Grab a cup of coffee/tea, sit back and enjoy reading how it all got started. This is the tale of my journey. It is the story of how I became addicted to this world we call equestrian. Every word of this story is true and from my heart.
It all started in the year 2010. It was the fall of the year, still quite hot, nearing the end of September. I was in my 37th year of life, soon to be 38th. Life had been very difficult for me for the preceding 4 years. I had found myself tangled in a mess in which I never for one minute thought I could find myself. The details of that mess are not important, what is important about that specific situation is to say it spiraled me into a depression I simply could not shake. I was not so far in I couldn't get out of bed in the mornings-I'm too stubborn and strong for that. I was certainly no longer myself though and my husband could see it.
This is the point in the story where I will digress to say a few words about the man with which I have spent the last 13 years of my life. Where, oh where can I even begin? For the sake of the reader, I suppose I will try to keep it simple. This man is by far the best man any woman could ever ask for. He is the most patient, understanding, kind hearted, gentle man I have ever met. He treats me the way most women can only dream of being treated and sometimes I find myself questioning whether or not I really deserve him.
Now, during this time of depression, I had been hanging out with a friend who had horses. This was not by accident. Though I NEVER had a chance to be around horses growing up, I had ALWAYS dreamed of a life that included these marvelous creatures. I rode countless miles on the guided trails just to get some sort of "fix", but oh how I dreamed of taking one of those animals off the trail and LOPING across the field, fast and free!!! My friend did not allow me to ride any of her horses unless they were being ponied. That certainly wasn't what I wanted, but at least I was on the back of a horse.
Then it happened. This wonderful, loving, caring man, seeing how much I was hurting, asked me if I wanted a horse of my own. This was his way of trying to mend the brokenness that had become me.
Having soaked up what I could from my friend and making arrangements to work with a girl who was a knowledgeable horse person, I began the search for my very own horse. This is the part in the story where I know a lot of you are cringing. I know, I am too. I knew absolutely nothing about horses, how to ride properly, or even how to tack them up correctly, and here I was off searching for my equine companion. I thought I had my bases covered because my friend with horses was going to help me as was the girl I recruited from just up the road. I was set. I went out searching for the color I wanted, the age range and breed my friend recommended and a gelding. I found him quickly. I took a 2 1/2 hour trip late one evening, rode him around the owner's field (with another rider saddled up and riding alongside me-I NOW realize was a red flag) for about 30 minutes and decided he was for me. I told them I was a complete beginner, knew nothing about riding and they assured me, as long as I had someone to help me along, I'd be fine-this was a great horse for someone just starting out.
The next morning, I remember sitting at my kitchen table with my cup of coffee, staring through the sliding glass doors and out into the field over the top of my computer screen at what was becoming the most AMAZING time in my life. I was watching the sun rise on the withers of my very own horse and searching the internet for name suggestions with such excitement and elation I could hardly contain myself! Originally I wanted to name him something that would be associated with Italy as I had given up a dream of a trip to Italy for this horse. I eventually settled on calling him Ellwood. The reason for picking this name is another story which I won't get into right now.
I will shorten the story just a bit here. I will summarize by saying the girl up the road was not as available as she led me to believe, my friend did not want to ride with me as much as I wanted to ride, so I found myself learning a lot on my own. The girl up the road, along with my friend and her daughters, taught me how to ground work this horse, and my friend and her girls had me loping my first day out. ;) They taught me quickly about the one rein stop and I was having the time of my life, as long as someone was around to help me. I went out on my own very soon and just rode him through an empty field and around the roads for very short rides. I did alright on my own, and for the most part, the horse was manageable for someone who knew nothing. It soon became apparent though that he had a short fuse and that he knew so much more than me and did not have the patience for what I didn't know! He refused to walk in a straight line away from the house (barn sour), he would brush me up against trees to try to get me off, he would flip his shank into his mouth so I would have no control while he GALLOPED off, and finally, he started to rear when he wanted to catch up with the other horses and I wanted him to walk quietly. From rearing, he just got more and more pushy, from the ground up and after 3 months, I decided I was having more fight than fun and began the search for another horse.
I mentioned earlier I am stubborn and don't give up easily, so I was not willing to give up this dream just because the first step was difficult. I did not get hurt on this horse, which I agree with all considering this a miracle given my lack of experience starting out. I always say I did it backwards, buying the horse first then learning how to ride.
On to horse number two-Winchester, later renamed Eeyore. I recruited my friend and her girls to help me search for the next one. Together, we found an ad and decided to go give this guy a try. He was great. Calm, easy going, gentle and easy to ride-3 year old coming 4 in the spring. I brought him home. Two weeks later, I called my friend and said, "Guess what Winchester just did?" He had bucked the fire out of me!! Bucked, bucked, bucked and BUCKED!! My daughter described it as bronc bucking. After about buck number 5, I bailed because my feet had popped out of the stirrups and I was using my hands to hold the horn to at least stay on the horse so I could not get to the rein to pull him around and stop the bucking-though I knew that was what I was SUPPOSED to do. Bloody nose, white line going across my face, I climbed back on the horse and rode back to the house. I took him to two different trainers, and trainer number two said, "It's not the horse, it's the rider." He worked with me a little on riding this horse, then decided the horse was too rough for me to learn proper seat position and helped me find a smoother ride. I kept my bucking horse though because at a walk and trot, he was fine, no trouble at all. My husband said he'd ride with me a little, but only wanted to walk and trot, so it worked out perfectly. I continued to work him in the round pen, learning a lot about ground working a horse and the difference between working a young one and the older one that was my first horse.
In comes the mare-Just turned 4. Now, Ondine had some attitude. She didn't buck, but boy oh boy could she kick when she threw a tantrum! I don't mean she kicked me or other horses. She would plant her front feet, throw her heels up in the air and, if I looked over my shoulder I'd see them over my head when she didn't want to do what I wanted her to do, or when she wanted to do something that I wouldn't let her do! The trainer who recommended her to me worked with me on how to resolve that issue and she eventually became a good horse to ride with the exception of her tendency to bolt when she got spooked. She also had a tendency to want to "race" the others when they would lope ahead, and that made her unpleasant for me to ride at times-but I did work with her and I was able to get her out of that as well. After not quite a year of riding her, she got ERU. The blindness, combined, with her spookiness, made me decide she was not the horse for me since I liked to ride a LOT and go different places and she was only getting spookier as her sight worsened. I thought she would be more suited for someone who just wanted to ride around the same place all the time where she'd feel more comfortable.
After deciding to let her go, I discovered that horse number 2, now renamed Eeyore, (which I still had on my property and rode occasionally) was suffering from kissing spines. This was the cause of all the bucking. I treated him with MSM, but decided it was not in his best interest for me to ride him as much as I ride, so still continued to look for a replacement and keep him as my husbands horse to ride occasionally.
That brings me to horse number 4-Scooby. Now to get to Scooby, I have to back up a few steps. In September of 2010, I bought Ellwood. In October of 2010, I bought a second horse-one for my daughter. I had help in choosing him from the girl up the road who was supposed to be helping me learn to ride. This 12 year old that was sold to me was actually closer to 23 according to my vet, but Charlie Horse, who my daughter decided would be a clever name for a horse before we even began the search for her equine transportation, served as a WONDERFUL riding companion for my daughter for a year until he just couldn't keep weight on and we were riding WAY too much for his old boney self. I began the search for a new horse for my daughter. I found this WONDERFUL dunn named Mr. T. He was a big, BROKE, experienced gentle horse. He was the first horse I had ridden that I fell in love with IMMEDIATELY. This was in September of 2011. The owners were not actively trying to sell him, but would to the right person. They decided they were not comfortable with selling him to a 12 year old girl, so he didn't come home with us-yet. ;) Instead we found my daughter's second horse, who she named Skunk because of the AWFUL stench he was emitting the day we brought him home and she has had ever since, elsewhere. The story of her horse journey can be told with SO MUCH less drama than mine!
Life was good. My daughter had a good horse, I had a good horse, and then the ERU worsened. By Feb. of 2012, it became evident that Ondine would not be a good match and, again, the search was on. I had come to DREAD looking for horses. I had ridden SO MANY "BROKE, BROKE" horses that were not at all what the owners described when looking for mine and one for my daughter, that I was certain I would be looking for a LONG time to find her replacement. In a moment of hopeful desperation, I picked up the phone and called Mr. T's owners to see if by some chance he was still available. To my absolute delight, he was!! The next question I asked was, though you didn't feel he was appropriate for a 12 year old beginner, would you consider selling him to me, an adult beginner? They would so I went to try him out a second time. He impressed me just as much then as the first time and I asked to try him out for a week. After about the second day, I decided they would not be getting this horse back. I had FINALLY found my match and Mr. T became my Scooby!!
Then.....as the rides got longer, I began to notice a problem. Not in Scooby's behavior. He was (with the exception of a few minor hiccups) a perfect gentleman. The problem was with his confirmation. His high withers, forward sloping back and slightly sunken shoulder was causing a raw spot to rub on the back of his withers. After switching saddles more than once, buying expensive corrective pads and fillers, the problem seemed resolved. Scooby and I spent a glorious summer, fall and winter enjoying the journey. Well, I should say I enjoyed it and he just went along-he's not really a "loving" kinda horse, he just allows me to do what I gotta do and tolerates it. That brings us to the spring of 2013. The rides got longer again, and again, the rubbing surfaced. I decided to try one more saddle-a $3,000 saddle. This saddle was recommended by another trail riding friend as it would allow free movement in his shoulder, and thinking my saddles were just too low for him and he needed more clearance, I ordered it with a higher tree.
While I waited for the saddle to be built, I gave Scooby time off to heal. Ondine had left shortly after Scooby came, but Eeyore was still with us for a while, until the day he got so bad for the farrier I thought someone was going to get hurt and my husband wasn't riding him anyway so I sold him. Since we were down to just the two horses, I was going to find another horse to ride for the few months Scooby would be off while his saddle was being made. In my search for a temporary, cheap horse, a friend offered to let me borrow one of hers instead of me buying one to have to resell it in just a few months. Perfect!
I rode her little horse for about 4 months, let Scooby have some time off, and started thinking....is this saddle going to solve my issues? I tried his old saddle on him again and realized it did clear his withers, so why the rubbing? It only occurred during the LONG rides, so the doubt won and I convinced myself the new saddle would not fix my horse and that he needed a rider who wouldn't be riding him so much. My SIL decided she wanted a horse, but she was NOT rider, so she became the absolute best candidate for my boy. He would still live with me, but she would be his owner. He would not get ridden much, so the rubbing would not be a problem, as long as she had a saddle that fit well enough and she shimmed him in the shoulders.
So began the search for horse number 5. In September of 2013, 3 years of riding to include more hours than many people can say they have had after 10 years and many different horse behaviors (bad and good), a solid foundation on ground working a horse and a plan I decided to try my hand at an unbroke horse. Now mind you I didn't start with that goal in mind. I started searching for Scooby's replacement, and found this horse. He was the color I had coveted for a while. I wasn't in a hurry to find a horse because I could always still ride Scooby for short rides, and borrow one for long rides, so I was taking the time to find the PERFECT horse in my eyes. I wanted the color I wanted this time with the temperament to match. I knew I'd have to wait and that was absolutely fine with me.
In my search, I found this ad for a just turned 3 year old, lightly started under saddle. He had had maybe 5 rides around their property. The photos showed him walking over a tarp and down the driveway. The description was everything I was looking for and his color was what I was wanting. I called my experienced neighbor (not the girl from the beginning of the story) who knew my riding skills as well as my horse handling skills and was honest enough to tell me what was what whether I wanted to hear it or not! She listened to my plan to not be stupid enough to think I could bring this horse home and fully train him myself. I was going to send him to an Amish fellow first to make sure he got all the bucks out, (if there were any) get him used to traffic, (85% of my riding is in traffic) and simply get the woa and go started. I would put the miles on after that. She encouraged me to go for it. She said I was a good enough rider to be able to handle it so long as his temperament was what they said it was in the description. I drove more than 5 hours to try him out. The girl rode him around the round pen, grabbed a tarp off the rail, drug it around for a second, got it tangled in her stirrup, drug it some more and the little horse she called Ty just walked along like nothing was wrong. I saw enough. I wanted to put my rear on his back.
For the third time in this journey, I sat in the saddle and fell in love! Scooby was the first, the second was a horse I would have bought but didn't because he couldn't be ridden safely in traffic, and now this little guy. He really knew absolutely nothing. I could barely get him to walk around the round pen, but he was so calm, so loving, so PERFECT.
I put him in the trailer, renamed him DJ (a name I had decided on before I even found the horse because I work for a radio station so I decided I need a horse named DJ) and made the long trip back to my house. I was SO EXCITED to have this perfect little boy at my house.
I kept him for the night, then took him off to the Amish guy to ride for me. He was going to have him for 30 days. I checked on him every few days and John told me he was doing GREAT. He said he was about the smartest horse he'd seen around here! LOL
Around the two week mark, I went to check on him and got some very upsetting news. There were bad saddle sores on both his shoulders. :( They were fresh-from the morning's ride. I told John I didn't think he could ride him like that, so I was just going to take him home. I asked if he thought he was doing well enough that I could finish him out of if I would need to bring him back and John said he felt I would be able to handle him just fine, so I settled payment and planned to bring my boy home for good.