A feisty bay pony with a potbelly taught me everything I know about people, and almost everything I know about myself.
Miranda Lambert penned a song about the house that built her. The lyrics portray her revisiting her childhood home to collect old memories – hoping that by touching the place she grew up, and reliving milestones in her life she could stitch the pieces together to find herself.
This summer, I’ve attempted to revisit the horses that built me. The horses that I’ve owned and leased over the course of my life. The horses who shaped my experiences, personality, and childhood. I wanted to take their portraits to immortalize the memories I have with them.
This is the second installment of the series, about my (sometimes) sweet pony Raz. Click here to read about the first horse, Sunny.
I started leasing Raz when I was a third grader, and my parents purchased her for me a year later to become my 4-H project. Raz was perfect. Perfect in the sense that she was a different type of naughty every single day at home, and then turned on her star power at a horse show. As a kid, it was like Raz came into all of my riding lessons with her own lesson plan; her own agenda of what I would learn. Often, this syllabus was a bit different than my horse trainer’s. Her antics often left me puzzled, tearful, and ever challenged.
Set at 14 hands high, solid bay, and giving the word ‘mare’ a whole new level of stereotype, Raz is still the most intelligent being I have ever met. Wicked clever, astoundingly perceptive, and still holding grudges against me from 2002. No, really.
Raz had a special way of keeping me humble. The summer after the 4th grade, I was at my very first local 4-H county fair — the event we had trained for all year. After earning blue ribbons in our showmanship and western equitation classes (and even being called back to the championship round of western eq), we wandered into our trail pattern. Like I said, she knew when she was at a horse show and she turned on the charm. The first two patterns at this show had been incredible, and so I strutted into this class on my high horse (figuratively, because literally I was on a very short horse). But Raz knew when my confidence was a bit inflated, so about halfway through the pattern, probably after scoring perfect 10’s on all maneuvers thus far, we had to navigate backing between two barrels. I planted her two front feet in front of the first barrel and started to pull back. We made it about halfway through the obstacle when she stopped. I kicked, I clucked, I released, I pulled back again. BAM. She let out a big ‘ol buck. A bronco buck. A buck so big that I was immediately excused from the arena by the judge and handed a ‘participation’ ribbon on my way out. Raz was full of surprises and life lessons like that.
Raz taught me the art of persuasion. You can’t tell a mare what to do. Most of the time you can’t even ask a mare what to do. A horse like Raz, so cunning and astute, you have to make her think it was her idea all along. She has to be motivated by the perceived power and the thought that she has the upper hand at all times. Or, you can motivate her with food. Food works well for any mare (or woman).
Once I learned how to motivate her, we went on to accomplish some pretty special things. She could go from winning a county championship in a speed event to an equitation class with no adjustments in-between. My pot-bellied pony even carried me to a circuit championship at an A-rated hunter-jumper show. Barrel racing, pole bending, flags, jumping, trail rides, team penning, showmanship, parades, the beach… she did anything and everything.
I hit a point where I wanted more glory. A horse bigger, better and fancier. Something registered to take me to breed shows (sweet Razzy was registered as a breeding stock POA which you can’t show on their circuit) and something I could put a lot more miles on. My parents had just built a house on 6 acres, so I finally had Raz in my backyard but she felt like a child’s pony and I thought she deserved another little girl to love on her.
The step-up horse my parents bought for me (named Junior — his story is coming next) lived in the pasture with her. Junior was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen and I was completely enamored with him. Raz knew what was happening. It had happened to her before. I think it was a heartache that she knew too well and she never forgave me for trading her in for a big, beautiful palomino… She had loved me and taught me for five years and right under her fuzzy nose I betrayed her for another horse.
We found little girls to lease her out year after year. She taught them all the same lessons and won them all the same trophies. So I carried on, training my bigger/younger horses while she was doted on by starstruck little girls. But she never forgave me.
In the spring of 2013, one of my great friends (and photography mentors) wanted to get together to take pictures on a sunny day. Eager for our shoot, the night before I rode Raz bareback in a halter all over my property just to prepare. As always, she was perfect. At the time, I was beginning to build a photography brand about taking portraits with the horse that means everything to you, and now I was getting to experience what I want my clients feel like firsthand! In true Raz form, the day of the shoot she was soooooo naughty. Every chance she got, she spun around and galloped to the other side of the pasture. Completely aware of the situation, she wouldn’t let me catch her and poor Haley would have to walk to the other side of the property and try to figure out how to put Raz’s halter on to bring her back. Naught pony and all, I’ll never be able to thank Haley enough for those images. For the first time, I was able to be in my client’s shoes. For the first time, I felt beautiful and radiant next to the pony-love-of-my-life.
It wasn’t a tough decision, letting her go. I thought it was obvious at the time. I was getting married and moving halfway across the country, and she had SO many years left to love on more little girls. I didn’t have the means to provide a great life for her and – even if I did – it felt selfish to keep her to myself.
I think I tried to do the right thing, but now I’m not sure it was the right thing. For how many times she taught me to think ahead, I really failed her here. I owned her for about 15 years and now I think I should’ve been the one to see her through and make sure she had the best life possible.
I had trouble reaching Raz’s new owners when I tried to come take pictures of her in August for this project. To be honest, I didn’t think I could make it happen and I snotty-ugly-cried for two whole days wondering if I’ve seen her for the very last time. Finally, when we reached her owners I was crying tears of relief. I had about ten minutes on my way to the airport to take a few snaps of Raz in a dusty roundpen. Those ten minutes changed my perspective on everything. As a photographer, it is my job to purge the “bad” photos and only keep the best of the best. But I couldn’t delete a single image of Razzy. What if that was the last picture I ever took of her? What if this portrait is the last thing I will get to hold of hers? I became so emotionally attached to the images it took about six tries to edit them. I would well up with tears until I couldn’t see the computer screen anymore and I’d walk away sobbing. I mean, it has taken me about ten attempts to write this piece for the same reason.
Seeing Raz at her new place put me at ease. She was so healthy and SO happy. She is very well-loved and has a little girl to take care of! She is now 28 years young and looks incredible. I’m just praying this wasn’t our last ‘goodbye’…