was on the Prelim course there since I started eventing and I couldn’t think of a bigger or scarier jump for a long time. I’m sure I didn’t ride it with the best technique, but you jumped it and showed me how it felt. It's not the scariest jump I've ever seen anymore, and it actually isn’t even there anymore but I still remember it as a milestone of my development as a rider.

6. Thank you for eating your dinner (most days). The days when you decide to go off your feed worry me so much that I do a little happy dance every day when I see that you’ve eaten it all.

7. Thank you for learning to accept the rehab that has to happen when you get hurt. The first time you were stall-bound for an extended period of time, you had to be sedated to keep from injuring yourself more. The most recent time you were stall-bound, you kept a bandage on the full length of your front leg (mostly) without trying to kill anyone.

8. Thank you for putting up with Houdini for all these years. I know you’re a little obsessed with him most days, but I know he’s also a bit of a bully to you sometimes. I really mean it when I tell you that you can bite him back.

9. Thank you for teaching me how to gallop. Houdini can really get his speed up there, but he has a hard time lengthening his body. Galloping you was the first time I realized a clear difference between gaits.

10. Thank you for letting me dress you up in so much pink when I first got you. I only had a gelding before that and I went a little pink crazy. Everyone told me I shouldn’t put pink on your red coat but I didn’t care. I think I’ve toned it down since then.

11. Thank you for teaching me a different way to show jump. I had never ridden a horse before who just didn’t care about whether they touched the rails or not. I had to learn that there was a certain way to ride you to fences. We’re still learning but you are a completely different horse than you were 12 years ago.

12. Thank you for showing me what it feels like to ride a cross country course. With your big cross country gallop and your adjustability, I learned what it felt like to take a big fly fence out of stride and to ‘show jump’ a more technical obstacle when necessary. You’ve never been spooky about any type of fence and it let me learn how to ride to all types of obstacles.

13. Thank you for always making friends with the horses who’ve stayed with us over the years. I know we’ve had lots of guests but you’ve always tried to be the peacemaker to Houdini’s domineering alpha personality.

14. Thank you for always keeping me on my toes. I really mean it. I kind of never know what to expect from you, but it’s made me a better horsewoman and I’ve learned an incalculable amount from you.

15. Thank you for teaching me that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to anything when it comes to horses. I’ve pretty much always had to find a workaround or some alternative solution for you, but it’s made me more creative and resourceful.

16. Thank you for always coming back from your injuries. There has been more than one instance where I really thought it might be the end of your career, but you’ve always taken it in stride and come back better than I could have imagined.

17. Thank you for retiring your sliding skid across the driveway. It nearly gave me a heart attack every time. Why couldn’t you just stay on the grass or bring it down to a trot?

18. Thank you for putting up with my giraffe print obsession of the last few years. I think I’ve kept it in check better than the pink at the beginning (okay maybe not), but you just look so damn cute in it.

19. Thank you for letting me learn with you. I was 14 when I started riding you and didn’t know anything other than Houdini. You were and still are basically the complete opposite of him and it was a bit of an adjustment. You had every excuse for so much more to go wrong, and I realize now how patient you were.

20. Thank you for being my first horse. Houdini is my first pony but you’re my first horse and there’s a big difference. I wouldn’t be the rider or the horsewoman I am today without you and everything you’ve taught me. I could not be more grateful to have you in my life.