Saturday, October 23, 2010

The right horse

Most people think about what they want, what they are looking for specifically in a horse when they go and choose their equine partner. Riding style, competition goals, soundness, and personality match are all really good things to think about when you're searching for the "Right" horse.

We did some of that, but (if one wants to be truly honest about things), it might be said I blatantly ignored the sane-person's checklist of picking the right horse for yourself, not to mention I chose a horse that was definitely not physically perfect.

(I'm using a very old photo here, mostly because it's so rainy and gross outside I'd like to remember the sun. I think it will be awhile.)

Reading this post from the Un-Retired Racehorse blog, and the journey Kate at "A Year with Horses" is taking to find her next horse, I realize I went about things all wrong when it came to choosing this horse that became mine.

I have no regrets. None. I adore that big, brown horse, and am proud of how far we've come together--both with training, and with reshaping his body and teaching him balance and collection. Oh, and teaching me balance and collection.

But it has not been easy.

The reason I was so candid in my interview with Susan at Off-Track Thoroughbreds is that while I love my horse and have learned a lot with him, he was (and probably always will be since we'll keep doing new things) a project. It has taken an investment in time and energy I've been glad to make, though with no specific goal in mind--beyond continuing to grow together--we have had that luxury.

The mental challenges of working with Bar have tended to be the most dramatic; the physical changes have been slow and steady, sometimes hard to notice because they are so gradual. Then, suddenly I catch a glimpse of him and realize how far he's come physically, too. Lean muscle moves smoothly under that sleek brown coat, and he moves with a more deliberate strength and confidence.

He didn't come to me perfect. He wasn't lame on his bowed tendon when I got him, but he had learned to carry his body to protect it and his right shoulder was much more muscled than his left. He has sore spots, places that ache and get stiff when it's cold out. His right hamstring is perpetually tight, and he had to learn to use his core to carry himself, rather than just pulling himself forward with those front legs.

But he's done it. His canter is much smoother, more balanced, and we're getting there with the trot, too. His top line is smoothing out and up, and his abdominal muscles are engaged with (most) every stride. His bow will never be beautiful, but it is tighter and stronger than when we got him and he moves comfortably on it. The aches and pains remain, but my body is not as supple as it once was, either. One or two days without yoga and a walk, and I notice a lot more noise coming from my knees, hips, and back. Movement is definitely better, and I figure it's the same for him.

There are also the famous Thoroughbred feet, but even they have improved with good, consistent hoof care from our awesome farrier and Farrier's Formula. Getting him out of the mud this winter will be a huge benefit, too.

We are also very, very lucky that the human injury list is--all things considered--fairly minor.

Was Bar technically the right horse for me when I got him? Most would say no. Is he the right horse for me now? Absolutely. When did that shift happen? I can't really say for sure, so maybe he's been the right one all along. He certainly thinks so. All bias and complete goofy Thoroughbred love aside, so do I.


The Equus Ink said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say; YOU GO GIRL!!!!

I can't quite put it into words what I really want to say, but let me try. I think that no matter what horse we can ALWAYS learn something. And sometimes, the most beautiful, important lessons, developments and changes in both horse and human, come through in un-likely situations, that may at first, appear un-convential, questionable (I do not think that about you or Bar at all) and sometimes just odd to those who've never surrendered themselves to fate.

You could always say, I want a 16h Warmblood with this movement and that temperment. And in reality that horse might get your riding off the ground, but will it challenge you or teach you things that another, more unlikely partner could? For example that OTTB with that bowed tendon? No.

With your entire outlook on Bar, your journey and yourself, you have already achieved something that some never will.

I admire you and your decision. I admire the fact that you are so honest in yourself, your horse and your experience with him. That will get you far.

And sometimes "far" or success doesn't have ANYTHING to do with showing or riding in general.

Yes, you go girl!!

Dave (aka Buckskins Rule) said...

A good, candid post, Jessica. Having purchased my first horse simply on the basis of color, I can, in some ways relate to your experiences. While Smokey didn't come with any injuries, he did come with a host of bad habits and some baggage (see: Flipping over backwards when the cinch is tightened).

Bar is just the horse you need. And, you are the person that he needs. How else would he have come so far?

Jen said...

Boy can I relate to this one *Laugh*. Dummy me (a Yankee with a hunter/jumper mentality, now living in Alabama) foolishly bought a Tennesse Walking Horse first time out. Not only that, he turned out to be a former big lick horse who was sored; and wasn't that just an interesting explosion and series of major learning curves? (more like hairpin turns :o) It's a long story, but he ultimately turned out to be a wonderful horse; even though he was not what I was looking for either.
Major kudos to you for sticking - I think WAY too many folks are quick to toss in the towel instead of backing up and regrouping when things don't go exactly as they plan.
I'm watching Kate's horse search too; can't wait to see what happens this weekend (I sure hope she remembered her camera :o)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it's possible to shape the horse you have into the right horse, given time and persistence. That's the journey Dawn and I are on. She's making really good progress and every day we can do more together. But I'd also love to have a horse, at my age, who's an easier ride and less high-strung, just to have fun on - hence the horse search.

You guys have come a long way - it's very inspiring!