Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mr. Sociable

Originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
One of the hardest things about buying a horse in Egypt is the history of the horse chosen. Most of us never know the histories of our horses and the things that we don't know can, in fact, hurt us. Many young horses don't have comfortable interactions with people here. Dorika was loved by her first owners, but she lived in a garden in a beach community just west of Alexandria where passing children would tease her. When she first came to me she was untrusting and would bite given half a chance. Teaching her to be handled was a major operation. Now, after over fifteen years with me, she is one of the easiest horses in the world to work with.

About seven years ago Dorika gave birth to her first son, Nazeer. Most mares prefer to foal in the early hours of dawn when there will be no observing them. Not Dorika. She waited until a Thursday afternoon to ensure a proper audience. Not at all sure of what to do with a foal at first, she then became a good, if not doting, mother. Nazeer turned out to be a very personable young colt and got much more than his share of handling and petting when he was little, so much so that even now his idea of a perfect time is cuddling. His stable nickname is Cuddles, in fact.

In recent years as Dory has become less sound due to old injuries, Nazeer has become my main man. I don't like to have a fight on my hands when I ride and Nazeer's easy going personality is the greatest. He has all the energy a good Arab should have, but none of the flightiness. He paces himself well, conserving his energy, and sometimes making me think that he might be lazy. But his easy going personality is perfect for the less experienced riders who visit me.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The First Mare

Originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
I was one of those odd little girls who lived and breathed horses from the time that I could talk. I drew them, read about them, and badgered my poor parents until they finally agreed to give me riding lessons once I was old enough not to kill myself. I still remember the man who was the instructor, a Brit named Christie, who growled us around the arena at the Balboa Park Stables and rewarded us with trail rides through the park later. When I was twelve, my family moved north to a rural village where the road in and out of town sported a horse warning, and I spent the next six years begging, borrowing and stealing horses to ride. Ojai was heaven for a horse-nut. Most of the asphalt streets had wide dirt shoulders for riders and it was a common habit to ride horseback through the local Frostie for an ice cream or coke.

University schedules and student poverty put an end to riding for me other than the odd chance at a hack stable. Then I changed my career to "mother" and seriously forgot about the very possibility of riding. So much so that when we moved to Egypt and my husband offered to get me a horse (horsekeeping being a much more reasonable activity in Egypt than in Canada) I turned him down. I did keep ogling the horses in the streets however, since Egypt still has a healthy horse-drawn economy. There are some utterly beautiful horses hauling wagons and carriages in Egypt, not to mention the sturdy mules that pull oil wagons.

About our second year in Alexandria, a friend of my husband asked him if I liked horses. His late wife had given him an Arab filly that lived in his garden in Agami, but he wanted to go work in the Red Sea and needed a home for her. My husband said that I'd love a horse and the next thing I knew Dorika was mine. I was forty years old and hadn't ridden for twenty years. I was the worst possible choice for a green mare and the first few years of our partnership were rocky in the extreme.

I remember falling off her with a massive thud and then going home to have a late lunch with my husband. No matter how much I hurt, I walked tall and with dignity for fear that he might decide that horseback riding was too dangerous for me. He was not a rider and had little understanding of the way in which the need to ride short-circuits nerve endings and good sense. Over time Dory and I have learned to listen to and care for each other.

She's my boss mare at about 18 years. She's fought her way back from almost terminal laminitis, recovered from snapped tendons and a sesamoid, and is now in rehab for crumbling sesamoid bones that have been treated with ultrasound shock waves. I own two of her sons, Nazeer and Fagr, and she is the undisputed leader of my small herd. After her injuries, we have fairly circumscribed adventures now, but she is still my favourite riding companion. I trust her with my life with reason. She has gone out of her way to help me when we were out alone, one time going down the trail to bring back some local folk to help haul me out of a chest deep canal.

Dory and I discovered the wonder of the desert together when we moved up to Cairo from Alexandria. Racing across the sand was her idea of heaven, and I tended to be in enthusiastic agreement. It took us a while to learn the lay of the land, since this corner of the Sahara that included the pyramid complexes of Abu Sir and Sakkara was uncharted territory for both of us. We spent years snooping around this dune and checking what was over that hill. We met every desert dog pack and made the acquaintance of most of the antiquities watchmen. Dory taught me to love the vastness of the desert and introduced me to the idea of travel on horseback. My best friend.