Don’t get me wrong— I loved Catarina. She was my first horse. How could I not love her, especially after all the years I spent hungering after a horse of my own? From the time I was able to talk, I was obsessed with horses. Breyer ponies, my little ponies, plastic horses of any no-name brand… the memories of my childhood circle around the times I spent living life through their plastic, unseeing eyes. They each had names and personalities, and the Barbies in my household only existed as a backdrop for the endless, ongoing dramas I always created for my herd:
Would the new foals survive the harsh winter? Would Apache fall in love with King? Oh, no! The new stallion Dark Magic was captured by the evil humans! But, wait! He jumped the 9 foot enclosure and escaped back to the herd!)
When I was 8 years old, my parents told me that if I kept up my straight A’s until the time I was 16, they would buy me a car. I immediately shot back, “What about a horse instead?”
I don’t think they really thought things through when they said yes. Maybe they thought I would grow up, grow out of my “horsey” phase?
Don’t get me wrong, when 16 hit, I knew how lucky I was to be able to have a horse. Living in the city, owning a horse was more than we could afford. But somehow, we managed. After countless hours on the internet researching exactly what to do, and how to avoid being sold a lemon, I owned my first horse. She was beautiful—an 8 year old liver chestnut, quarter horse mare that was sweet, willing, and completely beginner safe.
By the time I got her off the trailer to our new home, she’d turned into a 13 year old mare of unknown breeding (Quarter horse/arab/morgan/pony?) that had severe neck and back problems and had probably foundered severely in the past. She was also completely apathetic about my existence. The only thing I did luck out in was that she was the most bomb-proof, forgiving horse I’ve ever met. Nothing phased her, and I went from being a complete beginner to being able to doing everything I could dream of doing— sidepass at a canter, riding with no reins, riding for hours bareback… she was even trained to stop and stand still whenever I fell off. In retrospect, I think she might have been charro broke, which accounts for her lack of interest, and completely emotionless, indifference to the passionate love I had for her. Even worse, she was unsound/completely lame more often than not. After years of the frustration of owning a horse and rarely riding, I decided it was time to get a new one.
After so much time staring at a hobbling, hurting, horse, I did the only thing I knew how in order to avoid purchasing another broken-down horse: I hunted for a horse with the floatiest, free-est, non-limpy-gate I could find. With all that I could do on Catarina when she was well, I knew I could handle anything in terms of training. A four year old thoroughbred with only six months off the track, Jubilee brought me back to reality. I thought I was an experienced rider— it turns out that my mare was just an experienced teacher, and I was still completely green. It only took 1 day for me to realize just how little I knew.
I approached him in my normally hasty manner (forget a leisurely grooming! I was going to get a chance to RIDE!) and whipped out the flyspray bottle, starting with his face. He immediately pulled back, setting back and snapping his leadrope, then hitting the back of his head on an overhanging roof behind him. He began slinging his head from side to side, the horse-equivalent of, “OUCH!”
I was horrified. I didn’t even know that such a thing as “setting back” existed, and I didn’t know what to do. I froze, and then sidled up to him carefully, fully expecting another explosion. I placed my hand on his neck, speaking softly. He stiffened his skinny neck, holding it stiff and high, almost perpendicular to his ridiculously high withers. I continued talking softly, giving him a chance to think. He stared at me with bright glassy eyes for a few moments, then licked and chewed, dropped his head, and pressed his forehead flat against my chest. My first horse hug. “Fix it,” he seemed to be saying.
My heart crumbled.
I’d like to say we had a perfect relationship after that, but life doesn’t really happen that way. He was still 4 years old and fresh from the track, and I was still a beginner rider. In fact, we never got along all that great in the saddle. He was a stereotypical thoroughbred in all the best and worst ways— one day off, and it was back to square one. He was sweet, but not the brightest crayon in the box when it came to retaining information.
But when it came to an on-the-ground relationship, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel about a horse the way I did about Jubilee. Maybe it’s because he was did such a terrible job at being a horse— when turned out with a herd, he always stood about 20 yards outside of it, pathetically uncomfortable and vaguely lonely. He was just as socially inept as I was, and something about his inability to feel like part of the crowd clicked with me.
I spent hours just hanging out in his stall, reading books, feeding him hay one stalk at a time, braiding, braiding, and re-braiding his mane and tail. I learned that while his high withers made bareback riding impossibly uncomfortable, they created a little hollow that fit my face perfectly, and whenever I cried there, I felt comforted. I’m surprised I didn’t wear that little patch of hair away from all the hours I spent leaning into him, breathing in his healing scent.
Jubilee was there for me when my grandfather died. My grandma and I had been able to give my grandpa his wish— he died at home, surrounded by family. But dying is rarely as clean as it is in the movies, and after months of round-the-clock care and a heartwrenching final week of listening to him slowly drown from smoking-induced emphysema, I felt fragile. Brittle. Empty. Unable to cry. Unable to sleep. So I did what I’ve always done when I’m troubled. I drove to the stables.
I’ve always loved the stables best at night. There’s a peace and a quiet that just can’t be found during the day. Jubilee was long-since used to my unusual hours, and he came out to greet me. It was cold, and his breath curled out in plumes from his nose. I buried my hands beneath his mane, trying to warm them. Then I buried my face in that niche, and felt myself release whatever it was that was holding me back. I cried. I cried. And then I cried some more. I think my cheeks even went to sleep, I cried so long and so hard, and I don’t know how long I would have continued if I hadn’t heard something.
I’d heard him beg for food before, but this sound was different. It was the same sound a mare makes when calling to her foal. Deep, warm, and filled with reassurance. Startled out of my sobs, I pulled back, and saw him staring at me, ears pricked. He lipped my sleeve, and nickered again. Something about it made me laugh through my tears, and regain my composure. “I’m fine, Jubie. I’m fine.” .
That was the only time I ever heard that sound from him, and frankly, it was the only time I ever needed it. I ended up having to sell him a couple of years later, and it’s something I still regret. I wish I had the money to keep him. I hope he’s okay. He was an idiot, but he was my idiot thoroughbred, and I miss him.
Addendum (7-30-10): I wonder where Jubilee is, sometimes. I hope he’s doing okay. I know he wasn’t the easiest horse to ride or care for, and I have a deep seated fear that he’ll go to auction/kill buyer one day. I wish I had kept tabs on him after I sold him so I can rescue him from that fate one day. I saw an expired ad (about 6 weeks old) on a Fresno Craigslist selling him, but I couldn’t track him down at all.
That said, here is his information, in case his owner, wherever he/she may be, ever decides to google him and wants to know more about where he came from.
Barn Name: Jubilee
Registered name: Barbco
Sire: Barb’s Relic
Birthdate: May 1995 (I *think* it was May 23, 1995. It could have been May 27, 1995)
Description: 15.2 hh, Chestnut gelding, 4 white stockings, blaze. The stocking is highest on his front left leg, and gradually get smaller as you go clockwise. Two silver-dollar size scars on his croup. Old scar in the shape of an X on his front knee. Parrot mouth. Hard keeper. Sweetheart on the ground, nervous under saddle. Plays with his bit incessantly. Grinds his teeth when he’s nervous or frustrated. Unbelievably, stupidly high withers. Used to be very, very loved.
Tattoo: I really, really wish I had thought to write it down. I *think* it starts with Y8, but I can’t really remember 😦
And here is my blatantly obvious attempt to try and make this post come up higher in the listings:
Jubilee Barbco Thoroughbred TB Gelding May 1995 Chestnut blaze socks stockings Jubilee Barbco Jubilee Barbco Thoroughbred TB Gelding May 1995 Chestnut blaze socks stockings Jubilee Barbco Jubilee Barbco Thoroughbred TB Gelding May 1995 Chestnut blaze socks stockings Jubilee Barbco Jubilee Barbco Thoroughbred TB Gelding May 1995 Chestnut blaze socks stockings Jubilee Barbco Jubilee Barbco Thoroughbred TB Gelding May 1995 Chestnut blaze socks stockings Jubilee Barbco