I have been trying to write this post for a week, and it hasn't been coming out right. A week ago, Ethan and I had kind of an amazing day, you could even say a once-in-a-lifetime kind of day, and I haven't figured out quite how to describe it to you. I have deleted a couple of attempts that sounded like name-dropping or bragging, and the ramblings of a silly, starry-eyed fangirl. So, now I've decided to just write this from the heart, and trust that all of you, my cherished blog followers, will know that I'm not being boastful or ridiculous.
One of the most wonderful things about being Ethan's girlfriend is that, where I can be a little socially awkward and lacking in self-confidence, he is incredibly self-assured and makes friends really easily. I have to force myself to introduce myself to someone I want to meet, whereas Ethan is naturally outgoing and easy to talk to, and people seem to remember him (obviously, I couldn't forget him when I met him). Ethan seems to not have the running commentary in his head that I do, constantly trying to decide if I'm saying or doing the right thing. Which means, in general, he takes more chances than I do. And sometimes I'm lucky enough to tag along.
So, last year at the Horse World Expo, Ethan made friends with Peg and Terry Helder, the owners of Evergreen Farm. They breed paint horses, and have the stallion Paint Me Hobby, who is somewhat of a celebrity in the paint horse world and has sired a whole slew of world champion barrel racers and performance horses. Some of Paint Me Hobby's progeny have gained some fame in the ring with Guy McLean, including Lightning and Champion. Pennsylvania Equestrian did a very cute story on how the Helders and the McLeans met, which, in case you don't click that link, involves a blizzard and an Australian couple unfamiliar with Pennsylvania in February and the need for four wheel drive.
Back to my story. My wonderful boyfriend made friends with the Helders, who for all their success in the horse industry are just kind-hearted, down to earth horse people like you and me. Ethan told Terry that he'd love to see their farm sometime, and Terry told him, in that good-natured cowboy way of his, to "come on by" anytime. Now, if that were said to me, I would have assumed he was just being polite and I would have thought I'd be imposing to take him up on it.
|Denny giving me the side-eye at the Expo.|
This horse sees right through me.
Thankfully, Ethan is nothing like that. He had hoped we'd run into the Helders again at the Expo this year, but since we didn't have a horse with us, we weren't back in the barns at all. We did see Terry win the trail champion class, but didn't actually get to chat with him. But, when Guy and Emily mentioned that they'd be at Evergreen for a bit after the Expo, Ethan grabbed one of the Evergreen Farm cards from Guy's booth, and sent Peg Helder an email. Ethan told them how much we have enjoyed watching Guy work their young horses, and would love to come out and see the farm and maybe see Guy work a little bit. Ethan had asked Guy, who said it was okay with him, as long as it was okay with Peg and Terry.
We didn't hear back for about a week, and I kind of figured it wasn't going to happen. But then one evening I was in bed reading my book, and Ethan came in and said, "I just got an email." The grin on his face told me exactly who it was from. So, last Saturday morning, we dropped Taz off at Ethan's parents for the day and headed out to Pennsylvania. I don't think I even need to describe to you how excited we were that morning, but if you think back to your best Christmas ever, when you knew you were getting something that was at the very tippy-top of your list, that would just about cover it.
When we got to the farm, we headed down to the indoor ring, since someone told us "Guy's down in the indoor." You know, like it's just an every day thing for us to be showing up somewhere for a private visit with Guy McLean. No big deal.
|"You really don't get out much, do you?"|
When we came in, Denny was tied just outside the ring, and gave me the old side-eye again. I tried to contain my excitement at realizing I was standing in a barn just feet away from one of Guy's horses. If ever a horse has rolled his eyes at someone, I am fairly certain that Denny rolled his eyes at me, grinning like a fool at him. When we came around the corner, Guy saw us and gave us that thousand watt smile of his and I honestly could not believe that he was greeting us like old friends. The whole thing felt so surreal. Here was our hero, up on his horse, and here we were, just standing around like we belonged there.
Guy was on Ash when we got there and Lightning was tied in the corner of the ring. I must confess, I didn't take notes or snap a bunch of photos while I watched him work. I usually try really hard to document his work for you guys, but this one was for me. I will tell you, however, that five minutes after our arrival, I saw Guy do something I have never seen before - a line of three tempis followed immediately by laying the horse down while mounted. His work ended with his famous move, side-passing Ash and Denny overtop of Lightning (something I've never seen him do with Lightning before). To say that Guy is uniquely talented is such a bland understatement. It's sometimes hard to believe your eyes.
|All in a day's work|
I will also tell you that what you see Guy do in the ring during his demos is exactly what he does at home. He is not hiding a thing from his audience. He worked with Ash on his own, then brought Lightning and Denny into the ring to work at liberty. I saw him work on many of the same things he worked on at the Expo: getting Lightning and Denny to work as a team with Ash, sharpening Ash's skills as a ridden horse when Lightning and Denny ran off, working with the horses' instincts, staying calm, staying focused, being patient and understanding. I still can't quite wrap my head around the fact that I had a private audience with one of the world's greatest horsemen that day. He let us ask questions, he explained some of what was going on, and I tried to soak up each moment. One of those times when you can feel memories being made as they are happening.
|Denny, Lightning, and Ash|
Guy showed us this absolutely beautiful colt, who he purchased from the Helders and plans to have with him at the Expo next year, the last of the line of horses the Helders intend to breed. This horse is stunning, the kind of baby that is full of so much talent that he could definitely get himself into trouble in the wrong hands. You should see him trot, he absolutely floats on air. I watched Guy do a short, productive ground work session with him and was amazed at how both Guy and this young horse moved so fluidly and gracefully around the ring. I always feel so uncoordinated when I work in hand with Tucker, and yet there is Guy with this golden bundle of energy on the end of his lead, working with him as calmly as if he was just walking down the sidewalk, and the colt just as easily stepping sideways and reaching under himself, yielding to pressure, his little ears flicking back and forth showing the wheels turning within. They already look like a strong team.
|Happy after his work|
Terry introduced me to Paint Me Hobby, who has the air of a satisfied gentleman, content in the knowledge that he will be leaving behind an impressive legacy. He came to the fence to greet his public, and I asked if I could give him a mint (because when you own a Tucker, you never leave home without mints in your pockets). Terry said, "if he'll eat it," with a smirk that unquestionably said that cowboys do not give treats, and their horses most certainly do not eat mints. But Hobby took my offering, and sucked on it for a while, trying to figure out if he liked it. He eventually got around to chomping on it, and had that look on his face of being surprised to discover something new and enjoyable after all these years.
That could have been the end of our visit and it would have been an amazing day. But there was more in store. When Guy was done working the horses, he blanketed them and led the three of them to turnout. As we got to the driveway, Emily (Guy's wife) pulled up in their big truck with lunch. Ethan and I were then treated to sharing a meal with Guy, Emily, and Terry Helder. (Peg was off the farm that day.) I don't need to tell you, when I went to wash my hands I had to steel myself to not allow my giddy excitement to take over.
But once we settled in, turns out we were just five horse people, sharing a meal, talking horses, telling funny stories. I learned that Emily has a dressage background, and used to perform as a trick rider. I learned that Guy also worked with Percherons back home, training them for police work. I also learned that if you can make Guy McLean truly and genuinely laugh, it is an uproarious, joyful noise that comes with loudly slapping his palm on the table, and it will feel like the greatest thing you've ever done in your whole life.
We spent a lovely couple of hours around the Helders' kitchen, and then took a walk up the hill to say goodbye to Guy's amazing team, who were contentedly munching grass in a happy herd. Ethan and I shared a sigh, arm-in-arm, watching them graze.
|Superstars, just being horses.|
We have been casually reminding each other for the past week that we went to Evergreen and had lunch with the McLeans. "Where did we go for lunch last Saturday, I can't remember?" "Honey do you remember the name of that nice Australian couple we had pizza with last weekend?" "Hey, remember that time the Helders invited us to Evergreen?"
The Helders and the McLeans both had nothing to gain from letting us come and visit, but it meant so much to us. I suppose they didn't exactly lose anything, either, since they were just going about their day, but I think you know what I mean. There's a saying about how you can judge the character of a man by how he treats someone who can do absolutely nothing for him. This felt a lot like that.
I'm still not sure if I explained it well enough, and I don't know if it's really sunk in for either of us. It was a very special day, and I'm still so very grateful to have spent the time with such incredible horses and amazing horsemen.