Those Summer Trail Rides

Dec 29, 2014 | Horses

Hurricane had been retired four years—spending his days in the pasture, no rider on his back except the few times I climbed on bareback—when I rode him for our engagement photos in a black tie gown. That was the spring of 2012. My fiancé couldn’t believe I was going to do it; retired horses can turn feral, or at least unpredictable, riding-wise. But Hurricane behaved perfectly. He loved the attention—the grooming and braiding, the fuss made over him during the photoshoot, the carrots we fed him, the delicious grass I let him eat in the meadow, just like the old days when I’d finish working him, loosen his noseband (he’d turn his head so I could do that from his back), and take him to graze.

That summer after the photoshoot, I kept riding him. He felt so good, I couldn’t resist. He was 23 years old and still sound, and he remembered everything. One afternoon when my fiancé was jumping his horse, I rode Hurricane onto the grand prix field. Once I’d convinced him to trot rather than dive for grass, he started moving forward on his own, as if it felt good to use his muscles in that old sport-horse way. He lifted his back, rounded his neck, and propelled us across the field at a blazing extended trot. The kind of floating lightness I’d be happy to feel in a fit show horse.

Other days, we’d saddle Hurricane and Otter (also retired, but more recently) and trail ride around the farm or through the woods. The woods made Hurricane wild. Ears pricked forward, eyes bright, he’d pull me to trot the narrow paths, through ferns, over rocks, leaning on my hand when I tried to slow him down. Once when the woods were too buggy, we galloped side by side across the biggest field. We were lucky not to get bucked off. Both horses tossed their heads and humped their backs, playing—and reminding us how they could kick up their heels if they wanted to.

We didn’t have many weekends at the farm. Each chance to ride Hurricane was a gift. One of the days, I let my fiancé ride Hurricane. I wanted him to feel the Hurricane magic, the traces of his old lightness and balance and power that were still there.

We rode around the farm, and I took these photos from Otter’s back. Otter his sweet, tolerant self, and Hurricane nudging him for attention. Hurricane with his bright mind, always working on something, or taking in the pure, overpowering joy of a lush meadow. This old-fashioned bridle of his, with flat noseband and brow band, was something I’d bought him years earlier, for fun: his signature style. He looked like a handsome fox-hunter. You can see how he held his tongue between his teeth, like a person lost in concentration.

My boy: the horse who brought me some of the best times of more than a decade of my life—I’m glad we had these last few rides.

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Photo: Kristen Somody Whalen

Photo: Kristen Somody Whalen




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