As my new horse, Valhalla became healthy, I started taking her out on rides with other horses.
My plans for finding her a new home began evaporating fairly quickly.
First, although she gained weight and muscled up, it turned out she was a very hard keeper. The vets said her teeth were good, despite the neglect, and we took care of any worms. But once Halla was out of a starvation state, she began turning up her nose at alfalfa, beet pulp, or any wet food such as oil. I gave her free choice hay, and despite that she was eating 8-10 lbs of complete feed a day just to stay in on the thin side of normal.
Then there was the issue that despite her rapid progress with training, her personality was very hot. I kept her in a snaffle for some time, giving her a real chance to work with the lightest cues possible. Thankfully she was not as fast to explode as Amore had been, and didn't buck or try to bolt. But her energy would build rapidly if you tamped her down too much, and although you could do a slow ride and keep her rate under control, it required some serious attention and detailed, methodical riding. She'd simmer until she came right up to the boiling point, and then you'd better let some energy out before the pot boiled over.
Knowing that horses have to be trained to gallop safely, I tried to keep Halla in a snaffle while going out with other pace horses to teach her to slow, rate and stop while going fast. That worked for a time, but this mare loved running and soon wanted to lead the other horses or even keep running after the other horses stopped. So I turned to a Kimberwicke, which had worked well on other strong horses, and this did help give an element of control when she became very excited or strong.
Valhalla had some interesting traits that I had not yet encountered in other horses. One thing she would try when I would ask her to keep her speed controlled at a canter was doing one and two tempi flying lead changes. We'd be going up a hill, staying nicely behind other horses, and changing leads madly back and forth at such a rapid rate that I felt like I was bouncing up and down on a trampoline.
Since Halla had not been exposed to mountain trails, she viewed changes in light or patterns of light coming down through the leaf canopy as solid objects. We'd be trotting or cantering along, and all of a sudden her weight would shift back all the way onto her hindquarters and we'd stop dead. If you haven't done this on a horse, it is a bit disconcerting and rather difficult to not end up either concussing on the horse's skull, or finding yourself sitting on the horse's neck. A hunter/jumper friend I met several years later told me her trainer taught her to think, “feet on the dashboard.” That describes perfectly how I rode Halla through this time period.
My friends and I had developed an interest in endurance riding. As we put the horses in training, we rode them for many, many miles and it was something both of my horses excelled at. When you ride horses for so many miles, you begin to feel like a part of your horse, and getting on again just feels “right,” as if part of your body was reattached.
You think, your horse moves. You look, and your horse goes there.
I began to realize that out of the 80 plus horses I’ve ridden from various breeds, Valhalla was my absolute favorite to ride.
She was now my horse, forever. She was expensive to feed, I only knew several people other than myself who could safely ride her, and on her best days she was a handful. On her worst days, almost too much to handle.
But Halla is the greatest ride. I have never, ever had to ask this horse to go out. When I get on, I point her nose in a direction and we go. She loves to run like the wind, and if I ever need a serious stress reliever, I can just open her up and she will take off like a rocket. She rides like a big, powerful horse, but she is compact and can turn on a dime. If I want to keep up with friends on their big Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods, we can. But she can also go for a spin with little Arabs, Mustangs and ponies. Halla is so athletic she can do about anything. She has challenged me so many times to become a better horseman and better rider. For those who value a quiet mind, steady temperament, or a relaxing ride, this is not the horse. For me, riding her is something to look forward to every time, and I’ve realized by now she is probably that once in a lifetime horse, that perfect ride and I feel so lucky to have found her.