30 years with Patrick - We may be setting a record
Patrick is 36 years old.
We do not go out nearly often enough and, when we do, he gets so excited that he can hardly stand still long enough to let me get on. Once I finally get my foot in the stirrup, he’s off! And I had better swing my leg over the saddle and find the other stirrup in a hurry.
He dashes out of the driveway at a brisk trot, which lasts a good 100 feet. Perhaps, his age catches up with him, for he soon slows to a happy walk, ears forward, interested in everything around him, just as he always has been.
We met, did Patrick and I, at a stables by Roehampton Park, just on the western most edge of London, England, in August, 1981. I had never been to the stables before but I assured them I had been riding all my life and, indeed, showed up in boots and breeches that looked as though they had had some use.
They gave me Patrick to ride and he was more fun than I had any right to expect. Most horses at any riding stables, house a line of steady equine citizens not much given to flights of fantasy. Some are plodders and some are simply honest, careful animals. No stable owner wants a lawsuit following an accident.
Patrick was completely different. He danced; he paraded; he dashed. I kept a tight leg on him and enjoyed myself enormously. He quickly taught me that he has a “soft mouth,” meaning that there is no need to yank on the reins in order to give instructions, that he knows immediately what is wanted of him by the body language and voice of the person riding him.
However, he is a relatively big horse (16 hands) and very lively which led to many misunderstandings between him and, especially, riders new to him, who hauled on his mouth to subdue him. I understood him, though, and he and I had joyous romps through Roehampton Park, as often as I could get there, to the point where he knew my voice and always made me welcomed.
In December 1981, the owner of the stables offered to sell Patrick to me. I was astonished that he would part with such a wonderful horse but he made the point that not everyone appreciated him the way I did and, in fact, he had recently dumped three riders in as many weeks. I accepted the offer. Patrick and I became a team.
Thirty years. Gosh, how time skips by. We have been such pals and he is the smartest, funniest, most loving horse I ever met. Let me tell you a few stories.
There came a point in my life when I decided that it was time to have a child. In the days well before it was fashionable, I chose to be a single mother. My child’s father, John, was a close friend but we lived in separate dwellings and, as a consequence I believe, we are still close friends.
All that to one side, about three years after I had bought Patrick, we went for a ride on a cool January day. He was completely different with me. There was no mad dashing, no dancing around. He was very calm and steady, without any signs whatever of being unwell. He kept looking over his shoulder at me as if to advise me to hang on while we went for a quiet canter.
It was very strange. I went home and did a pregnancy test and I was pregnant! Patrick knew it first. The change in attitude continued, he maintained his cautious behaviour until I had to stop riding him for the time being. After that, I used to take him for walks, which amused the other people in the park considerably.
After my daughter, Patricia, was born (and all the folk at the stables thought it was a bit much that I named my child after my horse – I never bothered to explain that was my mother’s name as well),
Patrick happily went back to his party “mode,” back to dancing and prancing as he loved to do when we went out together.
Once Patricia was about two years old, she came up on Patrick with me and we would ride as far as the clubhouse just inside the park. Then, my boy was ever so conservative, deeply aware as he was of the treasure we carried in front of me. It was only a fiveminute ride with her once in a while but it was very satisfying. John was there to pass her up to me and fetch her down again. They sat in the sun near the clubhouse, eating ice cream while Patrick and I made a pass around the park. It was bliss.
Of course, there was the silly time when we got a speeding ticket and the nonsense of it caught the sense of everyone’s humour. We were famous with the story for months across Europe and even got a mention here. But I’ve told that story many times.
At last, the day came when I decided to move back to Canada. Patrick does not have a lengthy pedigree and we have never bothered to compete in any equine events, but there was no leaving him behind. So, after a long and exhausting trip, in October 1990, Patrick came to Canada.
Patricia and I had been here in July that year to find a stable for him and a house for us, in Hockley Valley. He arrived in Canada a couple of weeks before us in October and I was on the telephone every day, checking on him. The news was never great – he was tired and nervous of the many differences in his new world.
When we landed at the airport here, we went straight to the stables. They knew I was coming and had brought him into his stall for me to see him. I called to him from the door as I entered the barn and he answered me with a whinny.
Hurrying to him, I opened his door. He put his head down to me and tucked me under his chin. In spite of our deep friendship, this was the first moment I learned that a horse could hug.
He really loves living in Canada once he realised we were still together. There are no speeding limits to horses and their riders here in the Canadian countryside. We learned about riding in the heat and charging through the snow. He has had equine friends with whom we rode hundreds of kilometres over long summer days. Just for fun; just because we all could.
In 1993, I moved him to a barn where I go every day, twice a day, to care for him and our other equines myself.
It is always the best part of my day.