Sunday, January 16, 2011

Farewell, Bandit

On December 31st, my pony-friend Bandit lost his battle with cancer. This isn't a sad story though. We estimate that Bandit was probably close to 30 years old! (He was rumored to have come from the Tennessee mountains, and had been owned by at least three others before me. He had battle scars to prove it.)

My relationship with Bandit (aka, "Frito Bandito") began in late 2002. One day, a year or so after my low back surgery, I announced to the universe (and to my husband) that therapy and a gym membership just weren't cutting it - I needed a horse back in my life! (My previous horse having been given away in 1989.)

The next day, I was on a totally unrelated errand when I was killing time talking with a stranger and spied a field full of horses. I said to him, "I'm looking to buy a horse." He asked, "What are you looking for?" and I replied, "A middle-aged gaited gelding." He looked over at the field and said, "Well, my neighbor is selling one of those two" and pointed out Smokey & Bandit. Within days, we had negotiated to purchase both Smokey and Bandit. (I never was one to shop around for a horse..) Bandit was the first gaited horse that I'd ever ridden.

I had fallen in love with Smokey's studly attitude and looks, but multiple folks kept telling me, "That is the pony you need" while pointing at Bandit, so he became my "husband's horse." After fencing in our back yard, we brought them home early in 2003.

By late spring, I had allowed Bandit to founder - probably not for the first time in his life. A local vet advised me to sell him at auction or to give him away as a pasture ornament. Fortunately, I refused to listen to him, changed vets and found a good farrier (and eventually an even better farrier using Natural Balance methods). With ongoing attention to diet and hoofcare, he recovered completely.

By late in 2003, due to my fear and frustration with Smokey (who I've since learned is an extreme RBI with baggage), I had discovered Parelli Natural Horsemanship and attended two "tour stops." By early 2004, I had started riding Bandit to get my confidence back up, and even took him to our local fair to compete in a trail class. Here is a video of him with friends from 2004.

In 2005, I won my first blue ribbon ever while competing him at the fair! See the photo at the top of this post. According to a local gaited horse trainer, he had "an incredible overstride." Knowing virtually nothing about "gaited" horses, I had never appreciated this! Over the next two years, we went on to participate in all sorts of events including parades, fairs, play dates, jousting, and best of all, trail rides.

Turns out that this pony was a die-hard trail horse. When I got the courage to take him on our first gaited group ride, I was shocked and amazed! These folks were hard-core, fast-riding, and totally on adrenaline. Many of them recognized Bandit from before I owned him and weren't surprised when HE TOOK OVER THE LEAD HORSE POSITION for about 15 miles. I was pretty much out of control of the situation, but he knew exactly what to do. Apparently, his job was to show everyone the trails and how to take each obstacle. I gave him his head and kept calling back to the group to figure out where to allow him to turn. He became locally known as my "go-go" pony.

I have more stories to tell about Bandit than any other horse that I've owned. (Guinness may be catching up, but not quite yet..) Here are just a few:

  • When I purchased him, I was warned that he had a tendency to lay down while crossing water on trail rides. I wasn't concerned since he wouldn't dare do that with me. Hah! I learned the hard way during our first hunter pace (where he was the only pinto, not to mention the only gaited horse). Our task was to walk a short distance down the creek bed, and when the water reached his knees, down he went. I was wet and embarrassed. After that, I made a deal with him that he seemed to take to heart: If he crossed water politely during our rides, I would untack him later and allow him to wallow to his heart's content.

  • Bandit *loved* watermelon and would become obsessed when he detected it nearby. I once had to struggle to keep him from walking through a campfire to get some.

  • Although he was small, sweet-natured, and willing, he a wasn't a "push-button" pony. Once when a nine year old girl came to visit, Bandit was happy to let her sit on him. But when she tried to make him do what she wanted, he had other ideas. Despite her years of lessons at a local stable, Bandit would "get stuck" in the corners of our pasture! She would patiently dismount, lead him back to the center of the field, and then start over..

Bandit was my perfect partner except for one thing - his age. He was so easy to play with that I neglected to deal with my other two troubled critters (Smokey & Parlay -a young rescue). I decided that if I were to place Bandit, I'd be forced to progress with others. It was a no-brainer whom I wanted Bandit to be with. My farrier's wife, a veterinarian, was feeling a bit unconfident with horses. She was/is small, athletic and sensitive, and would become Bandit's new perfect partner! In 2007 (?), Bandit went to live with Deb and Dave. They had many more adventures together, before retiring him from riding last year when his age really began to show.

Here are just a few photos of Bandit and his new family, in his later years:

Thanks for the memories, Fritos. I hope to someday meet you in Horseman's Heaven.