Friday marks the 16th year since I adopted a horse sight-unseen off of the Internet. It seems improbable that such an innocuous event could actually change a person’s life (perhaps empty one’s wallet, but not change one’s life). And yet, this purchase put me on a completely different life path.
I purchased Cleopatra with a naiveté that I never suggest anyone indulge in when purchasing a horse. In truth, the horse who was advertised as being trained for trail, and just needed “a week of work,” in reality was untrained and in desperate need of veterinary care. In retrospect, I should not have purchased her, given my lack of knowledge about horse training (riding lesson horses is far different than training a green horse!). The rescue, in their defense, was trying to prevent horses like Cleo from being sent to the slaughterhouse, although it would have been nice to know exactly what I was getting into. Buyer beware, and all that, however. I purchased Cleo on a Wednesday and the rest of the herd was shipped out to the slaughterhouse on Friday, two days later.
Working with Cleo, and learning along with her, are still some of my most treasured and painful memories. We shared a bond that I don’t believe I will ever imitate with another horse; while I have incredible relationships with many of our horses, especially with Tamahome and Gypsy, Cleo and I shared so many experiences and emotions that it seemed that sometimes we shared both a heart and a brain. That being said, Cleo was the most difficult horse I have ever worked with (and hopefully ever will). She was high strung, overly sensitive, and could hurt herself in a padded cell filled with feathers. She was always on the thin side, and usually refused to eat her grain (unless I hand fed it to her). She was both a diva (hence the middle name Scarlet, from Scarlet O’Hara) and somehow managed to be down-to-earth at the same time.
As I said, my life changed forever the day I purchased Cleo. Without Cleo, I would never have gained the knowledge or riding ability I needed to start Hanaeleh. Cleo pushed me to study different types of training and riding disciplines, and taught me to ride and train for the horse’s needs and enjoyment as much as my own. Without Cleo in my life, I don’t know when I would have started Hanaeleh. She is the horse in our logo and my inspiration to find those horses who have been pushed aside, who just need someone to believe in them to find their greatness. Without Cleo, I would never met the friends I have now. I am thankful when I think about how many people I have met through Hanaeleh, who I would never have known otherwise. Without Cleo, I might still have a horse, but I would not be the person I am today. Researching horse slaughter pushed me to become vegetarian, as the more I researched, the more hypocritical I felt by eating any meat. I am truly a different person for having known her.
I still have the bill of sale that transferred Cleo into my life on May 29, 1999. “#56, Bay Arab Mare” went from a potential slaughterhouse victim to the inspiration that started Hanaeleh. Cleo was taken from me in January, 2006, in a horribly traumatic way, although losing any friend is difficult. In many ways, I still mourn her loss. At the same time, I find solace in the fact that I continue to use what she taught me to help our horses now, and somehow that helps keep her spirit alive. I am forever grateful for having known her, and wish only that we could have had more time together.
President and Founder, Hanaeleh