Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Fair Sky

It has been a while since I introduced you to one of my pets. This is the one I waited my whole life for.

Like many of us, I fell in love with horses as a young girl.

I read horse books,
I collected Breyers horse statues,
I even cut paper horses out of magazines and kept them in a cigar box, a' la National Velvet.

In those days there was a newspaper comic strip called "Priscilla's Pop," about a young girl named Priscilla, who loved horses. Visions of Appaloosas danced in her head, just as in mine, and my father teasingly called me "Priscilla."

Horses are mysterious, primitive creatures, with unfathomable minds. I have always been drawn to them, but I knew it was an impossible dream to ever own one. We couldn't even afford for me to take riding lessons, let alone buy and keep a horse. I cultivated friends with ponies and cozied up to neighbors with horses, caging rides when I could, content just to be around them and care for them when I couldn't. Horses taught me nearly all of what I know about riding, which is very little, and a lot of what I know about handling them, which is a little bit more.

My uncle had a hobby farm where he kept a few horses at pasture, and I visited as often as possible during vet school. In exchange for helping out with the pony rides (walking small children around and around in the hot sun during parties for coworkers or church groups) I could escape for a few hours into the wooded hills of southeastern Indiana on the back of a horse. It was the perfect way to clear my head and refresh my heart.

He had Appaloosas
mostly, and my favorite was a gelding named "Erin's Delight," or "Deli" for short. He was beautiful - a very flashy leopard App who looked wild and exotic. He was kind and gentle and trustworthy - easy to handle on the ground and a great ride. He never put a foot wrong and always took great care of you. I loved him, and I mourned his untimely death in 1992.

young Deli and I, Sept., 1983

Deli and my Uncle Dick lead a trail ride.

From the dreams I shared with Priscilla to my love affair with Deli, I knew Appaloosas were for me. I was fascinated with them - their unique colors and patterns, their easy-going nature, and their romantic history. The "Palouse Horse" was developed by the Nez Perce Indians, a peaceful tribe from the area which is now Idaho. They befriended and assisted Louis and Clark, and they were proud to say that they never broke their treaties with the white man. Yet, their lands and their horses were taken from them, and they were cheated and crushed. To add insult to injury, the remaining horses were deliberately cross-bred with inferior stock, nearly eliminating the work of generations of careful breeding. Luckily, the breed was rescued and revived. At night, in my most secret thoughts, I longed to become a link in that spotted chain to the past.

Fast forward to one typical day in my vet practice: A client commented that she was being transferred for her job, but she couldn't move until she sold her house, sold her horse, and got rid of some of her multitude of cats. Just making casual conversation, I said, "What kind of horse do you have?" Quickly she said, "I'll GIVE her to you free for a good home." "What kind is she?" I repeated, thinking to myself that I could turn down anything but an Appaloosa mare. "An Appaloosa mare," was the answer. "How old?" "Nine." (Damn. The perfect age.) "What's wrong with her?" "Nothing." (Damn.)

Joker's Skyhigh, ca. 1991-92

I met her, and took her for a 2 week trial. I had a horse, a halter and lead rope, and a hoof pick. That was 16 years ago. Sky is now 25 years old. We don't ride any more (her back, my weight and both our ages) but when we did, she was a great trail horse.

Sky and I, ready to hit the trail

She took such good care of me, she never put a foot wrong, and I love her. She is the only horse I have ever known who lowers her head for the bridle, opens her mouth for the bit, then lowers her head more if you fail to connect at the first go. Most amazing to me is her unfailing sense of direction. Even on trails we had never seen before, she could always find her way back to the trailer or the camp or the barn.

She boarded near my home at first, then spent two years at my uncle's farm, where she was bred.

Sky, heavily pregnant, June, 1993

When she delivered her foal, I named the filly "Fairsky's Delight," call name "Deli," after my two favorite horses.

Sky, with 3 day old "Deli II"

I took Sky with me the year I moved to Marietta, hauling her from Indiana clear across Ohio by myself without a bit of trouble. The next year when I moved back to southwestern Ohio, she came home with me and has lived in my backyard ever since.

Comparing photographs, I can see my girl is aging. (But then, so am I.) Winters are getting harder for her, and she is having trouble keeping weight on (unlike me) so I have started blanketing her in the winter and feeding her a senior equine ration, which is easier on her digestion. Still, she loves to play in the snow, especially when she has been shut up in her stall for several days, as you can see.

On her name: I believe that animals' names should evoke a feeling or impart a power to them. When I first got her, Sky's call name was "Dolly." To me, "Dolly" is an old, fat, catarrhal Cocker Spaniel with bad teeth and even worse ears. I couldn't call this beautiful thing "Dolly," but the first part of her registered name, "Joker," had a distinctly masculine sound. So, I moved on to the next syllable, and tried out "Sky." It seemed to fit somehow.

Years after Sky came to me, I was reading a series of articles about foundation studs in the Appaloosa Journal and saw a vaguely familiar name, "Hayes' Roman Cloud." I pulled out Sky's pedigree. I knew she descended from Joker B on her dam's side, given the "Joker" in her name, her dam's name and her dam's sire's name. (I checked it out online - her maternal great-grandfather was the famous Joker B.) But, it was her sire's sire who gave me pause. "Hayes' Roman Cloud" did it all - he was a winner in the show ring and on the race track, and he sired horses even more famous than he. And, five generations before him was an unnamed Nez Perce mare. Now, I have never been one to follow pedigrees, be it horses, dogs or people. I would never select an animal on paper, based on breeding alone. I didn't fall in love with Sky for her family tree, but I find it funny that this beautiful, smart, giving mare of mine has bluer blood than I do.

"Somebody has got our horses." Chief Joseph, Nez Perce


Lynne said...

Sky's eyes hold the wisdom of the ages.

This is a lovely post.

lisa said...

Sky is so beautiful. I always wanted an appaloosa when I was growing up.

I remember those Breyer horses from when I was a young girl. I was quite obsessed with them. I had a few of those statues and I have no idea whatever became of them.

Lovely post. :-)

Mary said...


I just took a nice break at the office and enjoyed this story so much. Sky is beautiful. May she share many more years of caring and love with you.

KGMom said...

Lovely story about a wonderful horse (and friend).
I never caught the horse bug myself--(I was a pig fan, instead, when I was a kid).
But this story is really great--it is great that you and Sky found each other.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Ooh, we have the same taste in hosses. I adore this post. A lovely tribute to a grand lady. She's a lucky horse.

Susan Gets Native said...

What a sweetie. The girls always want me to drive them over to your place so 1. Isabelle can pet the ponies and 2. Lorelei can hide.
Love the pics of her dancing in the snow. Horse joy!

Holly said...

Oooooohhh...horses! I still have my Album of Horses book (was my mothers!) and all my Breyer horses, believe it or not. I still want a HORSE, a trailriding horse. I never got over my fascination and love for them. I dragged R through all the horse barns at the Fair last month, lol. Still hoping....

I'd been meaning to ask you about her, kept forgetting but was hoping she was ok. So nice to hear about her and see the pics. How is her daughter, still have her?

littleorangeguy said...

This is a great post, Kathi. She is more than one of your pets, and you really capture that. Actually, I suspect all your animasl are more than just your "pets".