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772 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
chapter one

I've been wanting to start a journal since seeing everybody else's amazing adventures on this wonderful site. I joined originally back in 2015 when I started riding my trainer's horse, Apollo, at my hunter/jumper barn. I had been working as a sales representative at a local retail chain and needed to set different hours for my riding, and this woman was available on Sundays.

He was a quarter horse, well versed in showjumping but performed his best as a hunter. As my trainer's horse, he helped students like me learn advanced skills, courses, and horsemanship lessons. But, like many in my situation, you didn't learn "horsemanship" at barns run primarily by one trainer. No one needed to know how to wrap, treat wounds, test for lameness, or even, frankly, ride. The trainer did all this for you. In high school, I rode at a barn that focused primarily on teaching us youngsters basic independent horsemanship, but that was lost at the show barn.

It was a wonderful place to grow up. The facilities were beautiful. The barn rested on a small plot of land amidst a huge field of strawberry, wine grape, jalapeno, and green pepper fields. The ring was long and rectangular, made of white picket fencing. Ivy strings covered the boards, giving it a more "secret garden" feel. The trainer bought only the best footing for our horses, and we were expected to pick it out of their feet before going back inside (it would later be added back into the ring).

The barn itself was made of pine. One side had large stalls with runs, the other square stalls. Lining the drive way were large turnout pens, about 100 x 100 feet wide. But horses were only allowed 4 hours of turnout at a time, which was very typical of barns in my area.

Everything was strictly regulated, from what bridle you used to the pads you picked. Every horse had its own saddle and gear. Some had several bridles depending on the level of rider. All of these horses were high-priced, well bred show horses the owners graciously allowed the school to use. The trainer taught students who were interested in leases and showing, and ignored those who weren't. I was in the latter category.

Although I didn't contribute financially to this barn, I did learn a lot about how competitive and, sometimes, unethical the hunter show world can be. I saw things I could never unsee. There were bits used that a barrel racer would shudder at. There were jumping tactics that I'd never witnessed outside of this sport tried. I witnessed my trainer beat a mare who had spun out of a jump so hard I swore there were specks of blood on her flank. But to me, having been in this world since I got into horses, it was normal.

It wouldn't be until I moved to The Pastures that I learned my small A-Circuit world was just that: small. Insignificant. Backwards.

The Pastures (name changed for privacy reasons) was a boarding facility out in what would be considered the Affluent Countryside. Where I live there are a lot of tech companies and people are either very rich or very, very poor. This only is important to know because the Affluent Countryside was primarily owned by one of the biggest and well-known universities on the west coast. They had a TON of land dedicated to agriculture and horses, and this boarding facility rested on a section of that protected land. It bled into the local trail system that led all the way to the university, a good ten miles or so, through the California grasslands and dry, golden hills.

It was one of the only places in the area that provided adequate pasture boarding. Where I am from, because it is so populated, most barns are on very small plots of land. There is no turnout and certainly no pastures, and you can't have both. A stalled horse is a stalled horse, and a pasture horse roughs it. The fencing is barbed wire, old, and rarely maintained. The pastures themselves are cleaned with bulldozers maybe once a month, if that, and the manure is simply moved to a far corner of the pasture.

This property looked like it could fall down at a sneeze. The stalls looked slapped together, as if someone threw them up in one night and said "it has four walls and a roof, we're good." They were 12 x 12 box stalls with an attached mare motel run. Each stall had three ply wood walls and a steel roof. Everything was held together with twine, string, or metal cords. The runs were padded with mulch, horse manure, and dirty shavings, but despite the mess, it was a complete DIY expedition. The stall was yours to customize as you saw fit.

I moved to this property because a horse called Jr. needed more under-saddle time. My trainer asked, as I was having difficulty with my barn's management, if I would be interested in moving? We had maxed out the allowed jumping height, and my trainer got in trouble after she snuck a few 3' jumps up for me and Apollo to try. I said yes - I would miss Apollo, but I was excited about trying another horse.

The Pastures definitely couldn't hold a candle to the beautiful countryside show barn. It reeked of manure and urine, the roads were dusty and unpaved, the ground hadn't been leveled in some time, and it was a trek up a steep hill to get to the jumping arena.

There were three boarding areas. The first, primarily occupied by dressage riders, was at the very base of the barn when you drove in. Those stalls were in better shape, but still could use some help. The lesson school on property took over most of the rentable stalls, the rest owned by serious reiners and dressage riders who rode in our large flatting/dressage arena. They were nice, but expected a certain fluency in riding and good equitation, or else you'd be criticized until the cows came home.

The second level housed mostly trail riders. These people were located at the very top of the hill, overlooking the dressage arena. Most of these riders were newer and very nice, and seemed to find each other due to shared experiences. It was right at the front of our local trail leading to the preserve, which meant several people were in the same vicinity to tack up and go out. By far, the kindest boarders kept their horses in this section.

The third level consisted of eventers and jumpers. The two shed-rows faced each other perpendicular to a huge, but unkept, jumping arena. Unfortunately the footing was less than ideal: deep in some spots and shallow in others, hard at the base of the jump but soft everywhere else. Those serious about competing never used this arena, preferring to trailer ride to the residential horse park for jumping lessons. The rest of us, however, used and abused it.

It was in this section I would be riding Jr., the ex-eventing Morgan gig my trainer got me. He was rather tall, standing at 16 hands. He looked to be a cross between a national show horse and a warmblood, because his head was too large for his body and his cushings, presented by his long hair, showed his age. Even old and arthritic Jr. could JUMP. He had one of the strongest pelhams I'd ever seen: a long-shanked polo pelham with a port for tongue relief. His owner's bit had converters, but when I brought my own tack I used two reins.

Jr. was a beast of a horse. He knew his job, but he was almost impossible to stop. Coming from pokey and slow Apollo, this frightened me terribly. I remember pulling as hard as I could to halt him after a jump and all I could do was run him into the fence. I quickly found myself terrified to go over anything more than a pole, and even then I screamed, terrified Jr. would take off with me the way he had our first lesson.

My confidence shriveled, smaller than an amoeba. I loved to ride, but every challenge was just too much. My trainer tried to ease me back into jumping but crossrails terrified me and poles were a potential bolt waiting to happen. We tried a stronger bit: that did nothing. So I bought the same bit for Jr. with a double rein set up and longer shanks. For some reason, that did help.

The turning point came when my trainer set up a 4 foot crossrail (they aren't that high) and asked me to go over it. I saw the height of the rails and froze. I turned my horse towards it. Jr. started to pick up some speed, locking on with tenacious drive. My body went rigid and I clung to him and closed my eyes, afraid he would launch into outer space like every other time.

But then something happened. Three strides out to the jump everything started to slow down. It felt like we were walking, but Jr. was still cantering. He crawled to a four beat lope, stuck his neck out, and tried to fling himself as flat as he could over the jump so that I wouldn't feel his bascule. At the other end, he broke to a trot and did his best to stay slow and calm. I was amazed. Never in my life had I heard of a horse adjusting themselves for their terrified rider.

That day changed everything. Jr. took every jump at a snail's crawl, his incredible athleticism giving us the ability to get over large oxers and verticals without any speed. Eventually, after I learned his pace and favorite distances, I became comfortable with allowing him to go faster, and soon we were jumping rollbacks, oxers, triple bars, wide spreads, and cross country jumps left in the arena. It was amazing. I felt completely safe on him.

Unfortunately, this fantasy would not last. Frustrated, Jr.'s other leaser called up his owner, telling her I was riding the horse too much and that he would get hurt. I received several angry calls from the owner, telling me that if I wanted to do more with Jr. I needed to pay more or find a different horse.

I cried so hard the day we lost Jr. My trainer could not understand why the owner came down so hard on us. I have since learned my trainer bought Jr., and he is now used as a school horse in her program at another facility.

Because we no longer had a horse and I was finally making money, working as a receptionist at a law firm, my family crunched the numbers and found it was not much more expensive to own a horse than to have leased Jr. They asked me if I would be interested in a horse of my very own, my first horse, and I said yes (who wouldn't?!)

I spent a week searching for leads of horses who potentially had jumping ability. I found a cute bay arab mare, $1200, a good few miles away from my location. Back and forth with the owner revealed she was part of their breeding program, unstarted, but handled and had limited ground work. I knew I wanted young, green, untrained, and athletic, but I didn't know much about horse shopping at all. It was out of our way but I sent a friend up to check the horse out for me.

Unfortunately, we learned this woman steals horses and sells them online. This little mare was one who had been taken from somebody else only to have been flipped for a profit. It was a no-go, but my interest in Arabs angered my trainer. "They're deer jumpers!" she exclaimed. 'No, you want something like a warmblood or a thoroughbred." I paused. "But aren't thoroughbreds crazy?" I was referring to my old school horse, Wesley, an beautiful OTTB who had the heat of a volcano and the speed of a cheetah. He was impossible to slow down, and the only way you could jump him without him bolting off was at an angle.

"Get something that has a few miles of post-track training," she said. So I looked around some more.

I found a horse on facebook. A six year old thoroughbred who had been a barrel racer for the woman selling her. She was advertised as an "advanced ride" with "lots of go" and needed an assertive rider. Perfect, I thought, that's exactly what I was looking for.

I sent the woman an inquiry, and a few minutes later we were talking on the phone. She told me she bought the horse from a woman who had taken her after her racing career ended. She trained the horse in the western discipline, and sold it to the owner as a barrel racing prospect. The woman did not tell me exactly what happened, but she said the horse just "didn't like it" and so she left her out in the pasture with her other mare who had foaled. She had her about a year, the woman told me, and she could trail ride superbly.

The mare looked absolutely darling. She was a cribber, but the woman said it was an insignificant vice. I didn't care too much about vices, training issues, or the like, I just wanted to know if she was sound. "Oh yes!" the seller exclaimed, "she'll pass a vet check! I wouldn't even bother with one, honestly."

That was hopeful. Any money we could save would help us in the long run.

A week later, we drove up to northern california to see the horse, trailer in tow.

At first, I didn't know what I was looking at. All I saw was a beautiful dark bay thoroughbred mare with the most beautiful star leaning down and eating grass, along with a paint mare and a red roan foal. I haltered the horse up and took her to the fence to get a better look at her. I had no idea what I was doing, but I didn't want this owner to know how inexperienced I was. I picked up both feet, gave them a once over, felt her legs, checked the cadence of her walk, tacked her up and got on.

At first, I couldn't feel much. The ground was so uneven that even if she were lame I would have never known. I walked and trotted her in a circle, got off, and said i'd take her. 'Wait," the owner said, "Let me show you how I RIDE her."

She went to grab her bridle. In our conversations, the seller informed me the horse was ridden in a simple snaffle bit, but what she returned with was a large, full cheek double twisted wire. She grabbed the mare's jaw, cranked it open, and stuffed the bit inside. The she dragged herself up on the skinny horse's back and proceeded to canter her in the smallest circle i'd ever seen, ripping her face around the entire time. The horse looked petrified, eyes white, tail swishing, mouth agape. I asked the woman to get off, I didn't want to see anymore. I knew, in that moment, we needed to get the horse out of there.

The lady promised me the papers of the horse, and I said i wanted to take her on trial. She said that was fine, but that her registration papers burned up in a fire. Luckily, she ordered another set and they would be mailed soon. My parents told her they would give her half the amount up front, and then half should the horse pass a vet check. The woman was not happy, but agreed as it seemed all she wanted was the horse to leave.

We then loaded Tyra up into the trailer. As we pulled away, I heard her pain-filled, confused screams pierce the air. "She's saying 'bye bye! I'll see you later!'" My mom said to me. It was sweet to think, and we hoped this horse knew she had a new home.

It's been almost two years with my thoroughbred and she's changed from the sickly, skinny horse no one thought would survive, into a well-muscled beautiful, athletic creature.

From then

To now


2,052 Posts
Agree with knightrider; you're a good writer! This is an awesome start to your journal, and I can't wait to hear more about y'all!

The pictures of then and now are really cool! Your mare is a gorgeous horse! Good job!

447 Posts
You're a very good writer! I love this journal entry, and how it flowed nicely!

772 Posts
Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Thanks for your kind comments everyone! This is a true story, too! ^_^

chapter two

I compare buying your first horse to having your own child. No one understands them like you do. No one sees their beauty, grace, and majesty like you. No one could ever love them like you ever will.

And when the doctor says, "ma'am, I'm sorry but your baby is not perfect, there are great issues," sometimes the magical moment of cradling your child in your arms deafens the doctor's voice, because all you can see is the little wonder you brought into the world. Nothing is wrong, how could it be?


When we brought Tyra home we were met by a small crowd of people interested in seeing the horse I'd bragged about buying. She trailered the entire ride from Northern CA to the Bay Area relatively easy. I went inside the trailer, untied her, and she backed out like it wasn't her first rodeo. I thought, "wow! what a nice thoroughbred! The woman was telling the truth about this horse."

As I grinned and patted my horse's thin neck, I couldn't understand why none of them were smiling.

The first thing we did was put her in quarantine. The Pastures required all new horses to have updated shots and a strangles vaccine, which Tyra did not have. The pen was small with wood chips for bedding and weeds popping up between the splinters. We gave her a few flakes of her old hay combined with her new hay. I stood by the gate of the pen, watching her as she paced and licked her lips, obviously searching for anything familiar. Off in the distance the pasture horses calmly munched on the summer grass, barely interested in the newcomer only a few feet away. Tyra screamed and paced some more before finally settling and taking a bite of her alfalfa.

She was beautiful. She had a streamline body, and her skin was thinly stretched over her bony frame. Her hooves had huge waves and creases in them, but her mane had been oiled and combed by the owner. I put Tyra's cribbing collar on - I thought the collar would curb her cribbing and keep her from colicking. "I'm sorry, girl, I don't want to have to do this but you understand, right?" I said as I slowly approached her.

Her ears went up and she timidly moved away. That's how it was for the first two days. I'd come up to her and she'd cross to the other side of the stall, not letting me near her. She never attacked, never struck out, but would not let me touch or look at her.

While I did eventually get the collar on, I could tell this horse had quite a few trust issues. But I didn't blame her - she was a long way from home in a new and scary place with no one familiar. I spent the rest of the afternoon admiring her, smiling gleefully that I finally had a horse of my very own.

The next day, I called a barefoot trimmer that came recommended to be my a friend I'd made at the Pastures. He once had a farrier service but scaled back to barefoot trimming in an effort to cut out clientelle. When he picked up her hooves, he gave me a serious gaze. "Does this horse eat grain?"

"No," I told him. "I feed her rice bran and timothy hay pellets." Honestly, I had no idea horses ate grain.

"Well, absolutely no sugar for this horse. No apples, no treats, nothing." He made another face and began trimming. Tyra stood perfectly still. She'd been acting lethargic the entire day, almost too quiet for a thoroughbred.

"Your new horse looks sick," one of the stable hands commented as he walked by us. I blushed, upset, and wrapped my arms around Tyra's neck. She wasn't sick.

She was perfect.

Tyra walked better after the trim. She seemed a bit uneven, but I chocked that up to a rough seven hours in a trailer the night before. The trimmer told me he did "all he could do," collected his money and headed out without another word.

"Have you done a PPE yet?" asked a Boarder who happened to walk past us with a dun mustang.

"No, the owner told me she'd pass."

The woman's eyebrows furrowed. "I recommend you do one... did you buy her outright?"

"No," i said, "she's on a seven day trial."

"I have a vet who can help you." She gave me the name and number of Dr. Zee, a local practitioner who focused on sport horse lameness.

this image shows how the saddle did not fit, which will be a big problem later on...

I really didn't want to do a PPE. I called the office and asked for a quote. What they offered was in my price range, so we arranged for a time for Dr. Zee to come down and see my new, perfect horse.

When Dr. Zee arrived to the barn, her attitude was friendly. She shook my hand and introduced herself, asking how she could be of service. I took her to Tyra, who had since been moved to her stall, and told her we needed a strangles vaccine and a PPE.

I still could not understand the serious look that crossed Dr. Zee's face. "How old is she?"

"Six," I answered.

"And how much did you buy her for?"

"She's being sold to me for $2,000, but we gave the owner half of the money. She's on trial, so we will send the rest at the end of the week."

"Hmm..." Dr. Zee didn't say much more. They grabbed my horse's oversized pink halter and stuck the strangles tube up her nose. Unbeknownst to me, but Tyra was too weak and frail to fight back, and it was a in-and-out procedure.

Dr. Zee then started our PPE. We walked and trotted Tyra on hard gravel. She flexed all four legs. She studied Tyra's fetlocks and hooves. "This one feels swollen to me," Dr. Zee said as she palpated the right front fetlock. "Something just isn't right."

Tyra presented 3/5 lame on the right side, and 2/5 lame on the left. In the arena she was 1/5 lame and 2/5 lame, respectively.

"I think there is something wrong with your horse."

The words were uttered, but I did not process them. They went in one ear and out the other. "No, she's perfect," I repeated. "She's my first horse and she's perfect." The ignorant smile stayed plastered on my face as I stared up at Dr. Zee's sullen expression.

"I recommend x-rays," Is all she said before getting in her car. "I will email you a write up."

I spent the afternoon walking Tyra around the arena. She followed me with a low head and droopy eyes. I patted her softly, scratching her star with my fingers.

Suddenly, my phone buzzed. It was my dad.

"We have to talk about what Dr. Zee said about Tyra," he told me.

"She said she recommended x-rays, but she's perfect so why bother?"

"I think we should do the x-rays." It was strange to hear my dad say that. My parents are homeopathic people. Animal and human medicine alike leaves them highly skeptical. They don't trust doctors or vets.

The next week, Dr. Zee came back with her machine. Tyra was more difficult, and she got scared of the dark stall she was in while the machine roared to life. It took several attempts to subdue her enough for x-rays. They took five images.

Dr. Zee came back and showed me the photos. "There's a fracture here," she said, pointing to the x-ray. "I am afraid this could impact her soundness, especially her suspensories. We don't know if her tendons got caught up in the healing process."

"She also has thin soles," she told me, "and she is going to need shoes for her entire life."

That had my attention, as the goal with Tyra was barefoot, mainly to save money.

I didn't take what Dr. Zee said to heart. When she packed up her bag, I took Tyra back to her stall and spent the rest of the day grooming her. She was a quiet horse with very little character. I found it odd, since the Tyra I know now is so very full of life. But there was a time when my beautiful little girl thought of herself as only a machine. People mistreated her so strongly that she didn't feel she could be her full self with me, not yet at least.

My dad called me again. "This horse might never be sound," he cautioned me. "We might end up with a pasture pet in two months according to Dr. Zee."

"I don't care," I protested. I felt the tears well up in my eyes. Even now, writing this, I still cry remembering that dreaded phone call. "I want THIS horse. THIS horse is perfect to me."

"But don't you want something you can ride?" My dad pleaded.

I shook my head, even though he couldn't see it. "I don't care. If I can't ride her, fine, but I want Tyra!"

He finally gave in and agreed that we could keep her. Dr. Zee sent me a full workup the next day. Notes like "Medial sesamoid fracture" and "broken back pastern angle" meant nothing to me. I knew about the "thin soles" and the "severely underweight and emaciated" portion of the notes. But the bottom note made my heart jump into my throat.

"Recommended owner's father to return horse or euthanize."

447 Posts
Sounds like a rocky start. The latest post about her was quite sad, but her transformation photos are amazing. I cannot wait to hear more in the next chapter, and her current status and training.

772 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
It was very stressful, @Phantomrose. Sometimes I think that if I had never done the PPE, what would I have lost? I would never have known about the fracture, it never causes us issues, and on the flip side I wouldn't be so neurotic about her care and soundness. I, at times, wish we had never done the PPE...

772 Posts
Discussion Starter #12 (Edited)
My avatar is broken... site bugs suck. Reminder that names have been changed to protect the person's privacy, but all characters exist and are real.

chapter three

I was still getting the pitying looks from passerbyers as I attempted to ride my horse. The first week I was all-consumed with this mystery lameness the vet so adamantly rallied for. We found a farrier, but they fired me immediately after she was shod because she couldn't stand still. I called and called and called for a follow up but he never responded. I finally gave up and hired another farrier who was quite good, but was always late. That's a story for another time.

After Tyra got her shoes on she began to walk better. I assumed my saddle, which for JR very well, would work on Tyra. I did not think about how boney and thin she was. I had a saddle and she needed to be ridden, so I threw the thing on without a second thought.

It was obvious what training Tyra had in the past. I did not think too hard about her OTTB label, knowing she had training after the track. Her trot was slow and lethargic, her canter a four-beat, but what she did do was gallop into the canter when I asked. For the first week she had two bolting steps before settling into it. I assume it was a bit of the barrel racing, a bit of the track she still remembered. The next week consisted mostly of her learning how to move off at a squeeze. You had to KICK this horse to make her go, and it became quite obvious that she was spur trained. With the help of a crop, we resolved this issue in a week's time, and Tyra learned how to go off a small squeeze, and also learned to stop at a small jiggle of the reins.

This was long before I knew anything about dressage, contact and "seeking the bit." My hunter training taught me I did not want a horse who lugged on my hands and pulled me around the arena. I wanted a soft, extremely responsive mount. Nowadays, Tyra is more of a lug and pull than the kind of softness she had, but for my purposes, for right now, we'd rather have too heavy than too light. I don't want her to be afaid of the bit. But again, we will touch on that later.

Her very first bit was a single jointed loose ring. A coronet light-weight loose ring, to be exact. I still have that bit, but it hangs in my room as a reminder of how far we've come. I will never part with it; it is a memento of my horse, and she will probably be buried with the bit and her very first halter.

Tyra didn't feel lame to me, but now that I had been outed as the girl who knew nothing, I wholy lived the label. I remember pulling people aside, random strangers, and having them watch as she trotted back and forth. "is she lame?" I'd ask. "Is she sore?"

They all told me to stop worrying and have fun. They said what she did need was more food and fat.

I met a very good friend at that barn, one who I still connect with to this day. Her name was Megra, and she had a seventeen hand rescue OTTB. Before we connected I always considered her a spoiled, sixteen year old brat. How lucky was she to own such an awesome horse at sixteen? I'd later come to find that they were more financially frugal than we were, and the spent absolutely nothing on this mare. Mochi had more issues than Tyra could ever dream of, she was as unsound as they come, and she was near the age of retirement. Trained in the art of dressage, Mochi was a strong opinionated horse who learned long ago how evil humans could be. She also learned they were easily frightened, and her big size and smarts made for some interesting conversations.

Tyra and Mochi

Tyra and Mochi lived side by side, alongside another friend of ours, Betha, and her horse Star. Star was a very old Morgan gelding. He had cushings, laminitis, and a very bad swayback. The owner was in love with her horse but couldn't see the damage she was doing to him. She did not ride him correctly, and I believe that is what attributed to the swayback. She insisted his head be in the air at all times. He was once a carriage trotter but had been retired and was now this girl's jumper and all-around horse.

The three of us had a wonderful summer. I will always remember that year fondly. We rode every day, wherever we could. None of us took lessons (i had to leave my trainer because of financial reasons), but we all helped each other. Megra and Mochi were learning to jump, and I was teaching Tyra as Bertha and Star galloped at top speed around all sorts of courses we set up in the jumping arena.

Tyra still did not show much personality. She was hard to lead and would bolt if she felt she could get away with it, so I began using a stud chain. I was too proud to use rope halters, believing them to be tools of the backwards western folk (remember, I was still pretty much a hunter princess). A stud chain fit the look of a hunter horse. Tyra leaned into that pressure though and I found it little use.

She was easy enough under saddle, but badly picked on by her one stall mate, Early, and Mochi. Early would charge and attack Tyra from across the way. There was plenty of blood and bite marks. But, our stall was next to Megra, and by this time we'd become such good friends that I did not want to move.

Megra and Mochi were getting good with their jumping, but Tyra and I had only started. I began with tiny, raised jumps on a lunge line, and had Tyra go over them again and again. I slowly started to increase the height, until we were at 2 feet on the lunge. When she did it without fail, I got on her and tried little crossrails.

Megra and Mochi

Looking back, I understand that I pushed my horse too hard and too fast, but Tyra was so compliant that I just kept going. Two feet became 2'6, which became 2'9, and before long we were jumping 3' courses. I began introducing oxers, rollbacks, and liverpools. She jumped them all, bless her heart, without an argument.

She was gaining weight steadily and slowly, but still very thin. I fed her three scoops of rice bran a day and three scoops of timothy hay pellets. The groceries helped, but she was not gaining muscle and her topline remained terrible.

I still did not realize my saddle did not fit.

When I figured out the gullets were adjustable, thanks to Megra, we changed her wide gullet to a narrow. That helped a lot, and we were able to get the saddle up off her withers. That saddle worked for us for a long time, until it just didn't work anymore.

Tyra and Early

It was two months now, and Tyra had blossomed. But her back was still very weak. By now, Tyra had started jumping 2'6 vertical courses. Her gaits were extremely steady and she was easy to extend and collect. We worked mainly on adding and subtracting strides. Below is an image after her very first 2'6 course.

She was one of the best horses I'd ever jumped. So easy, so responsive, and never said no. She hadn't a single refusal since I started riding her. At the time, I didn't focus on flatwork at all. I just wanted to jump.

Tyra with a student from the lesson program, 2'6.​

Her topline was improving every day, but no matter how much I rode her it never was enough. I could not figure out what was wrong. Certainly she was eating enough? I was riding her every day, sometimes twice a day. What was going on?

Even still, the improvement we saw in a little over two months was staggering.

Her neck was becoming thick and muscular. She started coming out of her shell, offering cute little glimpses into her personality. She remained food aggressive, pinning her ears at me when I would get near her grain. She never bit, but she still saw me as a threat. We estimated she had not been fed and had to fight for her food with the horse she lived with before I got her.

Unfortunately, things would about to take a turn for the very worst, which would lead us to the land of clinton anderson, natural horsemanship, narcissists, and how sometimes a lay off can bring horse and human closer together.

Ty and I. I love her today as much as I did, if not more, the day I found her online

772 Posts
Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
chapter four

While bathing Tyra alongside Meg and Mochi, Meg crinkled her face and pointed at a few sores she saw on Tyra's back. "What are those?" she asked.

I looked. They were small, but raised and when you pressed on them they dispersed, only to fill back up upon release. "I don't know," I answered.

"Her saddle might not fit. I think those are blisters. Is she sore?"

I ran my hand down Tyra's back and sure enough, she gave a soft gasp and arched her back violently. Oh no...

My saddle didn't fit.

The next day I went to walgreens and bought five gel packs. I brought out her girth and surcingle and attached the gel packets to either side of her back with the contraption. I let her sit for fourty minutes, cribbing, while I iced her back.

I knew nothing about chiros, accupuncturists, or the like. My mare's back was sore and she had given no indication under saddle apart from the fact that she was more and more reluctant to go forward. I felt horrible.

I gave Tyra 3 weeks off to recuperate, corrected the gullet, and tried again. This time, she took off after we landed from the jump and EXPLODED into a bucking fit. Every. Single. Time.

The last straw came when one day I was in the arena with my favorite lesson student, riding Tyra while she rode a pony called Bugs. When I asked for a canter, Tyra started to bronc. Big bucks. sticking her head between her legs and kicking her feet over her head. I stayed on for 8 repetitions before she spun me off. I flew into a jump, seriously injuring my hip.

The student got on, thinking she could correct it, and I got to see what was happening. At cueing the canter. Tyra JUMPED into the air and kicked out as hard as she could. The girl was hanging on by a thread. I was horrified, I could not believe my sweet little mare was being so nasty.

Then I called in professional help. A trainer who came onto the property to teach a few students was well-known for her hand at correcting stubborn horses. I talked to her about the saddle fit issues, the back soreness, and the bucking. She checked the saddle (she was a saddle fitter as well), and said it fit "OK," and should not be causing the kind of issues I was describing.

The woman got on Tyra and started lateral flexions. This trainer was an eventer who didn't have much of a show record, but seemed to know enough to get her students around a course and earn high marks.

She found that Tyra would not give to the bit, even throwing in a few rears when she held the contact. Finally, Tyra bowed her head and the woman released. She then picked up a trot, pulling Tyra's head into her chest. Then a canter. No bucking, no resistance, and the canter was large and powerful. I was amazed. I thought we'd found the secret ingredient.

I got on next. I was instructed to hold Tyra's head as low and as round as I could. She said, "if you see the neck muscle pop up, that means she is using her back." So I concentrated on finding the neck muscle, cranking her nose into her chest.

When we entered the canter, I found I could not hold what felt like 500 pounds of pressure in my hands. "Is she supposed to feel this heavy?" I asked, quite shocked.

"yep, that's normal," insisted the trainer.

For the next three weeks I rode her like this, nose as tight as I could pull it. But soon we lost all of our impulsion. No amount of leg or crop could make Tyra go faster than a walk. I needed help yet again.

"She must submit," the trainer had told me. "She's too willful, she must submit."

While we struggled with our walk, a lady who was known for being a bit of a troublemaker came up to us. "I see your horse is lame."

Lame? I got off. I trotted her out. Sure enough, she was lame on both hinds. "I believe her feet need help. Her hamstrings are too tight." She ran her hand down Tyra's thighs, and she reacted by picking her legs up. "I have a farrier who can help you. If you let me, I can help you, too."

I figured it was worth a shot, how bad could she be?

This woman practiced CA horsemanship, and I admired her ability to round pen without a lunge line. Her horses listened to her. She had a sorrel quarter horse named Dandy, and a large draft named Prince. Both were rescue cases and both had lameness issues that she said she knew how to resolve.

The day of our farrier appointment, he exclaimed that Tyra's hinds were way too tall and all her heels were crushed. "This horse needs serious help." Right away he went to correcting what he could of her hooves. We trotted her out, and amazingly she was sound! She didn't struggle to pick up the trot at all!

The woman said that due to her back pain and hoof issues, we should give her eight months to rehab. Not wanting to get back on a bucking horse, I agreed.

The lady's name was Mitch. Her claim to fame was starting horses, but never finishing them. Right away she worked on respect with Tyra in the round pen. Moving her feet, getting her forward, and making her change directions at a simple point of the finger. Tyra became very good at this, but I was starting to get comments from railbirds, especially those in the eventing trainer's group.

"That woman is going to ruin your horse," Elizabeth, a well-known dressage queen, warned me. "She makes horses lame. She has no idea how to ride. Stick with Jessie, she will help you and your mare."

I didn't believe her, as Tyra was improving under this woman's care.

Mitch helped me with many things. She was an ambulance driver and medic, and knew her way around vet medicine. She taught me how to bandage, how to suture, how to administer shots, how to check for lameness, how to treat tendon issues, how to treat accesses, and other important veterinary medicine skills. This woman almost never used the vet, believing she had human-based knowledge she could apply to her animals. I'd never heard of DIY medicine, and I was intrigued. Whatever she treated magically resolved the next day, and I greatly valued her medical experience.

We moved Tyra to the arena, and started lunging her there. Using a Clinton Anderson halter, Mitch was able to cue Tyra on just a soft wiggle. Tyra immediately stopped and faced her, and then went straight back to the canter. It was fascinating watching Mitch, because she really seemed to understand what she was doing.

Tyra was gaining weight. Wheras before she would not go over 900 pounds, now she was strong, muscled and weight over 1200. The same weight she had been claimed to weigh back when I bought her.

Her canter was improving. She no longer cross cantered. She kept her lead and picked up the right one all the time.

It was May, now, and Mitch thought she was ready to be ridden. I acquired a dressage saddle from a friend, as my interest in the sport was growing. We thought perhaps Tyra would never jump again. Maybe the bad experiences with the saddle led her to believe she just couldn't do it, so a new sport was in order.

Mitch rode western and trails, and knew almost nothing about English. But, in order for me to stay her friend, she pretended she did. For a while she trained me, not wanting me to pick up any contact with Tyra but instead wanted her long and low and forward. All the reading I was doing in dressage seemed to contradict this notion, and I became highly skeptical.

I sought the help of Mitch's dressage trainer, a grand prix gold medalist named Meghan. Meghan had been trained by a woman trained by Charlotte Dujardan, and Meghan herself was a FEI-level rider, so i did not doubt her skills. She wanted us to use a crop and spurs, and Mitch was vehemently against it. She thought if you couldn't use your natural aids you were worth nothing, but Tyra had become so dull to the leg aids that no amount of kicking and squeezing was working.

Unfortunately, Mitch grew quite unbearable to be around. She often down-talked many of my English equestrian friends, claiming they were abusive riders who did not understand horses or "true" riding at all. I started to be avoided and disliked by many of my friends, and my associations with Mitch were highly negative.

One day, out of the blue she texted me about a good mutual friend I'd been hanging around a lot. "If you want to train with me, you will stop talking to her or I will no longer help you and Tyra."

I texted her back, "I won't be made to choose friends. I'm sorry, but you don't have any say in what I do with my horse or with other people."

I didn't hear from her again. While Mitch proved a valuable medical asset, her attitude was atrocious and I no longer wanted her negativity in my life.

I resumed my dressage training, but without Mitch, Meghan would not come to the barn. She lived too far away and it was too long of a drive for her to commit without at least two riders. None of my friends needed trainers, so I had to find someone else. For a while I worked on dressage with Tyra alone, implementing what I felt was correct for us.

But I still needed more training, and we wanted to resume jumping. I was recommended a saddle fitter who fitted us with a custom, adjustable Sommer Espirit. Now that we had the back problems under control, we could resume serious riding.

All the time off had made Tyra and I exceptionally close. I found joy in just being around her, taking her for hand walks and grazing time. I talked to her endlessly, and I found in a certain way she talked back. We were bonded at the hip and I knew this was the horse of a lifetime, and even if I could never ride her again I would always love and take care of her.

I do miss Mitch. She was an extremely fun person, but I will not be told to choose friends. That winter was one of the best winters of my life, and I pity her for being so hard-headed. She was a really great person and we had become exceptionally close. The last I heard she is still training horses, but avoids people in the Pastures for her negative reputation.

447 Posts
I really liked reading these two chapters. There are some horse people out there really set in their ways, and any sort of use of crop or spurs is considered abuse. It really depends how those tools are implemented. :)

772 Posts
Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
chapter five

After we stopped training with Mitch, I started taking lessons with the resident hunter/jumper trainer, Pat. Pat was one of those horse people who liked horses, but not humans. She was short-tempered with eyes of fiery passion. There was no room for slacking off at her barn. You had to bite your tongue when you talked to her sometimes, as she was always on the defensive and quick to criticize and judge. She used to yell so loud in the arena: "JUMPER POSITION, JUMPER POSITION!" to some of the students who just weren't getting it. If you proved a difficult learner, she gave up on you and handed you off to the residential children's trainer.

Pat liked Tyra, but Pat didn't always think we were a good match. "I'd never ride that horse," Pat said, "she's crazy. I can't believe you still have her." Pat had taken many falls. She'd had her knees replaced, hip surgery, broken bones, and recently crushed lungs and ribs from a fall off a horse. Though Pat still rode, her gun-ho personality became quite conservative and she didn't take nearly as many risks as she used to.

I didn't have any other trainers around me who I liked, and I definitely was not going back to Jessie, so Pat was the only game in town.

It seemed, looking back, things only got worse under Pat. She did not understand Tyra. "Don't let her look!" she used to say when Tyra would spook at an object. I always let Tyra see and investigate whatever scared her, but Pat wanted us to push forward. She thought letting Tyra look would teach her to spook. She was the trainer, and I was the student.

Upon returning to jumping, our new issue was lugging and rushing jumps. Tyra would bolt at a fence, land, and pull me onto her neck while cantering around the ring without a stop in sight. She reminded me a lot of Jr., but this was not how she used to be. I tried a pelham, we tried a gag, nothing seemed to help the lugging and rushing.

The lessons got more and more anxiety-prone. Tyra began bolting and bucking at a whim, and she would collect more and more speed and be impossible to stop. I quickly became frightened. Everything came together in a terrible way when one day, during a lesson that was not going well at all, Tyra spooked big at the tractor grooming the outside of the arena. She bolted forward, lept into the air and threw her back legs as far over her head as I could go. I was immediately dislodged, but my foot got stuck in my stirrup. I landed on my feet, but as my ankle twisted my stirrup leather snapped and my foot came crashing to the ground. I heard a pop, and then pain seared up my leg and I collapsed.

The student in our lesson grabbed Tyra and Pat drove the truck in to the arena, and off to the hospital we went. I remember feeling more upset about not being able to ride than the pain that was in my ankle. Pat felt terrible, but it wasn't really her fault.

I was in a boot and cast for 8 weeks. I had torn the tendons and ligaments in my ankle in two places. It hurt so, so much the first few days, but slowly it got better. I was angry that I could not stay on her bucks, but I was not upset with Tyra.

I called a trainer friend of mine and explained to her the situation. "She's tense, she spooks, and she still bucks," I complained. The trainer, named Caroline, was a well-known eventing, dressage, and hunter/jumper rider and trainer who managed one of the biggest A barns in the area. We met last summer when I worked at her barn as a student underneath her, and became good friends. She agreed to come help me.

Under Caroline, Tyra began to change. The first rides were filled with shadow punches, Tyra bucking and shaking her head in an effort to scare Caroline the same way she'd scared me. But the woman did not give in. She remained stoic through it all, choosing not to react and instead pushed Tyra forward instead of allowing her to plant her feet and escalate.

When the pair was finally ready to jump, Tyra did not rush or buck afterwards. She was incredibly calm. "She wants to take the long spots," Caroline commented, "I want to dictate where we jump. Eventually she can choose, but right now she needs to listen to me."

It was the beginning of the end of Old Tyra. New Tyra was developing.

I got a text a few weeks after Caroline joined us, asking if I would ever consider moving my horse. "You guys need a new start. I have a friend who owns a barn and is looking for boarders. It is invite only. The arena is great. I am moving my horses there as well."

So, I went to see it, and my was it beautiful. The arena was smaller an more strangely shaped than our huge jumping arena, but the barn was lovely. It comprised of cross ties, a full tack room, and the stalls were 12 x 12 with a 12 x 24 run. The best part, the horses got turned out for six hours a day and were fed three times a day. It was perfect.

We moved two weeks later.

About two weeks into our new barn, Tyra was a different horse. She no longer reacted to noise. She was calm. She didn't spook at anything. The bucking stopped, the headshaking was a thing of the past, and she was happy. Her feet were healing. She had made a friend, Cloud, who she was turned out with and stalled next to.

I finally had my horse back.

And that is where we are today. December 3 we competed at our very first schooling show. Tyra has never been off property before save for one trip to the local horse park. We did walk/trot classes and cleaned up with two firsts, two seconds, and a fourth out of our five classes. She was absolutely perfect, not a single issue. We got back in March for the hunter derby.

I am in the green coat.

So now that we are all caught up on just how we got here, I can begin writing about our adventures in the present!


772 Posts
Discussion Starter #17
I skipped going to the barn today, so I wanted to take some time to discuss some things that have been on my mind recently regarding horses, showing, and training.

In another thread about my mare, @gottatrot and I have been having a dialogue back and forth regarding whether or not the "dressage ideals" are even attainable, or if they are completely inbred in dressage horses. Originally, I stood on the side that eventually, with faith, love, and maybe some pixie dust any horse could get to the FEI level, but not every horse could win. That is still true to a certain extent. You do not need a certain level of points to move onto the next level in dressage, it is whenever you feel ready. But once you go up, you can't come down, at least that is my understanding.

Another thread I was reading talks about how dressage horses are bred to have snappy knees, lofty gaits, uphill movements, and inbred suspension. It's not developed, it just looks that way. Yes, perhaps there's a little bit of training that's involved, but in reality those horses you see on tv are all natural. My horse, no matter how hard we try, is never going to look like that.

But I think it's interesting how, while dressage and saddleseat both prefer exaggerated movements, dressage is one of the only sports that I know of that does not try and get excessive "more" from a horse's movements, if we ignore rollkur for a second which pops that above assumption hard.. There's no stacking of the shoes, no ankle bracelets, no tail sets, nothing artificial like the saddleseat discipline. There's no soring, and the only drug abuse I believe would be the overuse of ace/depressants to make those hot horses calmer for the show ring, which is a common issue among many equine disciplines.

Before the warmblood really started dominating sports, the horse that ruled the world was the thoroughbred, and the thoroughbred was developed as the thoroughbred naturally moved. You see videos of dressage in the 50's, 60's and even 70's, and the movement of the horses is drastically different than the movement in today's warmbloods.

Compare this footage of dressage in the 1950s to the dressage of today's horses:

Just look at how different those two horses perform their canter pirouettes!

Laura graves is one of my all-time favorite riders. Her story with Diddy reminds me so much of my struggles with Tyra. Still, Diddy is a dutch warmblood and his leg action is simply what his breeding dictates he do. He has no choice, it is in his blood. Laura uses what natural action Diddy provides her and articulates it through specific training, but the movement is always there. The two styles in these videos are drastically different from one another.

I think it is good that I reach for the stars, but it's important I stay in the reality that Tyra, while she has natural athletic ability, cannot hold a candle to verdades, valegro, nip tuck, or even salinero. even poor, poor totilas could blow tyra out of the water despite being lame.

I still love my girl, though, and we will do what works for us. We will be the best we can be, as a team, even if it isn't going to win us a blue ribbon. I think there's more openings at the lower levels, as we'll be facing off against quarter horses, warmblood crosses and other thoroughbreds, but my dreams of PSG or grand prix may be on another horse.

It's a hard pill to swallow, but I still know all this training is going to help keep Tyra strong, fit, and sound.

5,462 Posts
Pretty neat to see those two videos playing at the same time. Very interesting.

I think it's important to think you can achieve anything...except it is also important to understand reality. No use being too hard on yourself for not achieving something that is actually not due to your riding and training, but rather is just impossible for your horse to do.

Love the blue ribbon picture, it is great.

772 Posts
Discussion Starter #20
gottatrot said:
I think it's important to think you can achieve anything...except it is also important to understand reality. No use being too hard on yourself for not achieving something that is actually not due to your riding and training, but rather is just impossible for your horse to do.
Important for me to remember this. Thanks Gottatrot. And thanks for the comment on my photo! It was a super great day for us. :) Very proud of Tyra!
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