May 9, 1996 – December 20, 2008
Pardon me if this blog is a little raggedy. It’s a reflection of how I feel.
Rio Tango was born in Maple Ridge to a Jockey Club Thoroughbred dam and a black/tobiano father. He was a registered paint with no paint to speak of save about twelve white hairs on his neck.
Early photos show a tall, gangly young horse. He was worked hard from the start. According to his show records, he was competing at third level at the end of his fifth year.
I became the proud owner of Tango on March 8, 2005. He was being showed at fourth level, but was soon to learn that he’d be going back to basics with me. He stood 16’3 and was not shy about reminding me that all cooperation was at his own discretion. I hadn’t had a horse since I was nineteen and I’d never had one quite like him. He was full of opinions on everything from the desirability of apples (high) to braiding of forelocks (very, very low). He was quiet under saddle and brave in the ring and on the trails. He could be counted on to give it his best effort, within reason. He was a horse who believed in conserving his energy for when he might need it.
He was also the best-looking horse I’ve ever known. You know that old saying: “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man”? Well, that went double for Tango. We ventured all over the place going on trail rides and taking dressage lessons, but just looking at him was the best medicine for whatever ailed me.
During our time together he faced a lot of health issues. He colicked three times, had a severe foot abcess, and several swellings of the legs due to scratches and so forth. In 2006 he was diagnosed with bilateral lameness in his front feet, probably due to encroaching arthritis. He was allergic to midges and each spring would break out in spectacular hives if one so much as winked at him. This meant that he took enough antihisitamines to subdue a hypochrondriac convention. He was, in short, something of a delicate flower. Maybe it was the thoroughbred in him or maybe the early hard work. Nor was he noted for his stoicism. When the Big T was sick, everyone knew it. Had he been able to swoon his entire 1300 pound self onto a chaise longue and fan himself, I believe he would have.
Last year his health problems were all under control and we started to make great strides. By which I mean he helped me to make great strides as a rider. I believe his feet started to feel better, which meant his contact (acceptance of the bit) improved. And he began to teach me some of his dressage training: renvers, travers, half pass, flying changes. It was incredibly exhilarating.
In July we went to our first show. This was old stuff for him, but I was in a mild panic the whole time. He was a star and, as he had a way of doing, took the edge of any incipient sentimentality at the end by refusing to get in the trailer when the show was over. I believe that the crowd of friends that came out to see us compete confirmed his notion that he was destined to spend his life surrounded by admirers.
In early November he developed a serious infection in his lymph system. We treated it aggressively and for a time he looked like he was getting better. In the end, however, the infection overwhelmed his immune system.
He died on December 20th, which I believe was the coldest day Nanaimo has ever seen.
Tango had this way of cantering up to the gate to meet me that almost broke my heart. I think there was no finer sight or greater honour in the world. I’m going to miss him terribly.
Below are some photos and blogs entries that celebrate the big guy’s life.
Five Days Until Show
1. Start telling people who will listen how nervous you are and how it’s been twenty years since your last horse show. That way, when you get stanky scores, you can say, “Oh, I was so nervous! Normally we kick ass. Like when I’m riding alone.”
2. Buy a lot of product to make your horse shiny so as to distract the judge from any mistakes you might make. Hope that if you apply enough Show Sheen, the judge might actually be blinded by the gleam emanating from your horse.
3. Worry that you will forget your dressage test. Then tell yourself that if you forget, you will get eliminated and the test will be over sooner. Which could be a good thing.
4. Ride the test a few times in a ring with no letters, just to confuse yourself further.
5. Book extra lessons. Ask your husband, who has never ridden a horse except for that one time when he was eight, to give you a lesson. Listen carefully to everything he has to say,
such as “Good! Good! Now do some of the faster one where his legs go all funny.”
6. Purchase a mandolin vegetable chopping device from Winners on a whim. While making stir fry seriously cut not one, not two, but three of your fingers. All of which you will need to ride in the horse show. Bandage them so excessively that you can no longer get your riding gloves on.
Three days until show.
1. Lapse into sullen silence. When husband asks what’s wrong, complain that you can’t find the excellent Dressage Today article on “How to Braid Like Anky” and that because of this setback, you may have to drop out of show.
When husband replies, “What’s an Anky?” walk out of room and vow never to take another dressage lesson from him.
Worry that you won’t be able to braid like Stephen Hawking if your fingers don’t heal soon.
2. Realize that you haven’t ridden in a ring with more than two other horses for twenty years. What is that rule about passing during warm-up? Left to left? What does that mean, anyway? Spend twenty minutes thinking of horrifying dressage pile-up that may ensue as a result of your inability to tell left from right.
3. Retreat to bed with pizza and book about mixed martial arts competitions, which sounds quite a bit less stressful and dangerous than dressage shows.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Horse Show or The Trouble with Forelocks
Well, it has been almost a month since Tango and I went to the horse show, so I guess I’m recovered enough to blog about it.
1:00 p.m. Arrive at barn. Wash horse, shampoo and condition his mane and tail. Spray him liberally with Show Sheen (see previous note re: blinding judge). Polish his hooves.
2:00 p.m. Braid his mane.
2:40 p.m. Attempt to braid his forelock. Discover he has a severe phobia about having his forelock braided. This in spite of the fact that he loves having his forehead rubbed and his forelock fooled with. Apparently braiding is a very different and far scarier proposition than fooling.
3:40 p.m. After an hour of being flung around the barn during attempt to braid stupid, idiotic forelock, end up with a mild case of whiplash some blunt force trauma injuries and horse who needs to be bathed again due to layer of sweat. Forelock is now tangled and showing signs of wear. Horse has decided his entire head is off limits.
3:42 p.m. Decide that unbraided forelock may be secret signal to judges that he/she is viewing an entirely unruly horse.
3:50 p.m. In a fit of pique, decide to shave horse’s forelock off. Get talked out of that by Robyn, barn owner, who speaks in careful voice, similar psychiatric nurse. Decide that tomorrow will glue hair to horse’s head using powerful human hair styling products.
4:20 p.m. Drive horse to show.
4:50 p.m. Unload horse. Put him in stall.
5:22 p.m. Stand staring, dumbstruck, at extremely fancy horses from Victoria being ridden in warm-up rings. Realize that several of them cost more than our truck, trailer and horse combined. Feel intimidated. Wish was at home in bed. Wish horse’s forelock was braided. Call home to leave self reminder to bring Joico Ice Mist (circa 1990) and large bottle of Aqua Net Superhold to show the next day.
5:33 p.m. Feed horse dinner.
6:40 p.m. Ride horse for brief period after fancy horses have left ring. Feel slight return of confidence because horse is well behaved. Horse is apparently quite exhausted after battle to protect his forelock’s independence.
7:20 p.m. Hang out with horse until nightfall. Then return home to get a good night’s sleep before show.
10:00 p.m. Arrive home. Clean tack. Lay out show clothes. Premake coffee. Set alarm.
10:45 p.m. Retire to bed.
11:30 p.m. Wonder where sleep is.
12:42 p.m. Wonder what sleep is doing and whether sleep is having fun.
1:56 a.m. Still no sign of sleep.
3:45 a.m. Roll around in bed in mild panic.
4:30 a.m. Finally sleep arrives. Presumably.
5:00 a.m. Wake up to alarm. Shower. Put on heavy makeup. Not sure why applying so liberally. Quantity of blusher suggests I may be confusing horse show with fifth grade play in which I played the girl who wears too much rouge.
5:25 a.m. Head to show grounds.
5:40 a.m. Arrive to find horse with large wound on his forehead to which his unbraided forelock is cemented with congealed blood. Apparently he’s been visiting neighbors over the bars and doesn’t get along with one of them. Or, as an experiment, he stuck his head through the bars to see if it would fit and discovered it didn’t, really.
6:00 a.m. Finish sponging off horse’s head and applying antibiotic ointment. Hope horse doesn’t have a concussion. Just in case he does, try braiding his forelock again. Find self slammed against stall wall. Horse’s possible brain injury hasn’t affected his short term memory.
6:10 a.m. Having fed horse, huddle in tack stall drinking coffee and trying to control urge to vomit.
6:45 a.m. Begin using assortment of hair products to glue horse’s forelock against his head. Soon horse looks like Squiggy or Marc Anthony. His greasy, stringy forelock refuses to be tucked anywhere. Give up on forelock.
7:10 a.m. Tack up and then retreat into tack stall to put on new show clothes.
7:15 a.m. Feel regret on many levels at the need to wear white breeches in public.
7:18 a.m. Put hair into hair net. Wish was at a job as a line cook in a diner. At least then a hair net would make sense. As if horse is going to notice if my hair is messy. I mean, look at his forelock! If anyone should be wearing a hairnet, it’s horse.
7:20 a.m. Lead horse from barn, admit that he’s quite handsome and more shiny than average.
7:28 a.m. Warm up. Find we have huge indoor arena to ourselves! A miracle! The powers that be want us to survive this horse show. Horse is very agreeable while practicing test. Decide to go with “slow but sure” as the theme of our first test in twenty years.
8:06 a.m. Bell rings and we enter at A. Feel overpowering urge fall off thanks to violent stress-induced stomach cramps, but decide not to because of risk of falling on whipper in, who never did anything to me.
8:10 a.m. Test is half over. Realize we are going to survive it. Give prayer of thanks that we asked Joey, trainer and horse masseuse extraordinaire, to call the test because these was a movement in it we weren’t expecting. That three-loop serpentine was a total surprise!
8:11 a.m. Test over. Salute. Finally realize that at least eight or nine wonderful and supportive friends have arrived to watch. Pat horse four hundred times and feel tremendous love for husband as he takes approximately seventy-five-hundred photographs. Glad to be alive. Glad to be done the test.
9:32 a.m. Do it all over again. Only difference is, get order of riders mixed up and find self and horse quite some distance from ring when bell rings and name is called. End up trotting into ring entirely unprepared. But pull it together. Horse gives another very slow but steady performance.
9:39 a.m. More applause from lovely friends and family. Several pounds of treats for horse. Show is officially over for us!
12:04 p.m. Time to bring horse back home. Horse has other plans. Horse has decided that all those people gathered around giving him praise are right. He is a bit of a superstar! Like Johnny Depp, only with even messier hair and smellier boots. Therefore, horse refuses to get in trailer even though horse has been going in and out of trailer at least once a week for years. Horse makes quite a production about it, embarrassing owner. Many people watch and pa
ss judgement on horse and owner. Eventually, four kind souls (Robyn, Rose, Pam and Colleen) from horse’s barn convince horse it’s time to go and we drive off.
Dear Big Brown,
I have read quite a bit about your performance on Saturday and I wanted to say how proud I am of you. The odds-on favourite to win the Belmont Stakes and, in the process, the Triple Crown, you chose instead to take it easy and cruised home comfortably in last place.
As a horse who has been known to take a relaxed approach to his work from time to time, I fully support your decision. In your place, I would have done exactly the same thing.
Let’s look at the facts: you’d already won two gruelling contests, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. The heat was in the 90s. People had been messing around with your cracked hoof for weeks.
Your trainer, who’d been injecting you with steroids once a month suddenly quit doing so to prove a point. And your owner couldn’t stop fibbing about his bonafides.
More importantly, at your last race you saw what happened to that all-heart filly, Eight Belles, who broke both her ankles after crossing the finishing line at the Derby.
A smart horse, much like myself, you said, “You know, I’m not going to overdo it today. I don’t want to take any chances with my ankles. I’ll just be cantering along back here if anyone needs me.”
Good move, my man. If you’re ever interested in taking up lower level dressage, I’m happy to offer advice on ways to slack off while doing it. In the meantime, run, or even trot, as slowly as you can for the next few races and you’ll be at that breeding farm before you know it. I hear they have good grass in Kentucky. You deserve it my friend.
Run slow: live free.