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 #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 #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.

Riding/Horses

Two Rides In And My Whole World Is Shook Up

Tuesday night I test rode two nice horses that were very close to my home. It seemed silly to not try them. Trainer came as well which was very helpful through the entire process. It also helped that I had just sold Nash and experienced what other people do for a test ride as I was pretty clueless what to expect.

I’m still figuring out what all I feel comfortable sharing online about a sales horse. Just because a particular horse wasn’t right for me or my goals doesn’t mean it was a bad horse and I don’t want to harm anyone in the making of these posts. However, I do want to chronicle what I try and how it went as a comparison through the journey. So we will see what I come up with in the coming days.

For now I want to talk big picture. You see, riding Gem has been my entire adult riding experience. For better and for worse. I knew in theory that she was difficult but since it was all I knew I generally chalked it up to me not being a good enough rider. Which in part is still true to a degree. You can only take so many lessons hearing the exact same thing before it becomes a bit demoralizing, you know?

Wyatt caught another small mouth bass in the pond. He is getting really good at fishing

Going into the test ride I was so nervous I nearly had to pull over and vomit out of my car door. These horses were so different than what I was used to. Would I make a complete fool of myself? What if I couldn’t ride them? What if I was scared to death on them? So many thoughts.

Then I showed up and did what I always do when I’m nervous: I talked a million miles an hour about useless stuff. It’s a skill. Then it was time for the seller to get on and Trainer and I watched them go. Trainer was pretty silent and waited for me to make my own comments on what I saw, what I liked and what I was concerned about. When it was my turn to climb aboard, Trainer treated it just like a lesson. She put me to task immediately and we did walk, trot and canter both directions, tested bend and jumped a cross rail on the short side so that we could see how the horse handled after the jump.

Hanging with my bud

I’ll go into more detail on each horse in another post, but here I want to go over my general take aways from the entire experience.

  • Holy crap. Why have I tortured myself for the last 8 years?! I love Gem. That should be apparent, but as soon as I got on these two it was a 2×4 to the head how much easier life is on a horse who is obedient at the most basic level. When I asked to trot, we trotted. We didn’t jig or become a tense giraffe. We trotted nicely at the same pace every stride. Not the “each stride at a different speed to make things interesting” approach I’ve dealt with for nearly a decade. And once I changed gaits it wasn’t the end of the world either. I could canter and return to the trot or walk without a fight. With Gem once we canter it’s game over. I either canter for the rest of the ride or get off. Nothing else can get done.
  • Trainer got to see me on a different ride and gained insight. At the end she remarked how nice it was to see me on something different as it gave her a better understanding about what is a “me issue” versus a “Gem issue”. I still like to carry my lower leg too forward and braced and I still lock my elbows but I can actually use my legs and I can actually cue to canter. And steer. And be steady with my body and not flopping all over creation getting left behind one stride and going ahead another.
Tractor dog
  • I’m not as scared as I thought I was. While I doubt I’ll ever be one for the fast and furious horse (I’m not an adrenaline junky) I can feel comfortable and safe on a horse I just met. Even a 16+h tall horse. I was very worried horses of that size would scare me after riding my tiny Gem for so long. Nope.
  • While my eye for conformation isn’t very honed, I saw all the potential pit falls that Trainer did. Part of me was nervous that I wouldn’t see past the new horse thing for what was truly there. Trainer pointed out some conformational things and training scale things I wasn’t aware of, but in general I didn’t miss anything major in my assessment.
  • I can walk away without buying the horse. I’m not very good at just looking. I tend to buy. I did take a check with me in case things were amazing, but I was able to walk away on my own and think things through over night. The next day I was able to close the door on one of them and keep it open on the other yet still not feel pressured when I told someone else was looking the next day.
You spread lies about me, woman
  • I want a new horse. This is hard for me to admit. I’m committed to Gem. I feel guilty. I’m having a hard time imagining pulling new horse out of the pasture to ride and giving new horse my attention while ignoring Gem. It’s been nearly a decade of just the two of us. Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve learned has been with her. The good, the bad and the ugly. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her. And I’m giving up on her. She isn’t telling me she wants to retire. I’m telling her. And it hurts. But I still want a different horse for this sport. It’s insanity to keep putting my all into a horse who is this inherently difficult. Who makes a simple walk trot easy stretch ride at home degrade into a 45 minute battle to just flipping HALT when asked. At 20 years old. I’m tired of that. I don’t want to do it any more.

I have pictures and video to share of the two horses I tried out Tuesday night and will get those up soon. I haven’t bought either yet though I’m still pretty drawn to the one. If the horse doesn’t sell before Sunday I have the opportunity to take the horse xc schooling at FENCE with trainer and if it went well we might be done with horse shopping. There are some concerns that I have though that may kill it off for good.

But more on that to come.