Tara + Vera
Breed American Paint Horse
I first met Vera in the Summer of 2016. I was exercising horses at the barn of two Western trainers, a husband and wife, and Vera was one of the horses being boarded there. She had been treated badly when she was younger and her owner at the time had adopted her through a rescue a couple years prior. Unfortunately, quickly after being adopted, Vera turned aggressive. She had been hurt so severely by people before, that she thought the only way to keep herself safe was to defend herself. When her owner brought her to the trainer, Vera was so far gone that she couldn’t even feed her without Vera threatening to take a chunk out of her arm. At the end of the 60 days of training, besides her obvious underlying aggressive tendencies, Vera could at least be handled to an extent and fed without worrying too much about the safety of others.
Her owner decided to keep her at the training barn in fear that she’d regress if she moved her. The only problem with that was that the barn was over an hour away from her and she had a very busy work schedule. She came out to work with her a few times over the course of two years, but always left in a huff after a failed training session between horse and owner.
Then, in September of 2016, Vera’s owner decided she wanted to ride her down the country roads that surrounded the barn. The weather had cooled off, and for a seasoned trail horse, it was the best time to hit the trails and relax. However, Vera was far from that. She saddled up with the help of one of the trainers, rode in the arena for 10 minutes, and headed out with a buddy. I was at the barn that day, exercising one of the other horses in the arena, when Vera’s owner pulled into the driveway on the back of a farmer’s gator. She was pretty badly hurt.
Vera was okay, and her owner made a full recovery…but she also made a very major decision that day. You see, this wasn’t the first training barn that Vera had been to and each trainer had left her owner with a word of caution. Whether it was her awful past, her “Impressive” breeding, her double blue eyes, or the double swirl on her forehead; every trainer saw her as destined to be difficult and dangerous.
I remember sitting in my trainer’s kitchen as Vera’s owner meandered around outside, telling her husband about the accident and a decision she made to no longer work with Vera. I told the trainer that it didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t as much that she hated people because she wanted to, it was more so that no one had ever given her a reason not to. This fate wasn’t her choice. She had been perfectly happy with her just relaxing in a pasture the day before, and to me, this seemed like a lack of poor decision making on the owner’s part.
I only had one horse at the time, an older Arabian gelding named Sky. After listening and agreeing with what I was saying, the trainer asked me what I do with Sky. I explained to her that after serving as a livery horse for 10 years, he was living out his retirement with me. She looked over at me and said, “Well now you have a Paint. Convince her owner to give her to you.” All the blood rushed to my face. I couldn’t..could I?! I was 19 years old, working as hard as I possibly could just to afford Sky. What if she hurt him? What if she hurt me and I couldn’t care for him? Would I have enough time for the both of them? Who was I to take on a challenge that so many trainers had quite literally deemed too difficult to ride? What was I getting myself into? A million questions flooded my brain, but the only one that found my mouth was my financial concerns. Without skipping a beat, the trainer guaranteed me that she’d let me board Vera there at an incredibly low rate. I didn’t know what to say. I had spoken such a big game about how unfair I thought it was, this was my chance to fix it, or at least give it a try.
That night, I drove Vera’s owner to the hospital. The entire ride, I spent trying to convince her that Vera deserved another chance. A chance with one person who would give her their all. It was the one thing no one had tried. Trainers can only do so much in 60 days, but what could I do if I had a lifetime with her? After planting the seed, it took Vera’s owner a few months to make the decision.
Finally, on December 8th, 2016, Vera’s owner and I signed the papers in the middle of a Culver’s Restaurant in a town that I wasn’t familiar with. She had made it clear to me that she thought I was going to end up in her spot. Now I was the terrified owner of an even more terrified Paint. Great, right? This should go well. Vera may be the picture perfect piebald, but her personality is everything but black and white. The first four months, I spent just as much time working with Vera as I spent crying into the manes of other horses, wondering if Vera would ever actually trust me. Would she still face the same fate that I was trying to save her from? What was to come of us? Of her? Was this all a mistake?
My fears started to subside as our relationship bloomed alongside the spring flowers. Six months after adopting her, I was able to ride her for the first time. Aside from how she was under saddle, how she had transformed on the ground blew me away, along with everyone who had ever known her. She began to look to me for everything, from love to reassurance to just comfort. She would panic on a lunge or a lead and rear up, but as soon as she heard my voice speak her name, her front hooves would be back on the ground and she’d shove her face into my chest so that I’d hold her head. This horse was becoming special, and she showed me that time and time again. We started building up our confidence together. I started riding her bareback, and then just in a halter, and finally completely tackless.
Her first trailer ride, I sat in the tack room of the trailer and her eyes never left mine. There would be noises that made even me jump, but as long as my eyes were locked with hers, she showed no fear. We even overcame a huge obstacle that I had with her, which was the fear of riding her on a country road again because of her accident. And then we did it a hundred more times. We trailered out to a place where we could walk in the water, and she never skipped a beat.
Now, we’re a year and a half out and I can honestly say that each new day with this horse as my partner, she teaches me something new about life. Sky is my heart horse, but I like to say that Vera is my soul horse. I didn’t just pick her, she picked me. Here was this horse that no one could touch, and she chooses to love me. I know that she’s my “right horse”, because she has shown me time and time again that she sees me as her right person.
What #RightHorse means to me
A horse getting another chance with the right person.