I tried out a horse this Wednesday: a 17 hand dark bay, very handsome Thoroughbred (ex-racehorse). He is very cool. I loved his canter (nice and smooth). He has a super mellow personality. While trying out the horse, he did spook once while the rider who rode him around before me was on. I can’t blame him because there was a mare and foal in the turnout next to the arena and the foal went zipping off.
The spook was a little leap/turn to the side and then he immediately went back to work. Not bad for a 6 year old.
Of course, the girl who rode him ahead of me was a gloriously elegant rider and they looked lovely together. He moved nicely and seemed responsive. If memory serves me correctly I think he initially picked up the left lead the first time she asked for the right lead canter. This was not really a surprise or concern as I’ve been told the racehorses tend to be “left handed.”
He had thrown a shoe a few days earlier and hadn’t been worked since then, but the farrier was able to put the shoe back on and he had pads placed on his front feet that morning before my ride.
For being kind of green, and not really having worked the prior days, I thought he was very, very well-mannered. Nothing crazy. He looked at a guy leading horses to another paddock, but not a big deal. It was more a slight turn of the head, noticing and going on his merry way afterward.
I got on and was REALLY nervous. For various reasons. I was there by myself (as in no husband, trainer, friend, moral support) and I was with the rescue organization rep, the trainer of the facility where he’s now boarded, and the perfect rider girl. I haven’t ridden in over three weeks and I’ve really only been back in the saddle the past few months (at only one lesson a week, so let’s just say I’m rusty). It is like riding a bike, but when your body knows what it’s supposed to do but your brain is not as quick getting your limbs to cooperate, it’s awkward.
“Please feel free to tell me what to do and how to ride him,” I said.
The trainer said, “Ride him like you own him.”
Those were welcome words. I took a deep breath.
I walked around near them at the far end of the arena and tried to figure out how much contact I should have on the reins. The demo rider had the reins a bit loopy it seemed.
I started to breathe a little and then thought, “I have to just go for this and who cares how I look or what they think,” and then picked up the trot. It was fun. Isn’t that what riding is supposed to be?
The saddle I was sitting on was so comfy I had to pull up and say, “I love this saddle! What kind is it?” One of the women said that I was supposed to say I loved the horse.
“But I don’t know him yet. I just got on.” I felt a little bit defensive like when I was unsuccessfully dating, trying to meet a good guy and a friend would recommend someone and I’d meet him and think, “Nice, but I’m not so sure. I can’t manufacture chemistry!”
I cantered to the left and it was fine. I was giggling because I do that sometimes at the canter. I can’t help myself. It is the gait of joy.
I did a bunch of circles and half turns and a little sitting trot. Nothing fancy. Then I asked for the right lead canter. This was a challenge. It took me about five times to get him to do it. He was very willing to canter and it was so smooth I couldn’t even feel which lead he was on. In the end I got him to canter on the correct lead and we cruised all around the arena.
At the conclusion of the ride I was indifferent. I had had fun, but there was no compelling, “I LOVE this horse!”
To add to that matter, the horse has a mild case of upward fixation of the patella (they called it sticky stifle). I’ve been on a mad quest to find out more about this and from what I gather, it’s not a big deal but it could be a big deal. There are treatments and surgeries that can fix this literal hitch.
I had a chance to speak to the rescue’s veterinarian to get her thoughts on this and she claimed his case is so minor you would only notice it slightly when he would move in a sharp turn to the right. She said he absolutely could be used for jumping and that the best “treatment” for it is W-O-R-K.
She said they had just put the pads on because he was ever so slightly off in the front, but they were attributing that to having on shoes that were a few sizes too small when he came to them about a month ago. (Poor baby.)
The rescue gal sent me a video that night of me riding him. We actually don’t look half bad. Thankfully she got the part where he cantered to the right.
I’ve been agonizing over this the last couple of days. Yes? No? Go for it? Wait?
With my previous horse I was EXCITED! The first time I saw him I thought, “That is the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen in my life.” I rode him and I felt like I was on a graceful deer. He had this lightness to him.
At the conclusion of the pre-purchase exam the vet said (and I can still see him standing in the aisle of the barn with DC on cross ties), “Well, this horse is a solid as a rock.”
That was twenty years ago and the memory is fixed in my brain.
If I had unlimited money and my own backyard place where I could keep a few horses, I would probably adopt him. But the fact that I have the resources for just one horse, I need to enter into a relationship with less of a question mark.
Was he reluctant to pick up the right lead because of his stifle or is it just simply a matter of practice and work?
Would he need to have surgery at some point to “fix” the sticky stifle?
Will he have a greater risk of lameness or back problems or whatever due to this supposedly minor health issue?
I rescued my first dog several years ago. It was an experience I will never forget. I WANT to “rescue” a horse too. My heart goes out to the underdog horses. But there is nothing wrong with buying a horse. There is no shame in looking for a match that will be a better, more comfortable fit.
It was very hard to tell the rescue group that I was taking a pass. I have the greatest respect for what this organization is doing. They were so professional and wonderful at communicating with me. Many for-profit organizations could stand to learn a thing or two about excellent customer service from them.
My heart is a little less sad knowing that there were several other interested adopters who wanted the chance to meet this neat horse if it didn’t work out for us.
I called a dear friend and former barn buddy who lives 2,000 miles from me. She said, “Just enjoy this process and have fun. Who cares if it takes a year to find the right horse! Each horse you will ride will teach you something and you’ll learn more what you want. Think of it like trying on wedding dresses. Have fun with it!”
I didn’t bother to reveal that my wedding dress was the first one I tried on.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” I would like to say to the handsome gelding I tried Wednesday.
He will make a great mount for someone else, but not me.
Subscribe and ride along!