At the end of January 2009 I decided that Ellie, the horse I had been working with for 9 months was not ever going to be the partner and possible event horse I was looking for. She was a gorgeous bright bay with a star and snip and 3 big white socks. Super athletic uphill conformation. Sweet as pie puppydog on the ground. And a nutcase under saddle. She was purchased for $15,000 as a 3-year-old and went to a hunter/jumper barn on the west coast. She came to me at 6 because when they tried to sell her the best offer they got was $1,000 from a guy that said he'd breed her. I figured I could work with her on all of her spooking/rearing issues by keeping her out of indoor arenas and letting her be a horse for a while.
Let's just say she came a long way. She went from not being able to walk through a field (she would spook violently at weeds, holes, rocks, shadows...), could not step from one surface to another, and could barely be ridden on trails even when she was in the middle of the pack. I took her out in the field every week. I took her on trail rides and on camping trips. I rode her bareback with a halter in the arena to try to build trust. I took her to two event derbies where she reared before the dressage test but completed a cross country course. In the end, though, she was still neurotic. You had to ride every step because there was no telling what she would do at any given moment. I never had a relaxing ride on her. I could tell that though she was much, much better about things in general she would never enjoy eventing. She was challenging and I was determined to make her better. I thought she needed me because who else would put up with her behavior? At the end of January out on a ride in the middle of a frozen field, she freaked out, spun, and reared at the same time. I came off and landed lower-back-first on ice chunks. It was months before I could ride again, and after a lot of soul searching and guilt and tears told her owners I didn't want to buy her.
But the eventing bug had bitten, and I was determined to find a horse with potential for the sport. I put up announcements on eventing blogs and the Area VII chat page. I figured with the economy there would be tons of horses to choose from at rock bottom prices. People were desperate to give their horses away, right? I wanted something between 3-6 years old, if it was 5 or 6 I wanted at least walk/trot/canter. Between 16-17h. Warmblood or TB type. 0 to $3,000. Training not important, I could do that myself. I was sent info on nice horses that were out of my price range. And horses that were not what I was looking for at all- yes, your pinto Appy Saddlebred cross that's been in a field for 8 years might just have potential but I don't care to find out. And if your warmblood is so completely fabuous and uber talented and worth so much money, why is she barely green broke at 15?
I started checking out the OTTB rescues in Washington and even told one of them I was interested in adopting one of their horses. On their website they said they were desperate and needed help due to the amount of returnees and the economy. After one email they quit responding...??? I think it was just supposed to be that way because I found out about Katie at Hidden Fox Farms on the internet. Her husband was a trainer at Portland Meadows track in Oregon. She answered my email and phone call right away and sent me info on a couple of horses from her website she thought would be good at eventing (she events herself). Then she said that the following weekend there would be a LOT of horses for sale from all of the trainers at the track as the season was ending, would I like to come down and take a look?
Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences) I was heading to Portland that weekend anyway. One of my friends was helping out by being a 'test dummy' rider at Brian Sabo's ICP training. She was riding 2 horses so his students could learn how to become certified event instructors. I was to be Terri's groom and to check out the training.
Katie had a list of 11 or so horses with the names of the trainers and the stall numbers of the horses on a piece of paper. We walked down the shedrows peeking in stalls. "There's a young bay horse in stall xx I havn't seen yet but everyone tells me to go look at him". He was technically only 3 as his birthday wasn't until June. He didn't care about going fast and wouldn't "hook up" with another horse to race. You know, it wasn't exactly love at first sight. It was more like good feeling at first sight. I had a good feeling about him. He had nice eyes. He looked sound trotting up and down the pavement. He had horrible feet and long pasterns. I really didn't think too much about it, the whole experience was a bit overwhelming, I just said "I'll take him".
My dad and I brought him home to the Boy's Ranch where I worked on April 2nd. He didn't need the 2 months to decompress from the craziness of the track that everybody talks about. I was ready for young, hot, and crazy and I got a pretty mellow baby horse. He lived out in the pasture with other horses and was brought into a large pen at night to get supplements and his own hay. Even thought the pen was large, when he got back out in the pasture he ran. And ran. And ran. Lap after lap, all by himself as the others watched. And I realized that THERE was my young, hot, and crazy horse- self regulating. If he had been kept in a stall and had to contain all that energy every day I think he would have been nuts. But given a chance to move all day, and run, and play with the other horses, he got rid of his extra energy all on his own and I was able to start riding (without lunging) within a week.
He was so... balanced. And athletic. After spending 10 years with my oversized warmblood, it was like riding a feather. Cantering was easy. Transitions were easy. He was (and is) just so light. That's the best way to describe riding him- light. The first trail ride was a complete success, and that was the day I finally realized I had made the right decision about Ellie. She would never have been as relaxed or as confident as he was on his FIRST ride out.
Some highlights of 2009:
April, Jasper leaves Portland Meadows and arrives in Spokane. He is ridden in the arena and goes on his first trail ride on the property.
In May I set up the camcorder and video him jumping his first cross bars. He takes everything in stride and doesn't seem to think it's a very big deal. We go to a dressage show at Post Falls Equestrian Center, and he pulls so hard while tied to the trailer I can't get the knot undone. Pulls again and stretches out his leather halter. Pulls yet again and stretches out the new nylon halter and makes it too big for his head. He can't stand still and trots in circles around me. I get on and once we start moving everything clicks. He happily walks around the grounds. He happily trots around the indoor and outdoor arenas. We complete Intro Test B under a tough judge and score a 64% and get 3rd place. I was beyond thrilled with him. We don't try tying him up again.
He breaks my finger when I ask him to step on a tarp.
In June we compete at the Deep Creek Derby, Rockhopper Division. Intro A test, and a course of 12" or less "jumps" set up in a field. Includes a water crossing. We're late to our dressage test due to the fact he ran one of the boys over that was holding him and got away, and then absolutely refused to get anywhere near the creek we needed to cross to get to the competition grounds. The test goes well, and the boys get video of him warming up before cross country. He is leaping over the rails with one or two feet to spare. We have a lead rider on course, and Jasper wants to keep as close to them as possible. Until the water. Luckily we were one of the last riders and everyone was really patient. At one point the lead rider grabbed a rein to try to encourage him to get in. Eventually he did and we completed the course with a dressage score of 34 and 8 (??) jumping faults. Brought home a pretty purple 6th place ribbon. And a lot of compliments- "After watching you I have hope for my Thoroughbred!"
Later that month we go to a schooling show where we do Intro test B and Training test 1. Jasper gets the wrong lead 6 times on Training 1. We also compete in the trail class where Jasper conquers his fears and crosses a bridge. Perhaps some lessons from the tarp incident come through. I take him in some english pleasure and eq classes with 15 -18 other horses in a smallish arena and he does great until we line up and have to stand still at the end.
In July we haul him to Slavin Ranch for his first trail ride away from home. We meet up with friends (who have the same misconceptions about OTTBs that I did) and everyone is impressed with how good he is.
In August I take him on our camping trip to Farragut State Park. I find out just how fast he can powerwalk. He can be in the lead, in the middle, or in the back of the pack. However he is nervous constantly has to be checked so he's not too close to the horse in front of him. At every opportunity he tries to pass the dumb slow horses in front of him. WHY are they walking so slow?? He can trot and canter in front. He actually seems the most relaxed and happy when canterning in front, and doesn't try to increase speed.
We go for our first dressage lesson (my first lesson in 4 years) and he does very well and gets complimented by our instructor. I learn my position sucks and have things to work on.
In September we go on an all adult camping trip to Farragut (yay!). found a big field with pine trees at one end and galloped in and out of them and all around the field. It was like cross country without the jumps. Had a few moments of relaxation towards the end of the trip.
We also go to Tulip Springs and stay for 3 days. We participate in a hunter/jumper clinic that was... interesting. The next day he has his first jumping show. We enter in the 18" division and the 2' division. He gets champion in the 18" and a HUGE tri-colored ribbon, and res. champ in the 2' and another HUGE tri-colored ribbon.
The next day we jump our first real cross country jumps in a clinic with Jil Walton. He does banks, ditches, and up and down into water. The hardest thing for him was the height of the jumps since he's never jumped that high before and is trying to figure it all out.
At the end of September I am involved in a mass-firing from the ranch and have to find a place to take Jasper and Alexandre immediately.
In October my two horses stayed at my friend Pam's place. Pam takes care of my retired Quarter Horse mare Mindy Lou. She was very kind and a lifesaver in a horrible situation.
In November Jasper and Alexandre are settling into their new home, a 20-acre pasture at Valley Chapel Farms.
December brings some trail riding and silly santa hat pictures.
And... hello 2010!
Happy New Year everyone!