Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the November 20, 1998 edition of the Saddleback Valley News (Orange County, CA) It seems to express the essence of the Arabian horse so completely; it is reprinted with permission.
Carrots in hand, Joe Bailey inches slowly towards Ruisa. “Hey there, honey! Are you hungry?” says the 93-year-old Bailey, holding onto a mesquite wood walking stick. “I’ve got something good for you.” The nine-year-old Arabian horse gently paws at the ground, nudging her head towards Bailey. “You’re such a good girl,” say the Lake Forest resident, as he runs his hand down Ruisa’s back. “Are you happy to see me again?”
Coming to the equestrian center means the world to Bailey, who spent his younger years working with horses on orange grove farms in old El Toro. He grew up a ranch hand, even working on the ranch of the Bennetts, one of the first families to settle in El Toro. Now he is the oldest person to take horseback riding lessons at Serrano Ranch Equestrian Center in Lake Forest.
Back then, Bailey used to own a Spanish barb horse. He recalls how he would mount the horse, which was larger than Ruisa, by simply jumping onto its back. “I knew how to deal with horses back then.” Bailey says. “I still do.”
Bailey, though, takes his lessons slow – he hasn’t actually ridden on Ruisa yet. He does, though, brush and feed Ruisa every Thursday morning. And if he feels up to it, he also rakes her stable. Ruisa’s owner and trainer Trina Tincher, also of Lake Forest, walks Bailey through the hour-long routine every Thursday – free of charge. And it’s for the good of her horse too, she says. Ruisa responds better to Bailey than most other people.
“When he first met Ruisa, she came up to him and put her head on his chest.” says Tincher who usually uses another horse for lessons than Ruisa. “He was crying... He would stay here all day if he could.” Watching Bailey, its evident though the years have passed, he still has that magic touch. Ruisa easily takes to Bailey – allowing him to lean against her while he brushes her mane, even snuggling her head against his cheek at other times.
Bailey doesn’t take much credit for Ruisa’s affection. For him, it’s the natural way of horses. “Horses are so curious about people,” says Bailey, while stroking Ruisa. “They like to be around us as much as we like to be around them.”
Bailey has been coming to the center for the last month. Bailey’s son Joe thought of bringing his father, who usually spends his days resting at home, to the stables. “My father just loves horses, I wanted him to spend time around one,” Ed Bailey says. “I’m glad it makes him happy.”
Ruisa has given Bailey something to look forward to. He wakes up every morning asking whether or not he gets to visit Ruisa, or if he can visit more than just once a week. For today, though, the lesson’s over. Bailey grabs Ruisa by the reins and leads her to her stall. He lingers a bit, patting Ruisa on her nose. “It’s so good to be around a horse,” says Bailey, with tears in his eyes. “After all those years, I never thought it would happen again.”
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