1. The Intro Horse.
We each came into horses in our own way, but it was always with a horse leading us. This might have been a friend’s first pony, or perhaps it was a draft horse on a farm you once visited It might have been a real-life meeting, or an imaginary one.
Bo-Jest was a bay Arabian stallion. My mom put me in the saddle, and I held the horn (at perhaps the age of 5?) while she lunged him. I was giddy. I actually remember snippets of the experience. All I wanted was to go faster!
I was also smitten with Misty of Chincoteague.
2. The Experimental Horse
Once you had crossed the line between “Darn, they’re big!” and “Wow! Can I try that?” you found yourself face-to-face with the horse that would suffer through your early attempts at figuring out the whole horse experience … wherever this horse came from, he probably didn’t benefit from the encounter as much as you did…
Sham was a flea-bitten grey Arabian/QH cross off the track. He was a solid lesson horse, and did everything I asked of him. That is, if I bothered to ask him! I would hold the bridle up and say, “Sham, head down!” and he would lower his head to where I could reach it. Some of my lessons were bareback. Some were on the trail. I already knew I wanted to ride English and learn how to jump!
3. The Connected Horse
The first horses we meet don’t really connect with us, nor do we with them. Those are experiences in survival and tests of endurance. The Connected Horse is the first horse you truly bond with. This is the horse that sounds a chord that lives so deep in you that you might never have heard it otherwise…
Beamer. He was a bay gelding. No idea what his breed was. He needed riding and experience. He needed training. He really needed understanding. My coach turned me loose with him. I took him out of a curb and put him in a snaffle. I coaxed him to trust me with his back feet. I entered him in a schooling show. He wasn’t fancy, or even consistent (yet), but he was on his way! I trusted that he was not belligerent. Instead, he was frightened. He started trusting me right back, and as a result began to trust other people as well.
4. The Challenger
Into each horseperson’s life, a little challenge must fall. You’ll have read that one final training book, bought yourself a clicker and heading rope, and there you’ll stand, arms crossed, assessing the situation as if you actually knew what the situation was. It might be difficult to believe, as you are flying down the aisleway on the losing end of a braided cotton line, but you actually need this horse in your life…
Duncan was a Pinto and a National Show Horse. I had been reintroducing him to under-saddle training after he healed from some really bad injuries. He was getting pretty cool, but he had some… issues.
- back feet. Couldn’t pick them. Couldn’t wrap them. Couldn’t boot them. Couldn’t touch them! Can you guess where one of the injuries was?
- injections. If he saw a needle, he completely checked out. Gone. Out of mind. Back in a few hours. He had to get penicillin injections twice a day for MONTHS!
I started with splint boots and a single strap of Velcro and eventually got him to a point where I could do whatever I wanted to his legs, including standing wraps.
We bribed him with grain whenever he needed blood pulled or vaccinations.
Then, he had an unfortunate ride. He dumped a rider (probably after the saddle pinched him). I had to start under saddle training all over. Again.
He developed a new quirk. He was a saint until I swung my leg over. He allowed me to sit, but before I could pick up the other stirrup, he would bolt. From a standstill. My farrier watched it once. In a tiny round pen, he cut through the middle and changed directions at top speed. His comment? “Boy, you stick good!” One day, he fell as he was racing around the tiny round pen at top speed. I wasn’t fast enough to get that rein and keep him down there, so up he went and raced away without me. The VERY NEXT DAY, he did it again! He was purposely throwing himself on the ground to get me off! I took him to boot camp. Have you ever worked your horse SO HARD that he sweated himself sparkling clean? NOTHING gets white spots whiter!
After starting him over, yet again, I ended up with a really neat horse! He moved on to be a young girl’s 4H horse! Wow.
5. Your Deepest Heart
There will come a time when you will look at yourself with a cold, appraising eye, and you’ll have to be honest about your continued ability to deal with The Challenger and other difficult horses. At that point, you’ll seek out the horse that will be your soul mate forever… You’ll have bought him the most comfortable, best fitting equipment… Maybe you’ll still go to shows and ride – brilliantly or barely – in the Alzheimer’s class. Maybe you’ll just stay home. Whatever you do, one day you’ll realize that after all the money you spent on animal communicators and trainers, you only had to stop and listen and you would have clearly heard your horse’s thoughts and desires…
Opie. The Old Man. HL Open Throttle. Boo. The Pie. My own bay A-rab. He was the first horse I owned. I bought him when he was 7. I showed him. I taught him to jump. He taught me confidence and patience. He taught me so many things. He was not always behaved. Oh, the stories! However, we could read each other’s minds. We started eventing together. He trusted me, and would jump (or at least, attempt to jump) whatever I pointed him at. He loved up to his name and ran open throttle whenever he had the chance. Once he got up to speed, he had no brakes. Seriously. None. Oh, how he loved the XC course!
At age 22, he hadn’t slowed a bit. He would still run through my hands if he felt like partying! The only difference was he came back to zero faster once I brought him back down. We did everything! By the way, everything included:
- herding cows in a sidesaddle (a quirk of circumstances)
- jumping sidesaddle! (little stuff)
- games (barrels, poles, etc – the only thing we ever really won was “down-and-back”)
- trail classes as well as real trail rides
- drill teams
One Halloween, we bobbed for apples together! I rode him bareback and bridleless sometimes. He walked into my garage and tried to walk into my kitchen! Talk about that “live in your tent” disposition!!
He ran to the fence when I whistled. He hollered when I pulled in the drive. He is not the only one like him, but he was the first one for me!