Vaulter Alicen Divita (USA) was set to compete in the CVI in Saumur, France when her beloved horse, Lorino, fell ill. Below Ali recalls some of her favorite memories with Lorino, who is now on the road to recovery.
After my parents graduated from college, my dad got a job in Hawaii. Still living in California, my mom sold her horse to buy a plane ticket to go visit him; my dad told her that one day he would buy her an even better one. Sixteen years and four kids later, my Dad kept his promise. That is how Lorino came into our lives.
I remember that first day when he came to the barn, I took him out of his stall and used all of his new brushes, making his already clean coat even shinier and smoother. I had never had a horse before, but I grew up always wanting one. Even though I was already a young teenager, I felt that same little girl awe as I stood there with my 17.1 hand Hanoverian “pony”.
I remember learning to ride with him. I think I was the smallest girl in the lesson, but Lorino towered over everyone. All of the other girls could control their little ponies and would guide them in a perfectly straight line; daintily leaping over the sweetly arranged jumps one after the other. Then came Lorino and me. Barely making it around the corner, we serpentined towards the center of the arena, reigns being pretty much ignored on both ends, toes pointed into the stirrups, all four of our eyes sparkling at the jump ahead. Lorino would leap with all his might, clearing the 6 inch jump by at least 3 feet, all four feet at the same time, like a mix between a kangaroo and a little boy on a trampoline. It was clear we were going to have to find a creative way to express our “unique” energy.
I remember teaching him what vaulting was about. My mom would get him trotting on the lunge circle, and I would slowly start trotting next to him. Immediately he would stop. I would keep running forward, softly holding his bridle leading him forward, “No silly just like me, keep going.” Eventually he learned to keep going at the canter, and soon I was able to run all the way towards him, grab the grips and use the momentum of his stride to pull myself up onto his back. This is how we learned to work together. When I stand on his back, my legs extend all the way to his hooves, when he pushes off the ground the energy comes all the way back up through my arms. Maybe the director of Avatar was trying to get at this. I am pretty sure that if Lorino and I braided our manes together the result would be slightly more awkward, but the connection is there, it is the most natural feeling in the world.
I remember when I was in high school, coming to vaulting straight from school, totally exhausted and not even sure why I was sad, and just leaning into his shoulder feeling completely safe because he knew. It is that level of communication that does not require words.
I remember walking with him back and forth through the parking lot to cool down after morning practices, both of us still breathing hard. Our heart rates went down as the sun came up, I felt like I was watching the rest of the world wake up. Lorino would push my shoulders with his nose, both of us just being there in the moment. Sometimes Lorino would take advantage of these moments of awe, because he has one fault: food. Somehow he had a way of leading us closer and closer to the trailer each time we circled. Then, just at the right time he would make his mad dash to the cookie jar, pulling me along with him and reminding me that a “lead” line is only defined by the end that can pull harder.
I remember driving all over the country with him and my mom. At each gas stop he would poke his head out the window, ready for his treats: that was the whole point of the ride right? I would feel so proud as people would marvel at how big and pretty he was, he was always the one I told the smallest kids they could pet, “You can always trust Lorino,” I would say.
I remember last year, stumbling through my routine at practice, starting to lose hope as I missed a handstand and landed on my shoulder. With my ear pressed into his back gripping the handles I had a moment of wanting to give up. But with the energy of his stride, I actually felt Lorino encourage me. He put in enough effort for both of us, moving forward he told me I could do it, “Just like me,” he said with his stride, just keep going.
This Sunday was the first time I realized that Lorino is not always going to be there. Coming back from yoga I wondered why my mom wasn’t home, I called my Dad and he told me that they were at the emergency vet. Lorino had been looking uncomfortable earlier that day, but after walking him around for a few hours the vet and trainers said nothing seemed to be seriously wrong. My sister, Shannyn and I got in the car and drove straight out to see him. When I saw him standing there with an IV in his neck, I started to cry. Things got better and worse as the night went on, and eventually it was just my mom and I in the early hours of the morning.
After some much-needed bonding time with my mom, I started thinking about the term paper I was supposed to be working on for my East Asian Art History Class. They say that before Buddha was born as a human he was born hundreds of times as various different animals. I told my mom and she said, “So Lorino could actually be a future Buddha?” A Buddha is supposed to have extreme wisdom. We looked over and Lorino was spraying water everywhere as he scratched his butt on the automatic water dispenser. “I am not sure if wise is the first word that comes to mind,” my mom said. But as we stood there laughing I couldn’t help but think about how good it felt to be there with my mom and our horse, in the middle of the night, during finals week, having completely forgotten about everything I was stressed about earlier that day. Buddhists say we are taught by skillful means; he moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes it is obvious what we learn, or what we take away from our relationships, and sometimes it is a blessing wearing a very strange disguise.
We were lucky that we were able to give Lorino surgery, and he is doing much better now. It doesn’t look like I will be vaulting on him at the selection trials this year, but that doesn’t mean he is not still with me. Just as when we meet new people we bring with us what we have learned from our previous relationships, I know that I will always have what I have learned from Lorino when I vault on other horses and when I continue on in life. We are the result of our different experiences. It is about being strong enough to hold the move steady, but loose enough to absorb the stride. As a rider you may think you are in control, but I think really we are just being taken on a ride. So all I can say is enjoy it, and make sure to keep your eyes open.