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By Alie

My name is Alie, and I am 15 years old. I have been around horses since the age of three, and I finally convinced my parents to let me take riding lessons at age 8. I bought my first horse at 13; Matrix was a beautiful black Appendix gelding that could melt anyone's heart. He was coming 4 when I bought him. The first few times I rode him, he bucked me off 3 times in one week, badly shaking my confidence. I started taking lessons again on other horses, and had many different trainers’ work with Matrix. I thought that if I could ride other horses and try and get my confidence back, that I would be able to ride Matrix again without fear. It got so bad that when he would take a side step if something frightened him, I would start crying hysterically and could not continue riding. Fast forward to October of 2004. On my birthday, I went out to see Matrix and to ride him (at this point, I would only walk and do very little trot work with him). I was just about to get on, when I noticed his shoulder muscle twitching. Thus started the long downfall and heartbreak of HYPP. Matrix had this crippling disease. HYPP is a muscle mutation causes muscle spasms and seizures. If anything was worse for my confidence on the ground and riding, this was it. I did ride him a few times, but he stumbled and almost fell with me multiple times. It got so bad that I was coming out to see him everyday and seeing him shake and stumble around. To make a long story short, he ended up going back to the breeders, where he could be out on pasture (which was better for him) and she promised she would never sell him again.

I started looking around for another horse. In early February 2005, I finally found Paloma, a 13-year-old beautiful chestnut mare. She had been abused and was 300 pounds underweight, had the worst sore back, horrible feet, but was the most loving, sweetest mare anyone could find. The big breakthrough for me when I was looking at her was that when I rode her, she wanted to go, go, go! I had to hold her down to a walk, and indeed, the first time I rode her, all we did was walk. Strangely though, I had absolutely no fear when I was riding her. At that point, I knew this was the mare for me. After I got her home, I gave her 4 months off for her back to heal, put weight back on, etc. I would go out everyday and visit with her, not working, just rehabilitating her. It was enough for me just to spend time and get to know Paloma better. During this time, I was also working on getting her feet back up to par. Her feet were so badly cracked and chipped that my farrier put Equilox on her feet to hold them together. During this time, she was sound and ridable. I rode her about 3 times during this period and those rides remain the best in my life. Paloma was one of the best mover's I have ever seen; she floated across the ring. I had no fear at all riding her, and my confidence was coming back in leaps and bounds. Paloma was such a quiet mare (for a full blooded TB) but had her spooky moments occasionally. I worked thorough all of them with her, and I gained so much confidence in the process. Soon though, her feet took a turn for the worst. She was on stall rest for about 2 months. She was so bored during this time, and I was trying to find something I could do with her to mentally stimulate her, and try to prevent bad habits before they started (i.e. Weaving, cribbing, etc.) One lady at the barn I boarded at had changed her mare's life around with clicker training, so I decided to give it a try. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! Paloma quickly caught on to the target training, and her real personality started to shine through. Over the course of her stall rest, she learned how to nod, give kisses, give hugs, pick up her foot when I pointed at it, "smile" by raising her upper lip, and pick up things and hand them to me. Because of Clicker training, Paloma and I developed a bond that could not be broken. She trusted me, and in turn, I trusted her. She and I were the best of friends, and I know she loved me and knew how much I loved her. It was the way in which I was the only one who she would let rub her face, and the way her eyes would light up, and how she’d nicker softly when I approached her stall.

In early October, I decided to move Paloma closer to me (previously, she had been 45 minutes to an hour away). Now she was only 5 minutes. Paloma absolutely LOVED her new home. Everyone loved her, and you could just see how happy she was at her new barn. She quickly made friends with all the geldings in the aisle way, and had such happy times frolicking in her pasture laden with lush green grass.

Sadly though, tragedy struck. On October 26, 2005 I was on the bus to school, when my friend rushed onto the bus and held out her cell phone, telling me to call my mom right away, that she was crying hysterically. For some reason, that was the one day I had turned my cell phone off. A million things were running through my head; had my father been in an accident, had my mother been raped? I dialed my number with shaking fingers, and when my mom came on the phone, she told me that this was the hardest thing that she ever had to tell me. She proceeded to tell me that there had been a horrible barn fire in the main barn at the farm Paloma was at. None of the horses had made it, with 10 dead in all. My beautiful sweet Paloma had died. The only consolation was that when the investigators and the vet's were going though the ruins, they found Paloma in a sleeping position, with her head tucked in to her chest. She hadn't had to suffer through the flames; she had died from the smoke inhalation first, and what probably happened is that she went to sleep and never woke up.

Paloma was the best horse I have ever had. Her lively spirit is engrained in my memory forevermore. She was the horse that gave me my confidence back. Because of her, I do not have my deep-seated fear issues about riding anymore. She gave me my life back, and in turn, I like to think that I have done a good thing by making the last year of her life a good one after her previous abuse. My mother told me that whenever a loved one dies, the person closest to them would get a sign in the next 3 days after the death. On the 3rd day after the fire, I was driving and saw a full rainbow illuminating a dark sky, like a ray of hope. While I was looking at the rainbow, I saw something white that looked like a dove flitter across it. "Paloma" means, "dove" in Spanish, and I knew that Paloma had crossed over to the other side. This event was particularly meaningful because I had just received a beautiful animated poem from one of my friends about how when a pet dies, they cross over the rainbow bridge where they are not hurting anymore, and they faithfully await the day when their beloved owner will join them. Even though she is not on this earth anymore, the bond we had still lives on in memory, and I know I will see her again someday.