Wednesday, April 30, 2008

all hail the king!

Keil Bay, aka The King, turns 19 years old today. He is a true joy, a benevolent leader, and the best horse a 44-year old "woman returning to riding after 20+ years" could hope to find.

The story of how I found Keil Bay is its own little fairy tale. Tired of shopping for ponies, weary of failed pony pre-purchase vet exams, completely freaked at the cost of finished 12-handers, I sat up late one night and typed in the criteria for my dream horse into DreamHorse: Hanoverian, bay, gelding, dressage training, age between 10 and 18, within 100 miles.

I clicked "submit," knowing that nothing within my price range would appear.

Oddly, that late night in December, ONE horse popped up. It was Keil Bay and he met every criteria. Except that we weren't shopping for MY horse. We were seeking a pony.

Still, I called the number the next day, thinking I would leave a message. The young woman who was handling his sale answered and we ended up talking for nearly an hour. I confessed that I had been shopping as a lark, and that I was nowhere near ready for a horse like Keil Bay.

She suggested I come meet him and take a ride, "just for fun." She commiserated with the difficult pony search. We knew a few horse people mutually. He happened to be stabled on a horse farm that adjoined the private school my husband had attended growing up. I decided it wouldn't hurt anything to go try him out.

My husband dropped me off at the barn where Keil Bay was living. The young woman was handling both his riding and his sale, as his owner was older and having back issues. She didn't want to sell him, but her back couldn't handle his size and width. We went out to the field to get him, and he walked right up and stuck his nose in the halter.

He didn't seem so big walking up the hill, but in the barn, down the long barn aisle, he seemed HUGE. I groomed him and helped tack him up. I watched him go through his motions. He was gorgeous. He did everything through second level perfectly and a few third level movements. His one fault was that in some of the third level movements, he ground his teeth.

When she finished showing him off, I said I didn't think I could ride such a grand horse. She said to get on and just have fun. I got on. We walked. It was amazing. We trotted. That was amazing. We cantered. I had the best ride and looked the best I'd looked in the saddle since I'd returned to riding. I realized as we passed by the long mirrors - not only was Keil Bay gorgeous but he pulled the best ride out of me I'd had since I was a girl.

I was grinning from ear to ear when I finally got off. His trainer agreed that it had been a fabulous ride, and noted that he'd enjoyed it too. And the moment I stepped up to give him a rub, he rested his head on my shoulder. That was it. I knew that moment I had found my horse.

When my husband drove up, he saw the expression on my face and his changed to alarm. "I'm getting this horse." To his credit, he didn't try to talk me out of it. He did mention "but we're supposed to be buying a pony." I knew we were doing things out of order and I was changing everything mid-stride with our equine plans. But I also knew I would regret it forever if I didn't do what it took to bring Keil Bay into our lives.

He had his pre-purchase vet check, and I was very nervous. All those ponies had looked so good and yet had so many problems. The vet went through his list, item by item. Everything went well. He had spotted something subtle though and wanted to do x-rays of the knees. We did the films and he left, promising to call the next morning. When the trainer and I took Keil Bay back to the gelding field, I took his halter off. He turned and waited for his pat, and then galloped madly down the hill to his pals. I looked at the trainer and said "his knees seem fine to me!"

Sometime that night I decided that I didn't care what the films looked like. None of us is perfect. What if Keil Bay and his owner ordered films of MY knees? What might they find? I slept better after making my own quiet decision. The vet called the next afternoon. The films had been so clean for a horse Keil's age, he had taken them to the vet school to have someone else take a look. So Keil Bay passed with flying colors, and the decision was sealed.

I wrote the check for Keil Bay, his custom-fitted dressage saddle, and his bridle, on a cold, icy Sunday morning in December. It was too cold to ride, and we weren't moving him until January 1st. So I went and stood in his stall while he ate hay, and marveled at how amazing it felt to have come all the way around the circle back to that summer day when I was a girl and handed over the money I'd earned to buy my Quarter Horse gelding, BoJinx.

Keil Bay has taught me how to ride big gaits. He helped me overcome my "older rider" fear of flying off his back. He rests his head in my arms and sometimes he bosses me around. He loves his clean stall and his bodywork. He adores his breakfast and good hay. He loves being hosed when it's hot, and he wears his fly mask and his blanket with pride. He's been treated like a king his entire life and in exchange for that care and love, he gives back personality plus. He is without doubt the most communicative horse I have ever known. He tells me when his pelvis is rotated, he tells the chiropractor what needs adjusting. He likes having his breakfast song sung to him in the mornings and has tossed his halter across the barn aisle at me when I've forgotten to sing it.

He has a trot that hangs in the air like an unspoken poem, a snore during hot summer days that rivals any husband's, and a soft eye that melts away all tension and begs for a kiss.

He has only ground his teeth a handful of times since I've owned him, and those were in lessons where he was being pushed hard and perhaps unreasonably. We know better now.

Happy Birthday, Keil Bay. You're my partner in zen.


Mamie said...

Girl, you've got a way about writing that I love. What a beautiful post.

the7msn said...

Yowsah! What a great story...what a great horse. HB, KB, and hugs from all of us at the 7MSN.

billie said...

Thank you, Mamie. That really makes me smile. :)

You're officially requested to be one of my "good readers" when I get the nonfiction book ready for feedback!

billie said...

Thank you, Linda. Your fairy tale is equally great - and I can't wait for the next installment!

Heidi the Hick said...


I nicknamed my half-arab The King too! He was a quirky little horse with a huge attitude. He truly believed he was a stud and gave me constant low grade trouble and I adored him.

He was always aware of a camera. I am not sure how he knew it, but he'd always become more majestic when I was ready to take a picture. The poser!

I love your "fairy tale" because it is so real. He was meant to be yours! Happy birthday King Keil!

billie said...

Heidi, the great thing about finding one of these equine "kings" is that it makes us feel like queens! :)

I'm heading over to catch up with what's going on in your world.

Victoria Cummings said...

Happy Birthday, King KB! It's a great story, beautifully told, and he is a very lucky horse to have been so appreciated for his whole life. No doubt, you're his Queen.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Happy Birthday to the King! He certainly deserves a breakfast,lunch and dinner song today. Reading that wonderful story, there can be no doubt that he was meant to be yours. What a wonderful horse. May he reign on for many more years as your King of Hearts.

billie said...

Thank you, Victoria. When I read stories about some of the things that are done to horses in the name of training, I shudder. Same with horse ownership. Keil had the good fortune to be trained well and with kindness, and I'm only the third woman who has owned him. It's obvious (and was the day I met him) that he has been adored by his three owners and treated well but with common sense. (he can get bossy but will not do anything scary)

There was a sign on his stall door that said "My name is Keil Bay. I love cookies!" Each time I visited him everyone who walked into that huge barn stopped by and gave him one, and once I bought him I must have been told a hundred times how lucky I was to get such a lovely horse. It's true.

I also forgot to add in another piece to the story - when the trainer answered the phone and I told her I was calling about him, she told me right off that he was for sale, but only to the "right person." That his owner did not have to sell him, but wanted him to find someone who could ride him comfortably and who fit with him in interests and personality. So part of me knew that indeed I was "on trial" when I did that first ride. She was not to sell him to anyone who he didn't connect with.

That made it all the more perfect when I brought him home. I send updates to his previous owner about once a year, and she is always delighted to know how well he's doing and how crazy I am about him.

billie said...

Thanks, Arlene. His mantra before we ride (spoken out loud by me as we walk to the arena) is:

the power! the brilliance! Keil Bay!

LOL. He is out there snoring as I type, no doubt!

Enchanted Forrest said...

What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful horse. Happy Birthday Keil Bay!!

billie said...

Thanks, Sue! He has been coming up to the gate every time I go out today. He wants a ride but I'm exhausted with all that's gone on this week and keep telling him to enjoy his birthday with no work involved!

Rising Rainbow said...

Happy Birthday, Kiel Bay!!!!

billie said...

Thanks, MiKael!!

Trailboss said...

I loved that story. I can so relate to getting back into riding after years. Mine was 30yrs. Horses are wonderful animals and I am so grateful to have two!

billie said...

Thank you, Trailboss - your two are lovely! I went and took a peek! :)

Janet Roper said...

Happy Birthday KB! I love romantic stories with good endings. Wishing the two of you many, many more happy years together.

Janet Roper

billie said...

Thank you, Janet... please stop by here tomorrow (it may be evening before I get to post but hopefully I'll get it done before the vet arrives at one) because I'd love your comments on what I'll be writing about!

Janet Roper said...

Thanks for the heads-up. I'm singing Carly Simon's tune 'Anticipation'. ;-)

Janet Roper

Anonymous said...

Keil Bay, the King!

billie said...

Janet: looking forward to your "take."

Matthew: thanks for hailing The King. I know he can be High Maintenance and you pitch in cheerfully on a daily basis!