Sunday, October 24, 2010
Happy Birthday, Gem!
Gem celebrated his 10th birthday on October 17th. Today, we went on a celebratory trail ride. Five of us braved the cold and rain. He was well behaved and I relaxed enough to let him do what he needed; I didn't interfere with him as he wound our way through stony trails and shrubs. I am trusting him more and more. After he was back in his stall, I gave him a carrot and then went to the lounge to have some carrot cake with my riding buddies.
Birthdays and anniversaries make me reflect. I have been thinking about Gem's first life, pre-Wolfie. Ellen, his first owner, had wished for her own horse for a long time. She researched what she wanted: something unique, brave, strong, solid, an easy keeper that could withstand our cold Canadian winters and keep her safe out on the trails. Her breed search came up with the Canadian, or La Cheval Canadien as the breed is known in Quebec. The history of the Canadian breed can be found here. My dream horse wish list included the same things.
Gem started his life at a breeder's facility not far from where I live. When Ellen purchased him as a 3-year old, she had him transported to Guelph, Ontario and Gem lived on her property for five years. Ellen's wish had come true and Gem was to be her forever horse. She had his name tattooed on her back. Over that 5 year period, he lived outside and she rode him on the trails on her property. He was the only horse and I believe he had a dog as a companion. I get the impression that Gem was more of a pet than a riding companion. He was spoiled.
Over that 5 year period, Ellen's circumstances changed dramatically. The business that her husband and she owned was suffering, they had to sell their property to pay bills, the business eventually went under, her marriage broke up. She had a friend that owned a boarding/lesson facility about an hour away from where she was living and asked if Gem could be housed there until she found a job and her financial troubles were sorted out. Gem moved and shared a field with other horses. It didn't work out very well. Having no real herd manners and being a big guy, he bossed everyone around and took to herding the mares so aggressively, he was separated and Ellen had his blood tested to make sure he was a true gelding (he is). Gem just didn't know how to play nice, so he was kept alone in the front paddock while the herd was kept at the back of the property. He was used in some lessons to "pay" for his board. Time passed. He got fat.
Eventually, Ellen had to make a decision. Her friend was downsizing to a small hobby farm that could house her two personal horses and her 4 dogs, but that was it. The facility had been sold. Ellen could not afford to board Gem anywhere. She was still unemployed. Gem was put up for sale.
While Ellen's life with Gem was unraveling, I was surfing the Internet looking for my dream horse. I actually found a 15.0hh Fjord (LOVE Fjords!) that seemed perfect and was being offered at the top end of my budget. Jean and I drove for hours to see him. We both rode that sweet guy and loved him. Unfortunately, when I had the vet exam done, he came up sensitive on his right front leg after being lunged in a circle for a while. In fairness, the owner did say that he had been sensitive before when being lunged, but had never had a problem with him out on the trails. I needed a horse that could do circles in lessons, so I had to walk away.
Then, I found Gem. When STA and I went to see him, I also met Ellen. Initially, she was a bit hostile to me. But, once we started talking about Gem and his history, she broke down and started crying. I actually got teary-eyed myself; it was obvious how much she loved this horse and now one more thing in her life was disappearing.
Megan, STA and myself rode Gem, and I was smitten. When we all sat down to negotiate - Ellen with her friend and STA and I - I started off by asking Ellen if she was OK with this, if she was OK with me. I was prepared to walk away if she was not comfortable with this situation. I would accept her decision. She said she liked me and was absolutely fine with Gem going with me.
Ellen sold Gem to me for the same amount she paid when she purchased him from the breeder. As I shook her hand to seal the deal, she grabbed me and hugged me. I reassured her that everything would be OK. The next Friday, Gem had his vet check and STA and I picked him up. The adventure began on April 18/09.
Initially, Ellen emailed me about once a month to see how he was doing. I would give her a light update on how he was adjusting to his new environment and being in a stall at night, about his new roommates and how he was doing in lessons. On his birthday, she asked if I could give him an extra apple for her. I did not hear from her over the winter months. Then, this past spring, on the anniversary of me becoming his companion, Ellen contacted me to see how Gem was doing. In her email, she indicated that her situation was much better. She had found a job over the winter and moved into an apartment closer to friends and family and was much happier. I was pleased for her and gave her an update which included a recent picture of Gem. She responded that she was grateful that he looked so good and content. He looked loved and she knew I was the right person for Gem. She thanked me for helping him become the horse she knew he could be and told me that she could finally let go. I have not heard from her since.
Sadly, what happened to Ellen is not uncommon. In a heartbeat, circumstances can change. The closing of one door in Ellen's life, opened another for me and another for Gem. Having him in my life has had such a positive effect on my well-being. I hope he feels the same. Gem started his life not 20 miles from where he is now; I brought him "home". Strange how these things happen. Was it meant to be?? Here's something even stranger. The second or third time Gem was getting his feet done, The Farrier, who recognized him as a Canadian, asked me where he was from. I explained the story. The Farrier broke out into a big smile. It turns out that, for the last 15 years, he has been doing all the farrier work for the breeders where Gem was born. He did Gem's feet for the first 3 years of his life!! Cool, eh? Yes...I think that Gem has really come home...