"Gypsy gold does not chink and glitter. It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark."

~ Saying of the Gladdagh Gypsies of Galway

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Apollo - Our Story - From Hell & Back!

I’ve always loved horses; ever since I can recall. I took riding lessons when I was younger, but then high school and boys and college happened! After graduating from college, I needed a hobby and was drawn back to my true passion – Horses.

I started riding lessons again and then found a local rescue that had recently started up and decided to start volunteering. I figured it was the best way to dive back in! The more I learned, the more I felt I was ready to take on! I knew, one day, I’d make it my goal to adopt a rescued horse. But not anytime soon!! I figured somewhere down the line, when I was much older!

Apollo at his time of Rescue, Circa, March 2004

When Apollo came to the rescue, I had about 6 months of volunteering under my belt and I was enjoying it. I did not, however, think I was in the position to be adopting a horse; never mind the fact that I had never even leased a horse before, let alone OWN one! Actually, from the stories I heard about this horse, I wasn’t too eager to meet him; I heard he had ‘issues’!. He went out on a 4H lease before I started volunteering. That summer, I went with Lauren (the rescue’s President & Founder and my horse mentor) to see Apollo and his 4H buddy show at their county fair. I remember seeing him in his stall, and then out in the ring, and not thinking too much about him. I figured after the 4H season, the family would decide to adopt him and that would be the end of it.

Then one day, an email came through the rescue’s inbox; it was from Apollo’s current 4H family. The season was over and they felt it best to bring him back to the rescue. If I recall, their main reasoning was that he would not load into a slant load trailer and that was the type of trailer they owned! C’mon! I remember thinking all I knew of this horse was that he had a history of bolting and was not for the inexperienced. *Gulp* For some reason, a pit grew in my stomach. Subconsciously I think I knew I was going to be meeting my match; something to throw my confidence off guard.

I still remember the day he was hauled back to the rescue. I was sitting in the barn and watched him come off the trailer. He looked like a ball full of skittishness and arrogance all at the same time. And I was none to hurried to make acquaintances with him!

After Apollo got settled, it was time to try him out under saddle, to see what he learned or forgot, and somehow, I ended up being the lucky one! (Again, I subconsciously knew this was coming) Nervous as all get out, knowing his history of bolting, I saddled him up and said a prayer!

As you can see from the above picture [ok, I cannot find the pic anywhere, but when I do, I will add it! It is a doozy I promise you!] of our first ride together, I was beyond nervous and searching for my comfort zone! I still laugh and feel embarrassed at the same time when I look at this picture. Shame on me! I know better than to ride with such horrible form!

However, something in me that day changed forever; it was certainly not the best ride I ever had [clearly], but after I got off and looked Apollo in the eyes, I felt as though he said to me "Please don’t let me go; I'll teach you everything you need" - and BOY was he not kidding.

Mr. Handsome, Circa February 2008

It wasn’t until 2 months after I adopted him that Apollo showed me his true colors. Sometimes I would hop on and ride in slippery sweats. I’d hang on him, let down my guard and put way too much trust in a horse I was only beginning to know! I recall one day he skirted sideways at something and Lauren said to me “If you held your seat through that, IN SWEATPANTS, then I know you know how to ride!” Ahh, she spoke too soon!

During one of our lessons, something spooked Apollo and out of nowhere, he bolted on me. I tell the story as him taking off at 90 mph. Clearly it probably wasn’t that fast, but it sure seemed liked it! Lauren says I grabbed the back of the saddle. I failed to mention Apollo also had a lot of rear end security issues. That was a No Touch Zone while riding. We were still working on it being ok on the ground for cryin’ out loud! I knew better. I knew to sit deep and bring him in. In fact though, I did just the opposite. Why, I’ll never know. Why would I GRAB the BACK of the SADDLE! I remember thinking to myself “Don’t put pressure on the reins”. I look back now and think “YOU DUMMY, Why didn’t you put pressure on the reins!” Apollo swirled out of control into a circle and just when I thought I was possibly getting him under control, I lost my seat on a turn and fell off the side. Thankfully, my grandmother must have been watching over me and my foot came loose from the stirrup.

Whew – that was an experience! Shaken, I knew I needed to get right back on. And that’s what I did. 10 minutes later, something set him off again and he went bolting into oblivion. This time, all I could say was “Oh Sh!t” I let go, with no will to try, and let myself fly off the back of him. I landed on my back and my head (thankfully I wear a helmet and after that experience, always will!) banged the hard ground not once, but twice, from the impact. This time, I was not interested in getting back on! But Lauren made me, although she took the reins and lead him. And this my friends, was the beginning of my hell, and my truly unexplainable connection formed with this crazy Arab or as I call him, ‘My White Knight’, my ‘Apolloson’… My Apollo!

My Mystical Unicorn, Circa 2006

Apollo has been my worst nightmare and my best daydream and I wouldn't change it for the world. In the past 4 years of my partnership with him, I've learned more that I ever thought I would and have formed such a strong bond that I never, in my wildest dreams, would have thought could exist.

Apollo with my Niece & Nephew in 2007 (I believe it was 2007!)

After our ‘incident’, I was truly scared to death to get back on and ride. All confidence I had ever had in myself vanished. I remember telling a fellow horse friend that I felt more comfortable, as if I had more control, when I was in the saddle versus on the ground. I now felt the exact opposite. There was nothing secure to me about being in the saddle. And it wasn’t just on Apollo, it was on any horse! The incident had shaken my confidence that bad.

I didn’t want to give up and I didn’t want to be a failure for Apollo, so I reverted back to the basics. And when I say basics, I mean lead line I walk-you walk, I say ho, you stop type of exercises. I did this more out of comfort and being scared shitless ;) But, little did I know this was just what we needed. We started back at the basics and built a confidence & trust in each other. I progressed from lead work to lunge line work to free lunging work and had Apollo free lunging in the arena, following my verbal and hand signal commands. I taught him clicker training and we did T-Touch exercises.

About a year after my fall, actually a tad over a year, it was time to get back in the saddle. Lauren would always yell at me “It’s time, He’s Ready, Get on!” I’d been on his back a few times since then, but always with someone on the lead. I started by tacking him up and line driving him. This did tremendous wonders for his rear end fears and bonded us together even more. Eventually, I was able to learn his actions and read his body language to the point where I wanted to get on! I’d always work him on the driving lines from the ground before I would get in the saddle and then eventually progressed to not even line driving but rather just tacking up and getting on.

Line Driving Apollo with Lauren; I am the one at his head telling him it's ok! Follow me! Circa February 2007

That summer we made huge strides. I trailered him to a local park with Lauren and another rescue horse to ride in their outdoor ring and even attempted a small trail that bordered the park. He was so full of get up and go that we kept it at a walk, but the momentum that I felt under the saddle and the fact that I kept my cool and, he trusted me, was a victory in itself.

Apollo & I in 2007 (No critiquing our form...hey, at least I was on!)

I was also learning to feel his body language and hesitation when a bolt would possibly come on and I was able to stop it before it exploded! I remember beaming from ear to ear the first time it happened; I was so proud of myself and of Apollo for trusting me.

And I still remember, plain as day, during one of my lessons with Lauren, that we actually collected and were riding, at the sitting trot, as one. Tears welled in my eyes. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before. We were dancing; we were one; My worst nightmare and I! I know it sounds cheesy, but I will never, ever, forget that feeling.

I now have the privilege of seeing Apollo every morning when I get up and every night before I go to bed and he has the luxury of an obsessed stall cleaner that makes sure his stall is picked before every meal! My childhood dream has come true. I have a horse….horses actually….and they are all in my back yard! It gives me goose bumps! Who would have thought!

To this day, Apollo will still test me on occasion, though usually he knows better so he’ll mess with Allen, my husband, instead! He still has that wild flare in his eyes, but I also see love and content and a softness that only a mother would know!

Apollo, my life is now complete having you in it!

Apollo at home at Apolloson Acres, Circa 2009


And yes, for those of you wondering, our farm, Apolloson Acres, is named after Apollo...and me of course! The story (in a nutshell if that is possible) goes...

When Lauren originally rescued Apollo, his name was "Shotgun Bonanza" - I know, I know. One day an animal communicator came to the rescue and saw Apollo in the field. She told Lauren that he said he wanted to be called Apollo. So Lauren called out "Apollo" and sure enough, he threw his head up and came running!! From that day on, Apollo it was. Sometimes as a nickname, Lauren would call him 'Apollo Sun'. Once I met and got to know him, I would call him "Apolloson"...get it, his name and the end of mine together! (Not realizing at first that Lauren would call him Apollo Sun!) So it was only natural that we name our farm Apolloson Acres. My husband asks where his name falls into that equation and I tell him it is the 'A'! :)


Pony Girl said...

Great story! I love how you didn't give up on him, and went back to the basics of groundwork to build both of your confidences. That is truly what natural horsemanship is! He is a lovely horse!

Unknown said...

Thank you!!

Shirley said...

A wonderful story of you and Apollo. I know the fear and I know the recovery : )) I commend you for sticking with him. We are some of those few "forever owners" : ))

Patrice said...

Allison, Thanks for visiting my blog today. I just read this story about Apollo and I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes. What a sweet story! I have a section of my blog called Barn Chicks who Blog. Please look at it and let me know if you would let me interview you.

TexWisGirl said...

how sweet is your relationship. i have 2 arabs here in Texas and i have given up riding - i had too much fear so it is better for me and the horse to keep all our feet on the ground. :)

Unknown said...

so glad I read this, what a beauty apollo is.

Andrea said...

Oh i love a good horse story...
So brave to follow your dream sometimes a horse comes your way that was just meant to be and its so amazing what you can learn about yourself. My second horse was an arab geilding such a kind,patient boy for a beginner like me(40yr old)we had an amazing 8 years of learning and fun and i only just sold him last year to a young boy (11yrs)who attends riding for disabled.