By Ineka Pastermack
If Zorro were an elementary school student, he would be the one that carries around an epipen and inhaler. He is nervous, tense, and strong-willed. He is part Lusitano and 16 hands on a good day. His name is Spanish for fox, and I think it’s quite fitting. The first time I took a lesson on him, I felt like crying. I didn’t like him. In fact, very few people liked him.
When people ask me how long I have been riding, I answer: “I don’t ever remember not riding.” I have been around horses all of my life, thanks to my grandma. I say she passed the gene to me. Just a year ago, I was in a position to start riding more seriously. I was a sophomore in high school at the time and had made a goal for myself: to receive my USDF Bronze Medal by the time I graduate. But there was a slight problem: I didn’t have a horse, and it just so happened that Zorro didn’t have a rider.
So I took a chance on him. As we jigged through our first lesson of horrible canter transitions, I felt like giving up on him at first, like others had. But there was something about the way he tried too hard for his own good. It reminded me of myself. Soon, I was drawn to take a second lesson on him, after which my trainer told me that Zorro could get me my bronze. I was overly excited, but also wondering how in the world? The most praiseworthy quality of my trainer is that she has “dreamer glasses”. She could see past what Zorro and I were individually to what we could be together. Even though I thought she was crazy, I trusted her, and the journey began.
I spent several months learning Zorro’s quirky personality under saddle, while falling head-over-heels for his sweet nature on the ground. When show season came along, we started out with First Level. I had to rejoice over small victories, such as him walking like a normal horse! Sometimes it felt like we inched along, but before I knew it, we were competing at Second Level.
But just as I was getting ahead of myself and thinking that we could try Third Level, we encountered a two-month setback: in the middle of show season, I went lame. It was more painful for me to sit on the sidelines than the injury itself. Many people think I’m crazy when I say this, but horse people may understand: Zorro knew there was something wrong. On the days I was extra frustrated by not being able to walk, he would do silly things like pull my hair out of my ponytail. He was extra snuggly during that time, which was such a comfort to me.
By the end of my recovery, it would be an understatement to say that I was “chomping at the bit” to get back on. But I was scared: had I forgotten how to ride? Had he forgotten how I rode him? Were we going to have to start over? I had lost all of my strength and was sure that I would have to give up the last show that we had planned for the season. But The Dreamer Glasses had a different plan in mind: with less than a month to train, she convinced me that I could not only enter in the show… but at Third Level!
After several weeks of hard training, the show arrived. Throughout the whole Third Level test, I felt like I was holding my breath. Was this real? Were the pieces finally falling into place? Zorro knew my thoughts, and his job, and he gave me his all. We were both laser-focused and it almost felt like he was showing off.
When I exited the arena, I was sobbing. “Okay, you can stop crying now,” my trainer laughed, “this is a happy time!” But I couldn’t help it, I felt so much emotion after the past nine months of partnership with my firecracker. After I saluted, everything caught up to me: the unusual compatibility between Zorro and me, our setbacks, and our journey, a journey that led to us qualifying for my bronze medal that weekend!