I have this horse. He started out as my farrier’s cow horse, then after an incident where his cow dogs got in a fight underneath him and he sent my farrier yard darting so voraciously that it resulted in a broken collar bone, he came to me to work and sell. Six years ago.
I owe a lot to Hank. He was the first horse I ever took to a recognized show and he’s who really got me into eventing. He might only be a 15 hand cow pony, but the sucker can jump, and he enjoys it. He could also buck. And spin. At the same time.
(As a side note, I apologize for the expletives at the end, but it was a) an automatic response and b) my preferred choice to reprimand, rather than, you know, beating them.)
But Hank hasn’t bucked with me on him in years, regardless of his inconsistent work. Monte and training horses took top priority and he’d sit on the back burner with the pilot barely lit. Even when I lunge him after months off, if he starts to buck and I say, “Haaaank…” he stops.
So when I decided to take four horses with me to PA so I could visit family and hang out a while after my grad school residency (more on that later), I chose to bring Hank. Along with Forrest, Monte and Justin. And I’m so happy I did.
The first day I lunged him he put his head down to buck, I said Haaaaank…. he stopped with his nose to the ground, we started again, he porpoised around in the canter and slid on his side when he was on the downhill slope of his circle, he stood up, dusted himself off and has not bucked, even on the lunge, since. My question is, how many horses don’t buck on the lunge? (Mine don’t when in work, but I’ve seen plenty of horses buck their hearts out on the lunge even though they’re in regular work.) He’s been amazing.
I’ve learned to treat him like a cold backed horse. When I start out, my dead granny could walk faster than him and with more swing in her step. But I let him stay on the buckle in the walk, stay on the buckle to start out in trot and I don’t even worry about contact until at least five minutes of trot, because until then, he’s not going forward. One night, years ago, he started out with that puky pony walk and in my pre-competition frustration I whacked him with the whip. He spun and bucked and dumped me. Lesson learned. I did say he’s been great for me, right?
But after that five minutes of trot, we pick up some contact and start with trot-canter transitions and when we come back to trot his back is swinging. After the first 15 minutes he has a free walk that would be a 10 if he weren’t a quarter horse. His back just rolls and his nose stretches out and down to the ground.
He’s been amazing this whole time in PA, and I haven’t ridden him so much (consistently) in years. I put up some ads for him and when the vet here wrote up my health certificates, she told me that in fact she did know of an eventer looking. The girl called me and we set up a time for her to come try him and the whole time I thought she wanted to event. So I didn’t think it was a big deal when I told her his trot lengthening isn’t exactly stellar. To my knowledge she was a lower level event rider and may never even go Training, but even if she did, he’d make up for his lack of a lengthening elsewhere.
When she came, she told me she planned to event and do dressage, maybe even more than eventing, and even though I told her he could leg yield, do shoulder in, haunches in, started the half-pass and walk-canter, all she heard was no trot lengthening, better at jumping.
There’s no one to blame but myself. Hank would have been perfect for her. Her last horse was a crazy TB that shook her confidence pretty badly, and he’s very obedient, but more of a push ride. You throw the lead rope on the ground and he stands there. He leads and will even load in the trailer with nothing but my hand guiding him by his jaw. He rides bareback. He’s not a big spook. He’s a brave jumper and already schools many of the lower level dressage movements. When walking back to the barn, she asked if he jigged on the way back, and I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. HE CAN HAVE A TROT LENGTHENING. It will just take work; he’s not one of those horses that lengthens as soon as you soften and allow him to. He’s not a fancy mover, but he scores 7s on gaits. And what he lacks in flare, he can make up for in correctness, obedience and shockingly, submission (he hasn’t bucked under saddle in years, remember?).
And the thing is, she’s a rider, but she’s not a RIDER. Hank put up with mistakes she didn’t even know she was making, and while I admire her newfound dressage aspirations, she still needs a lot of foundational work. And yes, she was on a new horse and nervous, I’m sure, but she didn’t even know enough to know what she could get out of him.
Back to my graduate residency. I’m finishing my MFA in writing because I need a backup for the horse business. The riding part comes so easily, and I do really enjoy teaching, but I’m not good at promoting myself or my horses, obviously. I think the two can work in tandem, and all I care about is getting my horses to FEI competitions, in Europe if I’m really lucky. So I’ll do any combination of whatever I need to to get there.
So I apologized to the girl for talking down his dressage skills and for my complete inability to sell a horse and said that since everyone was begging me to stay in town for the holiday weekend, if she wanted, she could come try him again in my dressage saddle this time and that I’d ride him too so she could see his strong points, like staying on the bit and moving off my leg and super smooth transitions.
I told her there was absolutely no pressure, and that if she knew in her heart he wasn’t the horse for her she didn’t even need to respond. Because, when it comes down to it, what I want most is for him to find someone who will love him and spoil him where he can be the favorite and never be put on the back burner with the pilot light barely lit. He deserves that.
I think that maybe if I cared more about making money I would treat horses as a business with more ease, but instead, I care about them.