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  • Tara Jones

The Missing Piece

Most of my articles are written about a topic or a moment that inspires me. I also have written about the horses in my life and what they mean to me. I am choosing to introduce you to a horse that truly is beginning to pave her way into my heart in a very short amount of time. She is the “It” horse and I can feel a wave of hope shining through with every moment spent with her. This horse is the “up and comer” for me. She is the horse who will hopefully lead me to bigger and better dreams in the future. Competition, if you will. Or even, she may be the horse to teach and educate the public as my next demo horse. The horse I am talking about is my Thoroughbred, Jigsaw.  “Jiggy” is the missing piece to my riding equation. It’s funny how I always say a horse will find you. They will seek you out when you least expect it, or put on their best moves to audition for your love and your companionship.  I spent one year visiting a barn giving lessons to a girl that lived on a farm that took in ex-racehorses. These ex-racers were not just any regular losing horses from the track or even broken down horses that didn’t quite make it. They were the pretty horses that were retired before their fall from grace. They were sent to other trainers and became eventers, steeplechase horses, or jumpers. They moved onto a new career and became really successful. This barn would be the holding center before they found forever homes and could retire to have a shot at a normal life. The horses were beautiful. I looked forward to seeing each week what was new and which horse had a success story of leaving to find a new life. On this one particular day though, I strolled into the barn to meet my client as she was saddling her horse. My eyes immediately were drawn to the stall in front of me. It had been filled with many other horses before today but, on this day, at that moment, one horse caught my attention instantly.  I couldn’t see the entire profile of the body but I knew that the muscle tone and conformation was amazing. As I approached and got closer, I noticed two huge black eyes staring right at me. The eyes were not startled though, or even worried. They were curious and inviting. The head lowered and the neck muscles rippled. What a beautiful horse I thought to myself. Stunning, in composure and stature. I stood at the stall door getting ready to reach in and pat the head as I normally do when I go to meet any horse. This time though, the look that was so inviting a second before had now become withdrawn. The huge steel gray mare took in a deep breath, blew it out, stepped backwards and spun around in her stall. She let out a low bellowing nicker. I stood there silently for a moment. The mare peeked over her shoulder and glared at me. I turned to walk away but glanced over my shoulder as I retreated. I watched as she followed me with her eyes. She is curious, I thought to myself. I asked my client what the story was with this mare. She told me she was a good hope for a racehorse. Had stellar breeding and was pretty much raised on the farm.  She had been a mild mannered yearling, and was one of the friendliest horses on the property until a year prior. She was stalled while recovering from surgery and got her head caught in the hay rack. She panicked to remove it and pulled some skin from behind her ears and on her poll through the forelock. Since that happened, it was hard to put the halter on her or even to get her to allow anyone to touch her head, let alone her face. She was also hard to catch in the pasture where she spent most of her time grazing with her pasture mate Molly, her sister since birth. She was also a roarer, which is a condition they develop when in training for the track. If a horse had a problem breathing at the high speed they travel, they need to undergo an operation to correct the breathing pattern. Once this procedure is done, the horse cannot be cleared to race again. They can however live a perfectly normal life doing other activities such as jumping or dressage.  After hearing her story, I instantly became interested in this mare. I asked if she was available and was told that she was in the barn that day because a trainer was coming to look at her to figure out if he wanted to take her. I paused for a second and thought how lucky that person is to have a go at this mare for virtually no money but to give her a home and a try. I also thought I am always a ‘day late and a dollar short’ on most things so this was just not meant to be. The following week I returned to give my normal lesson and began my walk up the driveway to meet my client at her arena. On my way, I noticed two big greys out grazing in the pasture. One definitely looked like “my girl”. I stopped for a moment and whistled. Her head shot up and she stood like statue and peered right through me. She watched me walk all the way up the driveway. I looked at her body and how beautiful it was. She was a beauty, the rare “catch your breath” kind of horse. As the weeks passed, she was turned down by 3 other possible owners and trainers. It wasn’t because they didn’t like her; it was because they didn’t see her. It was always some silly excuse. No one ever made it to the farm to actually physically look at her. I found it rather odd, but also I was secretly glad. At that moment, I didn’t have the room for her and I couldn’t possibly take on another horse until I had moved a few of mine.  Besides, she was out of my league. I knew he wanted some money for her and I just didn’t have it in the dead of winter. For the next few months, she would be out in the pasture along the walkway where I would train my student’s horse. Every week when I would walk by, wherever she was in the pasture, she would come running over to the fence line and stare at me as I walked by. I could never touch her, but she became more curious of me and always, like a trooper, would never miss her opportunity to say hello. This behavior went on for months. Each week, it seemed that she would anxiously wait for me to walk by. Didn’t matter where she was in her big open pasture, she would find a way to get to me. One day, late in the winter, she came up to the fence and stood as I stopped to do our ritual of greeting one another. She reached her nose out towards me over the fence and nickered.  Her cold breath sent a stream a fog towards me. I looked into her eyes and moved very slowly and cautiously. I was careful not to scare her. I felt like today was the day. Her curiosity had gotten the best of her. She wanted to meet me officially. She had seen me walk by with Tucker, my client’s horse, for months. She wanted to know what all the visits were about.  As I reached for her, I felt my heart race. This was the big moment; there was something about this horse. She had the gentlest eye I had ever seen. She really wanted to trust me. As I reached towards her, she slowly stretched her nose out within inches of my fingertips. I almost made contact, then boom. Her pasture mate Molly ducked under her neck and pushed her back away from me. She startled herself and seemed to realize, at that moment, what she had done.  She kept backing up, turned and walked away. I was so close, but still no contact. I continued on down the driveway. She peered at me from far off in her pasture. She stood with her head raised and her stunning body looked like a statue as she studied my body position departing from her glare. One day in late winter, I came to the barn to give my normal lesson. I was surprised by some news. The mare that they called Adrianne and I loved so much was offered to me for trial. I couldn’t believe it. I chuckled to myself as I thought, “Oh boy, I really do not need another horse right now”. I had so many to take care of, but this mare had picked me out for months. She was supposed to go to 3 other homes but, for some reason or another, for all the time she spent watching me, she had chosen me to train her and become her new partner. That day, I stopped by the pasture she had been moved into and began to think with different intention. If this mare was coming to my home, I needed to be able to make contact with her. I asked if I could step into the pasture to see if she would be friendly enough to transport at least. I was a little reluctant to take her at first because I knew how head shy she was. I knew how much work she would be. I really wanted to touch her; so I took a shot. I approached her slowly but with confidence that today was going to be the day. Molly, her pasture mate, again tried to swoop in and create an interception. I stayed patient. This time, she stood still her eyes never leaving me. She stood frozen, waiting on my next move.  I approached her with my hand out; she stretched her neck and lowered her head slightly. I gently reached out to touch her shoulder. I brushed her long winter silver hair and she let out a huge breath. I smiled and said, “I will take her”. The second I said that, she followed me for a few steps and watched me crawl through the fence. I knew from that moment she was “it”. When the trailer pulled into the driveway at my house, I could hardly believe it. Here was this beautiful big gray mare. She was here because she had picked me out. I opened the partition to find a nervous shaken giant who wasn’t tied and hardly lead with a lead rope. She saw me though and, I think for a second, she said “There you are; I have been looking for you”. She followed me into the barn, shying from everything in between. I quickly got her in her stall and closed the door. Step one was done; she was safely here. Now all I had to do was lead her to the round pen. Over the course of the next few days, touching her was virtually impossible. She was trying though and that was all I could ask of her. She would growl at me and let me know when I had pushed her beyond her limits. She would run backwards, but never put me in danger. It was like I could reason with this horse. I would just explain to her like a human what was good for her and what was in her best interest. We would discuss training sessions and she tried her hardest to please me. She learned compliance, and became proud of her accomplishments. One day it was like she had a dream and woke up in reality. She just did a 100% turn around. Bridling was easy; riding her was awesome and everything in between was coming together. What a whirlwind this whole situation has been already. She is completely loved by everyone who comes through the barn. She is completely confident in her training sessions. She allows complete strangers to rub her eyes and pet her head. She is the barn ‘watch dog’ and tattles on every other horse in the barn when they are doing something out of line.  She will come to her gate outside and bang on it, or nicker in her low, manly voice. In the springtime, I would laugh at her as she watched me ride all the horses in training from her pasture. When she got tired, she would lay down in the buttercups and sprawl out. She greets me in the morning with her energetic whiney and watches me get all the food ready for the barn. I genuinely love her, and don’t know how my barn was ever complete without her. She is my hope for my dreams of competing in high-level dressage, and possibly jumping. I look forward to entertaining the public with her bubbly personality and talent. I truly found a diamond in the rough when I found my ‘big girl’ as I call her. She is worth every moment spent with her, and truly is my missing piece.  She has acquired her name “Jigsaw” because of my business, Pieceful Solutions. I always say, “May all the puzzling aspects of your riding and training find a pieceful solution”. Well, in this case, they found a jigsaw puzzle piece, and Jiggy is the right fit for my future. I look forward to all our years of training, planning and time spent finding our destiny in this sport. I can promise you one thing; there isn’t anyone who meets her who doesn’t fall in love with her. She has put her trust in me to guide her and show her the way.  I promised her the day I touched her for the first time that she would be mine. I can never sell her for a profit; I can never give her away. I made a deal that I can train her and use her for the remainder of her life. If at any time it doesn’t work out, she goes back to the pasture where she first chose me. I guess you could say she found me when I wasn’t looking. I understood and saw the beauty behind the mask of fear.  I was able to overlook what most people saw as a barrier. I broke down her wall, and promised to be fair and loyal. Because of that bargain, she has shown me how all the broken pieces can become one beautiful work of art.

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©2019 by Tara Jones. Proudly created  by Catherine Respess of Red Mare Enterprises, LLC