May 9, 2011
Spanish Mustang horse

Photo by Audrey Pavia

Rio, my Spanish Mustang, has been my dream come true.

As a lifelong horse lover, I’ve always had the dream of raising my own baby horse. Well, at least since I was 9 years old.

My fantasies were elaborate. I’d have a ranch up in the mountains, surrounded by pine trees. My horses — all spotted Appaloosas — would live in a big paddock shaded by the trees. I wanted Appaloosas because they were the horses of the Native Americans, the mounts of the brave Nez Perce of Idaho, a breed with color and history.

My ranch would look like something you’d see on a postcard. In the fall, the aspen leaves would turn golden-yellow. In the winter, the scene would be blanketed with snow. Come spring, wild flowers would spring up in just the right places. Come summer, the sweet smell of pine bark would fill the air.

I’d breed one of my spotted mares, and she’d give birth to a beautiful foal in early spring. The foal would have spots, too. In fact, he’d be black as obsidian, with a white blanket on his rump, covered with huge black sunspots.

In my dream, I’d raise this baby horse, teaching him how to lead, eventually showing him how to respond to voice commands, and finally breaking him to ride. We’d spend hours trail riding, roaming through the mountains, crossing rushing creeks and stopping to gaze at alpine lakes and the eagles that soar over them.

While it was a wonderful fantasy, that’s not exactly how things turned out. Instead of a spread up in the mountains, I have a half-acre ranchette in a far-reaching suburb of Los Angeles. There are no pine trees, no snowy winters and no alpine lakes. But one aspect of the dream did come true—I am raising my own spotted horse.

While Rio wasn’t bred by me or even born in the state where I live, let alone on my own property (I had him shipped here from a breeder in Texas), he’s beautiful and does have a slew of spots. He’s not an Appaloosa, but he’s something better: a Spanish Mustang, the true horse of the Indians and the source of the Appaloosa’s color. 

The fantasy also differs from reality in the training aspect. Rio was almost 2 years old when I got him, so he was already halter broke and knew how to lead. My friend and trainer Lisa took over his education as soon as he got here, teaching him how to pony (be led by a rider on another horse), how to obey voice commands, and eventually, how to wear a saddle and bridle.

A couple of weeks ago, Lisa began riding Rio. She started him out in a 50-foot round pen and graduated him to carrying her through the barn aisles of a friend’s boarding stable down the street. 

The other day, Lisa texted me that she rode Rio on the trail from the stable back to my house — a whopping two blocks. I missed this monumental moment because I was at work when it happened, but I nearly jumped out of my chair with excitement when I got her message.

Rio turned 3 years old in January. Even though his first trail ride wasn’t on a mountain trail with pine trees, bubbling creeks and soaring eagles, it’s still good enough for me. The way I look at it, my fantasy just needed a little readjusting.

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