My Beautiful Shiloh

by Dianna Dandridge-Rystrom

Holidays have always been hard for my family. It seems if anything bad can happen it will happen during what should be special times of good memories. Christmas of 2005 was no different, maybe it was the worst we could ever remember.

Mama had been in the hospital off and on all through the summer and fall. Just before Thanksgiving I had to call her and tell her I had to have her little dog, which I had been caring for, put to sleep. Jewel had a ulcerated upper digestive tract and was coughing up blood. The vet said it wasnít going to get any better. Mama didnít take the news very well. She started to cry and told me she knew I did what had to be done for Jewel.

About a week before Thanksgiving I asked Mama when did she want me to come get her for Thanksgiving. She told me not this year. She wasnít feeling up to a two hour car ride and thought it would be best if she just rested at home that year.

I didnít like it, but I said okay, there really wasnít much else I could do. I called her every day, but it seemed like she was slipping farther and farther away.

Then on Dec. 1, I had a job interview and felt really good about the prospects. Because of the interview I went to work with my hair fixed and wearing make-up, something I just never did. I hadnít even got to my work station when one of the managers approached me with a phone number and policemanís name.

I knew it was bad news. I was right. Officer Brown from the Lubbock Police Department told me Mama had been found dead that morning by the home health nurse.

For a brief time my world slipped away. How could I go on without Mama? Who was I going to talk to?

Somehow I managed to pull myself together and arrange the funeral and start the horrible task of cleaning out Mamaís apartment. I knew where all the paperwork was, so that was where I started. In the file box, on top of the insurance papers and tax forms was a letter, written to me in Mamaís still beautiful cursive writing. In it she said she knew I was crying if I were reading the letter, but she hoped that I could move past the tears and find enjoyment in my life.

The letter went on to say that I would be receiving a small settlement from a law suit she had been involved in. Mama left specific instructions for me to do something just for me when I got the settlement. The letter said she didnít want me to put shoes on the kids or tires on the car, but do something just for me.

At the first reading of that letter I couldnít care in the least. My heart was too broken over losing my best friend. But, I knew I had to get the apartment cleaned out and went to work sifting through all her stuff.

Since Christmas was approaching, I wasnít surprised to find a number of little gifts wrapped and addressed to me and the kids. In one package were two little horse figurines with my name.

I knew then that Mama had never gotten over me never getting a horse of my own. All the old memories washed over me. All the nights I spent with friends who had horses; the Christmas Daddy told Mama he had gotten me a horse and Mama got me a saddle and bridle, only to realize he traded the horse for a bottle of booze and all I got was the saddle. Not a good Christmas.

Looking back I realized every year she had gotten me something related to a horse, whether it was a book, a figurine or tickets to see the amazing Austrian Lippizans when they came to town.

Finally, the apartment was clean, keys turned in and all of Mamaís stuff was now at my house waiting to replace a lot of my junk. I moved Mamaís TV armoire into the living room and set all my horse figurines, including the two new ones, on top, and didnít think about the horses again. That is not until the following summer when a friend bought a horse for her daughter and I was there to see Geronimo delivered.

He was a tall, leggy beautiful sorrel paint, twenty some odd years old, but a great starter horse for a kid. Something inside of me just told me Destiny would lose interest pretty easy, but this might give me the chance to at least be around a horse for a while. I could at least mess with him when I went out to visit.?

That was only the beginning of the story. The couple, Jenny and BJ Coker, who delivered Geronimo, had supper with us that evening and in the course of conversation they figured out how much I had always wanted a horse. They also learned I was having a hard time with my kids and needed some relief from the pressures I was dealing with. We all said good night and I figured that was about the end of our association.

Little did I know it was the beginning of a life-long dream.

A few days later my friend called and asked me to come out for supper. The Cokers were waiting when I got there. Jenny asked me if I would be interested in a horse, because they had one that needed a good home and they would work on the price with me.

That evening we all drove over to their place and I got my first look at what would become my new best friend. Oh he was beautiful! A lovely blood bay with a white off sock and thin white strip down his nose. Not only was he beautiful, but he had a great pedigree to boot. Oh yeah! I was in love.

The Cokerís said they would deliver him in a few days, but I needed to go arrange board for him and feed and all the other things that were necessary.

Everything just seemed to fall into place. A friend was moving his horses and let me have his stall and the remainder of the rent. Someone else put me in touch with a man selling round bales of hay and he would deliver one for me and let me pay him later.

This would be the last gift my Mama would ever give me. Somewhere I couldnít help but wonder if she would be pleased that I was following her instructions for once as well as finally getting my horse. Finally everything was set and the day came when we went to the Cokerís to get my beauty.

I already had a name for him -- Shiloh. Shiloh was penned in a good size pen and was not up to being caught. BJ worked for maybe 10 minutes to get a rope on him. In the process I got to see just how magnificent he really was. He was long and lean with what should have been a flowing mane and tail, but were for the moment tangled in I donít know how many cockle burrs. BJ finally got a rope on him and handed him over to me. For the next little bit I walked him around the pen, just talking to him, getting to know him.

Jenny told me he was nearly four, but was too small for the work they did and he was just being wasted by not being ridden. She also said he had been in the pasture for the better part of two years without being handled. We got him loaded in a trailer, but not without incident. It didnít take me long to realize I had my hands full. I wasnít real sure if I was up to the task, but I was too enamored to back out now.

The real rodeo began when we got to the stables near town. As it turned out Shiloh had only been trailered twice in his life and had never been out of the country. BJ put a second lead rope on him and it took all we could do to keep him on the ground. He gave a very good rendition of the Lone Rangerís horse, Silver. He was up on his hind legs and pawing the air, all we needed was the music!

We walked him in between the rows of stalls to his new home, or at least we tried. We finally got him down to the bottom row of stalls and got him in and closed the gate. BJ handed me the lead ropes and said good luck. As I watched him pace and test the fencing I realized every horse I had ever really formed an affinity to had always been a bay. And, right in front of me was this beautiful creature with great bloodlines and all mine!

I hung out at the stables till well after dark, just watching him; talking to him, trying to get him to calm down. The Cokers had said it would be best not to feed him that first night, just let him get used to the place, so he went hungry that night.

That night might have been a fiasco if I had let it bother me, but right then nothing could upset me. As darkness came in, I had turned on the headlights to my car, just so I could stay there a while longer. I must have stayed longer than I thought because the battery went down and I wound up having to walk nearly a mile to the house in a pair of new boots which were giving me fits. Thatís okay, because I had to walk back the next morning and get someone to jump start the car. Still nothing could go wrong not as long as I had Shiloh.

I fed him that morning, but he was still terribly nervous. I had to be careful. The slightest fast movement could make him bolt away. For the next week or so I spent every available moment in that pen -- talking, brushing, combing, feeding-- just enjoying the very essence of the animal.

Slowly he calmed down and started looking for me when I came down the alleyway to his pen. I took that as a good sign that he was beginning to accept me.

About ten days into the venture I managed to get a halter and lead rope on him, but he wasnít happy. He jerked back and ran corner to corner, bucking and squealing. He moved so fast I didnít dare try to move. All I could do was hope he realized I was there and avoid me.

The owner of the stables, Jimmy Payne, came by about then and suggested I leave the rope and halter on him over night, till he got used to it. The next morning the rope was in tatters, but Shiloh had calmed down.

I donít know what I would have done without all the help from Jimmy. He just laughed at all my mistakes and tried to show me a better way. He was a true cowboy at heart and an all-around good guy.

After the lead rope and halter incident, progress with Shiloh moved forward at a nice pace. It wasnít long before I was able to get to work on that tangle of mane and tail. With pliers and a stiff comb I slowly worked the burrs and tangles out. The pliers crushed most of the burrs, so they could just be combed out, but every once in a while one just had to be cut, leaving his mane and tail ragged and uneven. It would take nearly a year for the damage to repair itself. In the meantime, I couldnít bring myself to cut it just to even it out.

A couple of weeks went by and I hadnít even had the saddle on him, but I knew the time was coming. Finally one day, I knew I needed to get the saddle. I still had the old saddle my mom had gotten for me all those years ago. It was old when I got it and time had not improved it any at all.

It was an old Bob Marr 1910 saddle with brass D-rings and a very dry old cinch. It had been used a few times in the years since I got it, but not very often. For the most part it had simply been part of my dťcor for years.

Shiloh stood still, tied to the fence as I got the saddle out of the car. (By the way Dodge Neons were never meant to haul tack, feed and all the other gear, but we do what we have to.)?

?Shiloh never even moved as I brought the saddle and pad into the pen.

A few minutes later it was a different story. He flinched as I laid the pad across his back, but kept all four feet on the ground. Then came that great big hunk of leather. He didnít like that much. I think he threw it off him seven times that day. Every time he threw it off, I would put it back on. Each time he let it stay on his back a little longer.

We went through this for the better part of a week before I could even attempt to fasten the cinch. When he finally stood still for about ten minutes I decided it was time to draw it up a little. Strangely enough he let me pull it up, skin tight before he had had enough. Two or three more days would pass, with him allowing the cinch to be pulled a little tighter each time. I got it snug tight and decided to see what he would do if I turned him loose.

Old saddle, dry cinch, young horse -- not a good idea. He took a long deep breath and all hell broke loose. He exhaled, stretched the cinch till it broke, the saddle slipped and the rodeo began.

Before I could get him stopped, Shiloh had rolled on the saddle tearing the rear cinch loose and freeing my beauty from the restraint. It was sometime later that I realized his escapade had broken the old tree in my saddle. It wasnít worth repairing, but now I had to find another saddle. So, for a short time he was reprieved from more necessary evils associated with riding, but not from training.

For the next several days I just walked him up and down the alleyways until I thought he was ready for the round pen. Then one Saturday afternoon I took him in. The real work was about to begin.

Shiloh led easily enough and followed me through the gates without a problem. As soon as I got into the pen I realized I had forgotten my driving whip. I turned him loose in a steel round pen where the walls were higher than his head, and went out the gate. The racket that ensued made me extremely glad I had not yet tried to ride this beauty, no matter how good his manners seemed to be.

He had never been where he couldnít see out. He whinnied, screamed, charged the walls and the gate. He reared up on his hind legs, pawing the air.

For right or wrong, I thought it might be best if I left him there for a while. I went to get the whip and heard his screams all the way back to the barn. Arriving at the round pen I just sat down against the wall until the ruckus calmed down -- maybe an hour.

Finally I opened the gate to the most pitiful of sights-- my beauty covered in sweat, lather and sand. His head hung down and it seemed as if all the spirit had gone out of him. He was a far cry from that wild, prancing free spirit of a few weeks past. I walked up to him and for the first time I think he actually acknowledged me and was actually happy to see me for reasons other than feeding time.

Even if I had had the heart to work him, he didnít have the energy. I just loved on him, petted him some and let him catch his breath. Walking back to the barn, Shiloh stayed so close to me he would step on my heels, which is a big no-no. I pushed him back, but understood he was accepting me as his safety. He knew he was safe as long as he stayed close to me. As that happened he learned a hard lesson that day which would be good for him in the days to come.

For the next ten days or so I continued to put him in the round pen every chance I got. Jimmy came around again to offer some pointers and much needed help. He loaned me some training tapes, which gave me a far better understanding of what I was supposed to be doing in the round pen with the horse.

Shiloh caught on pretty quick, understanding that if I dropped the driving whip to my side he was supposed to come to me, otherwise I kept him moving. Standing at my side, getting petted and loved on was far better than being driven in circles in the deep sand.

In that time I managed to buy a used roping saddle. It was a good enough saddle and one that I ultimately found comfortable to ride in. The day finally came when we were going to try the saddle again. The training tapes had said I should start him in a familiar place. By now he was used to the round pen and I didnít want him to lose the comfort zone of his stall, so I chose the round pen.

I dropped the saddle and saddle pad off in the round pen before I ever went to get Shiloh. I brought him up and turned him loose in the round pen, hoping he wouldnít destroy the saddle.

He really wasnít even that interested in the saddle. The saddle pad, though, was a different story. He picked the pad up, tossed it in the air, retrieved it, shook it, again and again.

I donít know what kind of vendetta he had against that pad, but he was getting his revenge. When Shiloh finally quit throwing the saddle pad I went in with the lead rope and started the saddling process again, this time with the new saddle and pad.

He amazed me. He never even flinched when I put the pad on. Never moved a muscle as I lowered the saddle. He even looked like he was dozing as I started fastening buckles, clips, and making adjustments. For all practical purposes this was old stuff to him.

I wasnít fooled for a minute! There was no way I was going to ride him just yet.

I turned him back into the round pen and started our drills again. He made about two laps before he decided he had had enough.

Rodeo was on!

I had been warned this might happen, so I just let him go. The only time I moved in closer to him was when he looked like he was about to try to roll. I wouldnít let him lie down on that new saddle.

He bucked, pitched, squealed, bit at the cinch and bumped up against the fence for the better part of a half hour. By the time he was through lather was coming off his flanks and was covering the breast collar. About the time he finally decided to look at me, I dropped the whip and let him come in.

That saddle was so loose it would turn nearly halfway to either side. My poor baby was all give out. I went ahead and pulled the cinch tight, just to see what else he would do.

I guess for the moment he figured there was nothing he could do. He stood there, dripping sweat and breathing hard. As Jimmy said, it was good for him. I let him just stand there until his breathing came back to normal and the sweat started to dry. His head still hung down below his knees. He didnít have any fight left in him, for the moment. We walked back to the stable and for the first time he didnít try to walk so fast that I had to pull him back. We got to the pen and I just threw the lead over the top rail of the fence. He wasnít going anywhere. I pulled the saddle off and his ears finally perked up. He raised his head and actually turned to look as if making sure the abominable thing was gone. I brushed all the sweat off him and turned him loose in the pen. He didnít even look around for a place to roll. He just collapsed, trying to get the feel of all that leather off his hide.

I fed him that night, but I donít think his supper had the same allure it had had previously. The next night, after work, it started all over again. With pretty much the same results. Each night it got easier. Each night the tantrums grew shorter, until at long last he made the laps around the round pen just as if he were bareback.

Then came the next stage, saddling him and leaving him tied, for a few hours. By the time we got to the round pen, he was already short tempered and he had to pitch and moan for a while, but not long. He was smart enough to realize the worst he behaved the harder it was on him. He quickly came around to where I was standing and just stood there, waiting for me.?

?Gradually I added more weight onto the saddle using feed bags filled with sand. If he threw them nothing or no one got hurt.

The first time I tried to get in the saddle I was more than a little nervous. He had been saddled and tied for about four hours. I walked him into the round pen and he just looked around. He saw the small step ladder I had brought in and basically ignored it.

A few laps and he was paying attention to me. I walked him up past the ladder and made him stop. Surprisingly enough he let me climb the ladder and get my foot in the stirrup. He tried to move off, but when I said whoa, he stopped. I couldnít believe how badly I was shaking!

For the next twenty minutes or so we just walked in circles in the round pen. I was even afraid to make him change directions. And a walk was fast enough. After all, if he was going to throw me I wanted as little momentum as possible behind me when I hit the ground.

Shiloh did great. Thereís nothing in the world that can describe the ecstasy of a first ride. I knew there were still mountains to cross and tantrums to be dealt with, but this was the first huge big step in life-long friendship.