Henk the Friesian horse writes:

OnTRA (the Ontario Therapeutic Riding Association) is asking its member centres to nominate outstanding riders, volunteers, and of course HORSES for special recognition. So naturally I expected Lil to nominate me. You don't get much more outstanding, after all. With my tall, dark and handsome looks, my charming personality, my aristocratic breeding... It should be a no-brainer.


But for some reason she thinks that working only a handful of therapeutic lessons this year (I have some back issues which are not helped by bouncing riders) disqualifies me.


She's nominating Dooley instead.


Dooley. The "Unhappy Appy," as Lil's friend Jo calls him. It's not that he's really unhappy, or has anything to be unhappy about. Like the rest of us, he spends most of his time hanging out in a pasture with his buddies, and only has to do a few lessons every week, which aren't exactly taxing. It's just that he never looks truly enthusiastic. About anything. He'll stand to be groomed. He'll wait to be mounted. He'll follow his volunteer leader around at whatever speed and in whatever direction is asked. He'll stand to be dismounted and untacked. He'll go into his stall and eat his dinner. Like a botoxed human his expression never changes.


I'm so much more fun than that! I stick m head into my volunteers' stomachs, sniff my riders' boots when they mount up, and drool politely at the sight of a carrot or dinner.


Dooley won't even bend his legs when someone's trying to clean out his feet. He'll lift his hoof off the ground, but only a few centimeters, and the human has to bend his leg for him if she wants to actually get at the bottom of his foot. He just doesn't go out of his way to co-operate. I think the word for him is sullen.


But there are other words, too. Like patient. Calm. Utterly trustworthy. Lil can turn her more advanced riders loose on Dooley and never worry that he'll spook or run away. His reaction to anything out of the ordinary, like a rider getting off balance, is to stop and wait. That response makes him worth his weight in gold as a therapy horse. But he also challenges his riders to pay attention and use their aids, because he'll wander off into the middle of the arena or over to the door where the parents stand to watch, if the rider gets distracted. Put a more challenged rider on him, though, and Dooley becomes Steady Eddy, giving her a quiet, easy ride.


When the first wheelchair athlete came to us, Lil picked Dooley for her to ride. He was guaranteed not to worry about the wheelchair rolling up the ramp beside him or the lift they'd need to mount the rider up. He knows his job, and he just does it.


And it's all the more amazing that he does all this while gradually losing his eyesight to Moon Blindness. He can't see much more than shadows now, but it's not making him jittery and spooky like it does with some horses. If he gets in an unfamiliar spot he'll simply stop and wait for a human or another horse to show him where he can go safely, and then moves on. The only real issue is lungeing. He can't see the whip cues, so he needs to hear them. Not that big a deal.


And did I mention that he's 26? He doesn't look it, though. He's plump and nicely muscled up for an old fellow, without that skinny old-horse look. His riders love him, too. They bring him treats like apples and granola bars and oatmeal cookies, and take his picture to stick on their fridge at home. One rider's Mom reports that while watching the movie Secretariat her daughter explained to everyone in the room that Secretariat had nothing on Dooley, the very special horse she rides every week.


So I guess I can forgive Lil for nominating Dooley instead of me. Respect for one's elders and all that. Go Spotty go. Win that thing!

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