Riding/Horses

RVPC Hunter Pace

Trainer mentioned during the long, sad drive home Friday that her prelim horse was back home with her and she was meeting up with Bette at a hunter Pace Sunday. She invited me to tag along.

Back in her endurance gear and looking gorgeous

I then spent all of Saturday in a major funk. Losing A was depressing to say the least. Sunday morning I woke up determined to no longer be sad, so I took her up on her invite and loaded my very fat, nearly pregnant looking mare in the trailer to out run my sorrows.

Ignore that she is fat. That is what 2 months off and a ton of grass will get you

The ride didn’t disappoint. The company was fantastic, the horses all paced well together and the trails were gorgeous. Horse therapy wins again.

It was great to not only get Gem back to her roots, but to share that with Trainer and Bette. Trainer has only seen the frustrated side of Gem and it was really nice to show her off in her element. It gave Trainer a whole new opinion of her.

My favorite black tipped ears. Gem was so good for this ride. She led, she followed, she cantered in open fields. She was ready to get back to what she loves. 

It also showed me just how much Gem loves the trail and how much she hates jumping. We’ve spent the last 14 months working solely on jumping and she still balked at every stick across the trail. Gem doesn’t like this new gig. It isn’t fair for me to keep asking it of her.

Great company. I had major hair envy of Trainer’s gelding’s tail. 

After I got home with her and saw her happily canter off in the pasture with Pete and roll, I knew I couldn’t ask her to continue to do this. No more lessons. No more cross country schools. No more jumper shows.

Helliot is a gorgeous hunk of a beast. Belgian/TB cross home bred running Prelim. And you can see Bette in the back laughing. You can’t help but smile and laugh when she is around. It was the best way to cure the horse blues.

I’ll continue to ride her at home in the arena just for fun and to keep her in shape and that may include a few small jumps here and there but there won’t be any more jumping exercises or attempts to force her into a role she doesn’t want to fill. More paces are in our future. More time spent back on the trail.

Gem spent a good portion wondering why we weren’t trotting and “winning” this thing. She never got the memo that it wasn’t in fact a race.

I still want to learn to jump. I still want to go cross country. My hunt for a partner that will enjoy these activities continues although I feel a bit jaded. There is a new horse to try this week if the rain stops. He sounds promising and if he doesn’t work, well I’m sure at some point another will pop up. Some day I’ll find my new partner.

In the meantime, my current partner won’t be asked to do work she despises. We will return to our roots and have fun with friends on trail. It would be nice if at 20 years of age she could maybe perhaps start listening to my input especially at the canter instead of going off where ever she pleases. I doubt that will ever happen. She thinks I’m useless. Who needs power steering anyway?

Damn my fit 100 mile horse is FAT! Time for a diet and a lot more trail exercise.
Riding/Horses

Pre Purchase Exam AKA I Wish I Liked Alcohol

Trainer is seriously the best person I’ve ever met. Just putting that out there.

Friday was an anxious morning as I awaited the time to leave and go see my little A again. Thankfully Trainer was free to come with me which provided much needed company, distraction and grounding throughout. This was my first ever PPE. Neither Gem nor Pete got one when we bought them which ended up working out just fine. However this guy was off the track, young and had a specific purpose ahead of him. I needed to know before I bought him that he would be able to physically do what I was wanting.

First selfie

The vet was well versed in the world of OTTBs and warned me from the start that by purchasing an OTTB I’m already agreeing to some maintenance and wear and tear. The goal of the exam is to make sure there isn’t anything lurking that would be career ending.

I don’t really have the heart to go into all the details. While he was perfectly sound the week prior and in all his sales videos, he lunged off on the RF and LH right out of the barn. Flexions were 3/5 RF with strongly positive heel compression that made the vet concerned for coffin joint or navicular issues. When we went back inside the plan was to start taking X-rays of the RF and if clean move to the LH.

And we stopped at the RF. The navicular showed pretty advanced changes. The vet told me a dozen times that you can’t diagnose navicular from radiographs but that every red flag was being raised and every box was being checked off.

We had a heart to heart. I called Dusty. I told Trainer to give it to me straight. We discussed the fact that he was overdue for new shoes and his feet were not in balance. We discussed the fact that he was sound a week prior.

Then I made the comment “I can’t have a future lame horse at 8 years old.”

And the vet replied “You have a lame horse now at 6 years old. The question is can he be made sound with shoes, os phos etc..”

That hit home.

With tears in my eyes I made the call to say no. Trainer agreed. Sure he was sound last week and he may be sound next week, but do I need a horse right now with all my hopes and dreams laid out on the table that may be sound one day and not the next?

It was heart breaking to drive home with an empty trailer.

It is heart breaking wondering what will happen to this sweet heart of a gelding at 6 years old with 20 years ahead of him and navicular changes in his foot. I know a lot of you have amazing OTTBs and he made me fall in love with the breed but I hate the industry that runs horses too hard too young and destroys them for life. Horses can live into their 30s sound and happy. Look out in my yard and you’ll see a fat, shiny and 100% sound 28 year old Pete and an equally amazing 20 year old Gem.

I’m sad. I loved that little guy. Trainer fell hard for him too. I tried looking at new ads but they all suck and my heart isn’t in it right now. I was so depressed Saturday that I ate ice cream for dinner. Doesn’t sound so odd except I swore off sugar 3 months ago and haven’t touched it since. I was that down.

I still have my scheduled appointment in MD May 11th/12th. That gives me some hope. There will be another horse. Maybe even better than A. I hope he gets a soft landing. I’d give him a forever home as a pasture pet here if they gave him to me. He was that awesome.

Onward I suppose. The Universe can sure suck at times.

Riding/Horses

Horse #5: A

That white blaze a few stalls down from B ended up belonging to a 15.3H 6 year old OTTB who was built more like a QH and had an overall zen type feel about him.

He sauntered past crazy eyes without missing a beat or taking much notice and stood in the cross ties like an old man. His kind eye and old man soul really captured my heart from the get go. He was pleasant to be around, neither pushy nor scary. I’m not really an “in your pocket” type horse owner. That drives me crazy. He was soft and quietly enjoyed attention without balking or begging.

Wyatt introduced him to the barn kitten.  He didn’t bat an eye at the fluff ball shoved up his nose by the kiddo. Earning brownie points galore. 

Of course, stand in had no information on him but I was easily able to find his online sales ad. No use trying out a horse double my budget!

The ad pulled up easily enough and I introduced myself to A. According to that, he was a professional eventer’s horse and was currently running novice. He had no vices, was described as being “honest but not dumb brave”, and had a “catty feel in stadium without being hot” Interesting. I’m not exactly sure what that last part meant, but he was so gentle and kind looking that I had to give him a go.

I walked all around him poking, prodding and picking up his feet. At one point I looked over and found Wyatt wrapping his arms around him in a huge hug. A just stood there with a soft look in his eye and took the hug like a champ. Brownie points achieved.

The arena was a 10 minute hike through deep sand to the back of the property and I headed off as soon as he was tacked up to get a head start as well as to secretly spy on his progress. He stood still to be mounted at the mounting block and walked casually off when asked.

The stand in girl was a prelim level rider, so it wasn’t a true test of how he would do with a newbie like me but it would be interesting since she had never ridden him before so at least it wasn’t someone who knew all his buttons like the back of their hand. She also used her own tack which was a high end CWD saddle which was dangerous. I forgot how good a high end saddle could feel.

The arena ended up being a large open field with a small dressage court marked out on one end and jumps strewn about the other. She started to fiddle with her stirrups and he ambled around. That raised a red flag for me as I wondered if he didn’t have any brakes, but it turned out that she just didn’t care because as soon as she asked him to halt he did.

She then proceeded with the now familiar show of the horse: w/t/c both directions and then several jumps taken from the trot and canter. Her biggest comment was that he liked a lot of contact to go in the lovely frame she had him in but other than that she said nothing stuck out at her during her first ever ride on the little guy.

It was then my turn and all my new horse nerves kicked into high gear. I was fully prepared to not like him. He looked like he was a lot more forward than all the others I had tried and I climbed aboard with a knot in my stomach.

As soon as I got him going though it disappeared. He felt like coming home. After riding all those long, lanky horses A felt so much like my Gem in his forward and shorter strides and more compact way of going. Yet he listened and had brakes.

 

I got him to collect into his nice frame for short periods but I wasn’t able to get him to hold it like she did. I’ve never ridden a horse that required so much contact, but when I rode him correctly it felt really good.

He was sensitive to my leg in that he required a light aide to respond, but he was nowhere near as hypersensitive as Gemmie. It was a good feeling to have him respond without the need for me to constantly nag yet allow my leg to remain on without becoming hollow and tense. He was the way I wished Gem was.

 

I also liked that he put up with my incredibly rigid grade C riding that was occurring. I was starting to fade in the heat and with all the nervous energy I had carried all day. My rigid elbows and tense hips would have given him every reason to act out and yet he didn’t. He simply went around dealing with me the best he could and trying to give me what I was asking for. Even when I was asking for two different things at the same time.

 

While the flat work was fun, what really lit me up was his jumping. When he rode with the girl, he looked like a sports car out there eating up the inside turns. I approached the jump from an insanely slow and tense trot and he followed suit jumping over without hesitation and coming back to a trot on the backside. The second approach I eased up a bit and he stayed with me. He looked for the jumps and I knew he would go over anything I pointed him at.

I finished wishing I had ridden better but I was hot, tired and not on my A game at all. I walked back to the barn with him and the wheels were turning in my head. I liked him. I really liked him. He was kind and patient. He was much more the type of horse I thought I’d end up with versus the huge beasts I had been trying. Would he be a good match for me? Could I get over all the lessons Gem taught me and learn to relax on him? I wasn’t as insta-relaxed as I had been on the mare F, but I also had a lot more fun riding him with his more effortless and forward stride versus the constant nagging of all my leg aides to get the mare going.

But he was only 6 and had been a pro ride for the last two years. Would he be able to handle my mistakes and mixed signals and PTSD? Would he backslide in his training when he realized we wouldn’t be going novice like ever?

As we left I sent Trainer all 20 videos from both N and A and hunkered down to await her reply. I wanted A. I could picture the next 20 years with him. He was the only horse I had tried to date that I could picture excitedly pulling from the pasture and riding. I knew he would test me more than the other lesson type horses, but I also knew he had the most potential to unlock things for me and push me to trust and enjoy this sport.

I wanted A.

I made Dusty’s ears bleed the entire 2 hour drive home. Was I making a bad decision? What did he think? He has known me through all of my time with Gem. He knew me before her as we travelled through France together horseback. He knows me better than anyone. His opinion? Buy A. He thought he would be good for me. Fun, trust worthy and would force me to continue to learn and grow instead of becoming a passenger. He knew I could ride him better once I let go of my issues and trusted him. He could picture Wyatt on him in the not so distant future.

I also texted Emma and probably made her eyes bleed. I sent her his JC name which I had already looked up (18 starts, 1 win, $9800 earnings) and then when I got his USEA/USEF name I sent that to her as well. We found his record. We found some pictures from his recognized shows which were all up in her neck of the woods and found out that he had been through the YEH program. We also found a picture of his one RF on record where he crashed in front of the fence. I’m not sure I recommend finding those. She brought up good questions which I later brought up to Trainer.

Was I out horsing myself? Would he do well outside of his professional program? Was his record at novice strong enough to make him educated enough for me? Would I bring him home and crash and burn?

Or would I learn to ride him better over time and put away my doubts? Would he open new doors and teach me how to trust? Would he take me across the next cross country course calmly and with bravery? Would his past training with the pro shine through?

All the while I was convinced Trainer would laugh at me and tell me hell no. He was only 6! And not a lesson horse! And so very different than all the others!

When she called me that night and told me she loved him I was ecstatic. She wasn’t worried about his age and she loved his easy going nature. She answered all my questions and responded to my doubts. She loved him and told me she was excited to begin lessons for us.

The two people I trust the most both told me to buy the horse.

I slept on it that night and annoyed both Trainer and Hubby again the next morning. I still wanted A. Badly. I asked Trainer for the dozenth time if she would be ok with me purchasing him. After all she would be dealing with us for years to come.

After they both repeated that they were on board with this decision, I messaged the seller and put my deposit down. Then on Monday I scheduled the PPE, a whole journey of its own. It is scheduled for tomorrow and if all goes well he gets to come home with me right after.

I’m excited!

And nervous.

This is a whole new world for me. A well trained horse. An off the track thoroughbred. A 6 year old. It will mean learning to trust and let go. I can’t wait to begin this new journey of opening up new doors and learning new skills on a partner who is equally interested in the adventure. Gem took me places I never dreamed of going and taught me so many things I never would have learned without her. Hopefully A can do the same in a much more forgiving manner which can then allow me to also ride Gem but with more skill and knowledge.

It’s a new age and hopefully it begins tomorrow!

Riding/Horses

Horse #4: B

The next farm was only 15 minutes away and was down an old dirt road. It was an interesting layout with multiple smaller facilities sharing this road and connecting into a POA, similar to an HOA but with property. There was a shared grass arena at the very back.

I was a bit put off when I arrived to find a stand in for the seller who knew absolutely nothing about the horse I was slated to see. I gave them the benefit of the doubt though since I tacked them on last minute and she wasn’t even in town having traveled with several show horses somewhere up north. Still, you would think she would have educated the stand in about the horse.

B is a 16H OTTB. I can’t recall his age, somewhere between 6-8 I believe. He was going novice and described in his ad as amateur friendly with a non traditional jumping style that was easy to ride. He had no vices under saddle and no known soundness issues.

The one warning I got from the seller was that he did not do well in a stall. He “stall walked” as she put it, but did great outside and was good to be groomed and bathed.

He seemed like a well put together fellow but he was a psycho and there was no way I was getting on him. He looked scared to death in the cross ties and on the verge of rearing.

I told them to put him outside. I wouldn’t be testing him after all.

A very nice looking, if half crazed gelding in the cross ties. Hmmm…what is that face in the background…. 

Which was a shame because to date he was the best looking horse I had seen.  His condition was perfect and his coat shiny and healthy compared to all the others that looked like they needed a whole lot of groceries and some conditioning rides. Truth be told I was a bit hesitant to check out this place, even though it came highly recommended by KC of Pilgrim fame, because I had never been to a barn that focused on sales before and I worried the horses wouldn’t be as well taken care of. I was very wrong and every horse I saw on the property was in a great weight with good muscle and a shiny coat.

I can’t have a half crazed horse around my 5 year old son though and this poor guy would not have fit in well at our house.

As I was turning to walk away and head back home I spotted this cute little head in the stall down the aisle and inquired about him….

Riding/Horses

Horse #3: N

After riding the first two, I got a bug up my butt about getting a new horse. It was so eye opening for me and honestly my motivation to keep pushing forward with what I have is quickly waning.

As Dusty pointed out, how do I progress in my own riding when I’m constantly in self preservation mode?

So I caved and put out a way too specific and probably off putting ISO ad to local Facebook groups. Which landed me a response for a barrel horse. Odd.

Anyway….

It also landed me N who was 2 hours away. He sounded really cool, so I also booked another out that way that looked promising. More on that one later though.

N is a 16.3H, 16 year old Irish Sport horse. He has gone through novice and is currently a lesson horse for rank beginners through advanced. The owner sent me a video of him taking a petrified looking tiny girl xc for the first time and he looked like a calm cucumber. Definitely worth the drive to check him out.

There are worse ways to spend an 80 degree Saturday than horse shopping in the eventing capitol. I’m just saying.

So N….

I arrived before the seller and hung out by his pasture. He was huge. I think he is bigger than 16.3H but not important. He was super sweet though and came over to say hello to me right off the bat. I really liked that and the calm look in his eyes.

His condition was a bit off putting. Pete, at 28, is in way better condition than he is at 16. He looked every bit 10 years older but was a sweet heart on the ground and didn’t care about the no less than 10 rowdy dogs chasing, fighting and playing all around him.

As I was waiting for the seller to arrive, I took a look around the property and saw this adorable little chestnut gelding with some chrome in a neighboring pasture. He was a lot smaller and more compact and I thought to myself “Why can’t I find a horse like that. That is what I want, not a big school bus of a horse.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t for sale so it was on to trying out N.

It was a bit of a hike down to the arena which was good for me to see as it was a tiny trail ride type environment. The seller rode him first and he looked very amenable to all the things.

When I got on him, I felt ok. Not scared at his size but not yet comfortable enough to ask much. He liked to curl his head to evade real work and that is not something I’ve ever experienced. Typically I deal with the opposite: giraffe high head and hollow back.

His movement was also big. How could it not be? It took a while to get used to the feeling and to be honest I never fully did.

His canter was nice though. The downward back to trot was awkward but that was a reflection on me throwing him away and not him. His hind end seemed to need some building too and I think after conditioning he would be stronger and better able to use himself.

After that we left the lower ring and headed to the jump ring up the hill. I had her lower a jump to baby cross rail height and came around to go over.

And he did once he stopped curling his head in and took notice. It was funny. The seller remarked “I can tell you ride a horse who doesn’t always jump. You don’t need to use such a driving seat and leg to get him to jump”

And she was right. He made jumping insanely easy. Wyatt could jump this horse. I felt so comfortable that I asked her to make it a vertical. He was that easy and had there been xc jumps present I would have happily done them too.

In the end though two things turned me off. His age wasn’t an issue but his condition was. He looked sad and older than he was. The bigger deal though was a certain spark that I’m after. It’s nice that he did the job but he wasn’t looking for the jumps. He wasn’t seeking them or asking to jump. He did it because he is too well trained and inherently obedient not to. I want a horse who loves to jump. A horse who seeks them out and enjoys the game.

I was very intrigued by the future he could provide for me, but in the end I passed. While I want an easier horse than I currently have, I also want to grow as a rider and having a horse that does everything himself regardless of the monkey on his back would be easy but not productive. I want a horse trained above my level, but that will hold me accountable for riding well.

When I sent the videos above (plus another 10) to Trainer she agreed 100% with me and told me to pass. I was a bit surprised. I was thinking she wanted this level of horse for me but apparently not. It was refreshing to see that we were on the same page as I trust her and will walk away if she says to.

It was on to the next farm!

Riding/Horses

Horse #2: F

While I was at the barn, the seller mentioned there was a mare that would suit me as well. She was already in the barn, so we looked at her first.

F was a 9 yo, 16H TB that was trained at the track but not raced. She was schooling 3′ at home and giving w/t/c lessons to beginner kids as well as taking beginners to shows and giving trail rides. She was taken to a nearby river and apparently loved the water, but she had no actual cross country experience.

I’ll admit to being unimpressed at the start. To my eyes she was a plain brown, large mare with no hair.

As we walked into the ring I was prepared to remain unimpressed as was Trainer, but we were wrong.

Look how long her neck is! And it wasn’t up by my nose!

F went around the ring like everything was no big deal. Past jumps decorated from kid camp days that I can tell you with certainty Gem wouldn’t have even entered that arena decorated like that. She carried herself well and was obedient and relaxed about everything.

Since she was the first one I sat on, I was pretty nervous. She was tall and so very different than what I was used to.

And then I sat on her and felt comfortable from the get go. She listened so well to everything I asked. Once I set her up on a path or at a certain pace and gait, she held it until told otherwise. It was the lightbulb I needed to realize how hard Gem has been.

It’s apparent in these videos how much more relaxed I am on her. It felt good guys. Like really good.

She was so comfortable that I began to push her a bit more to see how she would react. The mere fact that I was brave enough to start upping the pressure said a whole lot.

And F never disappointed. She went around w/t/c calm and relaxed with a gentle mind and a kind heart for my mistakes. In fact, the only negative was that she took a whole lot of leg to get going and stay going. I ended up grabbing a crop to help and I’d think I’d likely need spurs for her. Not the worst issue after my hypersensitive mare, just one I’m not used to and my legs were a bit jello like at the end.

It was neat to ride with Trainer and hear things like “Ride her back toes. Move her forward. Go, go go.” Typically all I ever hear is “Slow down, no slower, SLOW DOWN”. Polar opposites.

After I got off her and we returned to the barn to look over H, she showed her true personality in her stall. She was silly, curious and a doll. I really, really liked her.

I didn’t purchase her either though I was tempted and have gone back and forth a ton since trying her.

At the end of the day though I think she was a bit too quiet for me. She never complained and went along pleasantly enough but lacked any spark. She jumped because it was in front on her and I doubt she’d ever pull a dirty stop or run out but she didn’t have that look in her eyes that showed me she enjoyed doing this. She was obedient because that is who she is.

Plus she has a physical issue that made me nervous. I’d for sure do a PPE on her and figure it out, but at 9 years old she could end up having a very long life as a pasture pet and I don’t need that either. It broke my heart to walk away from her sweet disposition, but after a lot of internal debate I knew I couldn’t take a gamble on a potentially forever lame horse.

So as much as I enjoyed my ride on F, I let her go.

Riding/Horses

Horse #1: H

I want to chronicle this shopping journey to look back and compare rides and remember what I thought. If anyone thinks this is highly inappropriate, please politely let me know what is wrong and why. I don’t want to hurt any seller or a horse’s chance of being bought and will not get into anything controversial or rude but want to present an overall picture of how I personally felt on each horse and why.

H was what brought me to the barn on Tuesday night. The seller commented on an ISO post and he looked really nice. When I found out how close he was to me, I just had to set up a time to go meet him. What was really funny was that the farm he was at was one we were supposed to look at to buy but the seller kept changing the date for the showing and then we bought the one we did. And I’m glad we did.

But. The horse.

H is a 13 year old, 16.1H Registered Appendix Gelding. He was on consignment at the barn to sell and as such the seller didn’t have exactly all the info.

I take bad pictures

The most memorable thing about him was how measurably uphill he was built. Incredibly uphill. It surprised Trainer. It made him look much taller than he really was.

He was schooling 2’9″ at home, had trail experience and had been to a few small shows without fuss. What really caught my eye was how gentle he looked in the show ring with horses all around.

I was nervous to get on him even though I rode him second (but I list him first because he is was brought me to the farm and I’m still unsure of how to talk about the other one). While he never did anything wrong at all, he had a tenseness to him that made my wimpy self nervous. In fact he reminded me a lot of our Pete. Never doing anything wrong but had the look like he could.

Under saddle he rode well. It took me a while to get comfortable enough to push him but once I did he felt great. He needed a lot of direction and wanted constant feedback from the rider to make sure what he was doing was right, but never put a foot wrong.

You can tell in the videos that I’m tense on him and he still goes around the ring just fine remaining steady and even while the rider on his back does her best impression of a piece of rebar.

When I cantered him…well let’s say it was near orgasmic. He was so uphill that the canter felt effortless. It was impossible not to sit it and my face was in a grin that nearly hurt it was so big. I could have cantered him all day and cantering is my weakest gait.

Eventually I felt ok enough to hop over the tiny cross rail and it felt like it was barely even there. He was so leggy and the jump so small.

In the end though I didn’t purchase him. He did absolutely nothing wrong the entire time. He stood still for mounting and had great brakes. He never said no or made a fuss. I just wasn’t comfortable enough on him. I felt uneasy pushing him through no fault of his own and I’m not looking for another horse that needs that level of input. I want a baby sitter for me.

As I explained to Trainer: he would be a horse to either do amazing things on or to crush what little confidence I do have. I wasn’t ready to take that gamble.

Trainer loved everything she saw though and I hope he finds a great home. I bet he will be a force to reckon with at shows once he finds his person as he had a lot of natural talent and was a ready and willing guy.

Sadly, he wasn’t the one for me though.