Nuala Galbari leans in close to the large, winsome face of Captain Jack as he, in turn, bends toward her lilting, soft voice; he cocks an ear.
Quickly, before she steps into the stirrup to hoist herself up, she whispers a little mantra of sorts, a haiku, inspired by her new, gentle friend, and laced with the literary flair of a children’s book author, and native of Ireland.
“Captain Jack,” Galbari says,
“I love you
I trust you
I will take care of you
You will take care of me
Let’s go for a ride!”
With that, the 58-year-old children’s book author— who has previously worked in advertising, as an aviation journalist, and as a flight attendant—climbs into the saddle. And she marvels that through all life’s twists and turns, which began with a childhood spent riding with her father in Belfast, Ireland, and took her around the world with the airlines, she eventually settled in Virginia, in 2005. Horse country!
But horses were the last thing on her mind until one day, driving back home from Baltimore, she noticed a sign on the roadside advertising riding lessons.
“This was last June. I don’t know how I plucked up the courage to set up a lesson,” she says. After all, it had been a long time since she’s last been on a horse, and learning to ride again, at nearly 60, was not without its reasons to hesitate.
To her delight, she quickly recapture her childhood joy in the saddle, even if her muscle memory was not so quick to bounce back!
Race name: Well Ack Ack
New name: Captain Jack Sparrow of Skibbereen
Sire: Well Noted
Dam: Cut The Ack
Foal date: May 17, 2006After nine glorious months riding a retired Hanoverian hunter/jumper, she ventured one night onto the website equine.net, and there, she saw a picture of ex-racehorse Well Ack Ack, grandson of the famous Florida stallion, Notebook.
“People suggested I look for a mature, well-trained horse. But, I happened to find Well Ack Ack, who was owned by two U.S. Army majors, who’d bought and retrained him. They said he was a really good guy, well behaved, and great with children,” Galbari says.
She asked to see videos of him under saddle; they sent her videos. She asked to have him shipped two hours to her farm; they loaded him up and sent him on his way.
And the gelding himself, young and full of spirit, held himself in check as he politely responded to her cues.
“On our first ride I felt so comfortable with him. He was very responsive to me, and he stopped when I asked,” she says. “Here I was, a 58-year-old learning to ride again, and he was only five-and-a-half. I realized there could be a problem, and yet, every instinct told me we should take him.”
Since purchasing him this past November, and renaming him Captain Jack Sparrow of Skibbereen, or Jack for short, Galbari reports she is overjoyed with her first horse.
Taking it slowly, under the watchful eye of their riding coach, they have practiced walk, trot and canter, have enjoyed several trail rides, and even learned to keep cool when a wayward band of deer crossed their path.
“One day, a few deer jumped a fence next to the arena, and looked around at them. So I said, ‘Oh, look at that, Jack!’ and I let out a big sigh. And he let out a big sigh,” she says. And that was that. On they went with the ride.
Galbari finds that when she keeps calm, Jack does too. And for added security, she recently switched saddles, going from a hunter/jumper to dressage. “He is much better since I switched saddles. He’s calmer and I have a much more secure seat,” she notes.
With him, her goals are simple. First and foremost, she wants to make sure she has a “very happy horse.” Secondarily, she plans to work at very basic dressage and hopes to hack on the natural park trails in the area.
Galbari loves nature. She was inspired to write a children’s book The Woods of Wicomico about the creatures and sounds of the woods, things she hopes now to enjoy on horseback.
And Captain Jack, who hates to get his feet wet, is the one she imagines to be the pirate of a vessel from Ireland, who guides her safely on her journey.
“The name Jack arose out of Well Ack Ack, and he is very playful, like a sparrow. So, I thought of him like a pirate of a skibbereen, which, in Gaelic, means small boat harbor,” she explains.
For all the fun she is having with a horse so gentle that he teasingly plays with children by blowing on their ears, Galbari is also pragmatic.
To ensure the lifelong care and wellbeing of Jack, and of the Hanoverian she lessoned on, and recently adopted, she has established a trust fund to care for both her horses. She has appointed overseers of the fund to ensure that they will be well cared for, should anything happen to her.
And every day they ride, she whispers in Captain Jack’s ear: “I will take care of you.”