Toward the end of my time in Saudi Arabia, Kemo took me back to the stall where he had been kept before I owned him – a row of stalls down and back away from the others. Kemo had had a bad reputation as a difficult horse, a dangerous horse. I bought him with no horse experience. I learned everything I know about horses because of him. His issues were numerous – over supplemented and under-exercised, isolated, badly fitting tack, long neglected teeth (in both senses of the word long), and his poor hooves – the team which led to the corrective trimming had never seen such bad hooves, and his were often used for training in the barefoot trim circles.
We started ground work and walking, while I learned and learned. Instructors came and went, some of better or worse qualities. Most refused to ride Kemo to demonstrate their lessons. I wondered if he would ever be safely ridden. One instructor used to laugh at us, and tell me how I would hit the sand.
We adjusted his food, trimmed his hooves, bought new tack that fit him, and a bit that was kind to his mouth. We had his teeth done, and walking turned into riding, and riding turned into training.
At the end of the four years I had him, he glowed with health. Children could ride him. He competed in games and gymkhanas, and we rode trails across the desert.
Kemo loved pranks. One of his favorites was to untie the safety release knot while I worked. The other was to refuse to lift his foot of the ground when I asked. Due to all of his issues, whenever he would refuse to lift it, I would panic that something was wrong with him, until I started to notice a particular glance he would give me. If I asked anyone…and I mean anyone…else to lift his foot, he would do it with no problem, and I swear I could hear him chuckle at me through that same sly glance.
I traveled to Thailand to train in the classical school. My riding improved as did Kemo’s health. We had many adventures together. So, when I thought I might have to leave him, my heart was torn. And it was then that he took me back to that first stall. “See where I was?” He seemed to ask me. I dismounted, and we went in there. I remembered how he had refused to look at me when I had started visiting him. He always turned his tail to me. And now, here were having just completed a lovely ride (Kemo’s choice – on this particular ride, I let him take me wherever he wanted to go) – and then he brought me here, and I was undone. I squatted down in the sand of the stall and wept, while he nuzzled my helmet.
Someone had named him Kemo, to mean “friend”. But the grooms who tended him told me that Kemo also meant Thunder, and that calling someone thunder also meant they were trouble. And so it was that Kemo was my friend, my good trouble, and the sweeping thunder of hooves pounding the desert sand.