Snow Ponies: A Foolish Teenage Adventure of Mine

Portrait of the OTTB as an aging man - Rillo circa 2004

All this snowfall reminds me of the last time I rode a horse in the snow… sometime in 1996, I think?

I’d moved from Florida to my home state of Maryland. I’d started riding in Florida, and that’s where I’d found my wonderful retired racehorse, Amarillo. Rillo was a Florida-bred. I thought the Mid-Atlantic would be good for him. Travel broadens the mind, and all that. He needed to be well-rounded horse, right?

(This was before Equibase.com charts, or I’d have known that he’d spent some time at Penn National.)

Much like this year, the first real snowfall of the year came in the form of an insane blizzard. My friend and I had been treating Rillo like some sort of invalid, moving him to a stall in the interior of the barn, draping a quarter sheet over his neck with the tail loop over his ears (I feel kinda bad about the hygiene of that decision, in retrospect), layering blankets on him. He hadn’t bothered with much of a winter coat – the last time he’d make that mistake, even after he returned to Florida for the rest of his life – so I imagine he appreciated it.

Maybe I shouldn’t have taken him out in all that snow. But we were fifteen and there were a lot of us and we did silly things, like take our horses out in four feet of snow “to see what they’d do.”

We had to sneak out through a human side door, since the big barn doors were snowed shut (and a few cracked under the weight.) We led our rugged, saddled, snorting horses out into the dazzling white field which used to be our outdoor riding arena. Everyone jumped and snorted at the glacial scene before them. Rillo went into full-on “call to the post” mode, standing on his tiptoes and blowing. We all thought this was a great sign and clambered on our mounts.

We made it around the corner of the barn before he took his first misstep, found himself floundering in a deep drift, and fell right over. I was saved (and thus not nearly shook up enough) by all that snow, and managed to hang onto the reins before he got up and went completely crazy. Sensibly (amazingly) we went back into the indoor arena like good pony clubbers and proceeded to jump entirely too high on hard, frozen ground.

Poor Rillo! It must have been incredibly disorienting to see the world he’d known completely disappear and be replaced by whiteness. Horses may be Siberian in origin, but they only know what they’ve been shown. My Florida-bred racehorse knew streets and highways, cattle and alligators, starting gates and starting boxes, but snow – snow was scary!

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Filed under Rillo, Thoroughbreds I've Known

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