We took a trip to what felt like the middle of no-where, but was really only about half an hour from my house. The driveway was rocky and rutted, and the bush we were driving through was virgin, scrubby and dry, with saplings littering the landscape, and a culvert we had to cross that made me say some prayers before we went through it. Our old bronze coloured Ford Falcon was towing a green and yellow wooden-sided two horse float that was as heavy as a tank. I thought it was the bees-knees though. After begging and borrowing lifts to Pony Club for your horse, when you get your own ugly, wooden horse float, you feel like the queen of the desert.
To recap, I had finally got my scabby arms out of those hot, stinky plasters, and although my bones had knitted, my confidence had not. I was petrified to even look at my fancy horse, and even though I had begun the “Seven Games” with her, I was still spending more time avoiding riding and tripping over ridiculously long leads than I was having fun.
After I attended the demonstration at the riding school where nobody died and horse-riding actually looked like fun, I decided I had to get to the bottom of this. I got a few lessons from Danny, the instructor, that to me, looked like he was possessed by some voodoo-horse magic. He (thankfully) also agreed that Genie and I were never going to achieve much more than looking good together, and he had a horse for sale that might be a little more suited to me, albeit no-where near as pretty.
So off we bumped down the dirt track, ready to meet this potential new horse. We pulled up and I look over to see a skinny, bedraggled looking white horse, hiding in the bushes. He looked at me with big, suspicious eyes, and I remember being curious, apprehensive and hopeful all at once.
“Bandit” was introduced to me, and his 14.1hh frame looked huge in my scared mind. His name had apparently been “GameBoy” because the kids that had him before wanted a GameBoy, not a horse. He figured out that he wasn’t wanted, and so he became a master at being unwanted and avoided – chasing kids out of paddocks and seeming very aggressive. I came to learn very quickly that Bandit was not like other horses. He had figured out how to pull the ugliest, scariest faces that would make anyone quake in their boots. His ears would go flat back at lightning speed, his mouth would pull up into a nasty sneer that showed his teeth, his eyes narrowed into mean, black slits and he would shake his head violently – if you didn’t understand what that meant, you were a brick short of a load. But for me, it was love at first sight.
After seeing Danny work him on the ground, and then ride him, there was no way I couldn’t take him home. I tentatively rode around and didn’t die or feel like dying, so that was a definite plus for me. Turns out he was so scraggly looking because he spent most of his time living in the trees, away from the other horses. See, Bandit was extremely aggressive/possessive towards other horses and had lots of stallion-like behaviours. I’m not sure if a nut got left behind there somehere or he had just figured out the only way to survive, like a kid living rough on the street, was to be mean, bigger, badder and quicker than everyone else. Danny’s wife Lee had a gelding named Laddie – He was self -appointed mayor of their herd, and didn’t need no upstart bloody grey thing coming in here with all his bravado and ugly faces trying to throw his weight around! Laddie spent most of his time chasing Bandit into the trees and only letting him come to water for about twenty seconds of each day.
We loaded Bandit up and he came home, king of the new castle.
The first night he arrived he was chilling out with his new paddock mate, sexy Genie. I looked out and here they both were, laying down in the moonlight, under a tree, with their legs neatly folded up under them and their chins resting in the grass. So peaceful. This is where I made mastake number 64 of 10000000000 with horses. I thought to myself in my 11-year old brain, awwwwww how cute. I’d like to go and sit with them. So, in my pea-sized brain I thought it would be a great idea to CRAWL up to Bandit and his gal in the long grass, but do it SLOOOWWWWWLY so as not to frighten them off. To me, I was David Attenborough/The Horse Whisperer. To Bandit, I was Panther/Boogey Man Child. I stealthily crept my way to where they were sitting. Bandit, of course, heard me from about a kilometre away. He picks his ears up and looks at me, like really looks at me whilst I’m slithering through the grass like a mini Steve Irwin, the moonlight giving away my not-so-secret plan. I think, oh, he trusts me enough to let me keep coming cloooossseeeerrrrrrrr….. Next second, Bandit, like a gazelle in one swift movement, jumps to his feet. At the speed of lightning, with sparks almost flying off his hooves, he lunges – for me. Before I know it, this horse has his teeth around my neck and he lifts me up onto my feet, and in a flash, he is gone. I’m left, dazed, and holding my neck and wondering how I ended up on my feet and what is this pain wow breathing kinda hurts and I can see stars, where is my horse…..
After I gathered myself up and realised that my horse had just tried to rip out my jugular, hadn’t succeeded but had definitely left a big, bloody graze around my throat, it was a turning point for me. I really am sure that if Bandit wanted to rip out my throat, he really would have. But here I was, white as a sheet, still standing, in the eerie silence of the night.
I was such an idiot, I could have died. Many people would have shot that horse right there and then, for doing that to a little girl. But I knew, that that was a stupid move – a new horse, a new environment, sleeping, at night, with a mare, and you just crawl up to it?! Like what?!
If I had shot him, I would have lost the best horse that I had ever and probably will ever own. We would go on to do some crazy amazing stuff together. He taught me so much about respecting horses and how to get along with them rather than fight them or cull them because they didn’t fit. Often the most difficult horses are the best. They push you, they cause you to think.
And, in typical kid form, I wore that wound around my neck like a badge of honour, like I had tamed a wild beast and survived to tell the tale. I walked around like I was a warrior, returned from battle or something. But really, I was just an idiot kid who had a lot to learn. And this grey horse would make sure I learned. He would try to bite me every time I put a saddle on him, but I learned how to avoid his razor-teeth, and after a while, I think he just tried to bite me out of habit, rather than aggression. He never, ever once made contact with me (not after the jugular incident), even though to other horses and some people he was actually quite dangerous. Bandit and I became the best of friends, thick as thieves, we were the A-team. I wasn’t fazed by his ugly faces or sharp teeth, in fact I thought they were pretty funny. In turn, he forgave my many many many blunders and always gave me 10000%. We developed this friendship that you only ever hear about in books. I could ride that horse anywhere, and he would give me all his heart. That, is rare. Chase it. Find it. Search for it. Treasure it.