The Horse I Didn’t Know I Needed
I like to think horses have a mysterious way of finding who they belong to, even if you’re not quite sure at first if it’s meant to be. To understand how I came to this conclusion, it’s best if I give you a little bit of a backstory.
After my heart horse Toby passed away unexpectedly, I found myself wanting to start over, like from the very beginning. So thus, began my search for a project horse. What is a project horse? The more I asked myself what kind of project I wanted, the more answers I got from my fellow horse friends.
While my first horse had his fair share of quirks, I had never, truly worked with a green horse before. My budget was small, but my determination was great, and with the help of my trainer, we were sent out to the horse selling world of the equine community. I saw the ads, I sent too many videos to friends, and I like to think I was hopefully developing a keen eye for what to look for in the sales ad videos and what I even liked. How different from Toby did I want this new project horse to be?
The sale ads were tricky. Some people were advertising green horses that didn’t have their changes, but could jump a 3’ course already. For others, a green horse was one that had yet to be sat on. Oh boy. I realized I needed to narrow down what I wanted and what would work. My original checklist began to unravel, and the results began to get sorted. I wanted something with sass, spirit, and pep. Toby was more woah than go, and while he had been exactly what I needed, I was now ready for all the go a new horse could offer. I also wanted something somewhat petite and compact, because, despite my 5’9 height, I can appreciate a smaller horse, and would prefer something below 16 hands.
The first horse I became interested enough in trying was the cutest chestnut mare I had ever laid eyes on. She had similar markings to Toby and at first, I was hesitant about the initial similarities, but isn’t color the last thing you can be picky about? I went to try Pepper on a Sunday, and the following day I told her previous owner, I wanted to buy her. Pepper checked off all of my boxes and then some. She was 15.2 on a good day, had a naturally floaty trot, and had been slightly started over cross rails. Her canter needed some work, but she was willing and so was I.
Okay, so I bet at this point, you’re wondering, ‘if you knew Pepper was the one from your first trial ride, what do you mean that sometimes you don’t know when it’s meant to be?’ Well, it can be just as humbling to realize, that perhaps, it’s not meant to be. I recognized about 8 months into owning her, her heart just wasn’t quite into the hunter world. She would be spicy in the ring, (too spicy for the ring, really), and then be as adventurous as me(okay, probably more) on the trail. While I try to get out of the ring as often as possible, I don’t always have the time to ride for several hours each day through the woods, and I knew that’s what her heart wanted. In my time with Pepper, I learned how to listen, truly listen to what the horse is telling you. From recognizing that she was hesitant with a bit, to getting a wolf tooth removed, to being grumpy when the saddle was put on, to treating and seeing success from ulcer medication, I saw Pepper blossom with me. But there became a point, where she had learned all she could from me, I learned all I could from her, and our goals and joys just did not align. It wasn’t fun to come to that realization, but t was time to part ways.
Although I bought Pepper as a project, I realized I had every intention of keeping her forever, because that’s simply what everyone does at my barn. I’m surrounded by barn mates that tell me 20 years old is young for a horse, and my trainer has a 32-year old pony that still canters around the ring like he’s not a day over 10. So, to make the decision that I couldn’t offer Pepper what she needed was hard, but I knew at the end of the day it was what was best for the horse. I find comfort in knowing she is enjoying all the land up north in her new home and she’s able to be her best, happiest self.
So the horse search began again. This time I was even pickier and decided while my spicy hot Pepper was fun, I actually required something with less go and more woah than she had. I bet you can see where this is going. Did I mention that my Toby was a western pleasure horse before he transitioned into hunters? Well, thanks to his memory I found myself searching for western pleasure horses that seemed to have a knack for jumping. I went to a barn to try horses and was determined to find a small, petite horse again, yes like Pepper, but one that wanted to hack around and essentially be relaxed and lazy from the start. Somehow, by the end of that visit, I agreed to take
a 16.2, big-bodied quarter horse home on trial. He had a canter to die for, could pick up speed, but come down so easily, and enjoyed a good 2’6 jump. Perfect. I could get over the size when everything else was so perfect.
Well, as luck would have it first ride on him at my barn, was terrible. It turned out he was too sassy, and I immediately began to second guess my decision on selling Pepper. However, I managed to talk myself down. It was okay if he wasn’t the one. That’s why there are trials, right? We politely brought him back the next day, and after looking around a bit, there were really only two horses that I liked enough to get on. My trainer was smitten by this little bay mare, who had to be about 15.2, with skinny legs, a slightly longer back, but the cutest white blaze, in the shape of a lightning bolt.
This bay mare looked almost identical to my trainer’s old horse, Bolt, that had passed away a couple years before. Bolt was a steady–eddy. He took me to my first shows and taught me to canter. My first ever trail ride was on Bolt. My first ever bareback ride, sure enough, was on Bolt. He also won me my first blue ribbon when he was 28 years old. He was such a special friend and teacher to so many riders, and the resemblance this mare had to him was too uncanny to not at least try, right?
I wasn’t impressed with her canter or her trot, and to be completely honest, I was feeling a bit pessimistic overall. I had low expectations but was just about burnt out from what felt like an eternity of finding my new four-legged partner, but my trainer encouraged me to just “give her a try, what’s another trial?”
I took her home that day, and I think I knew by the third time I rode her; Phoebe was truly the one for me. She is everything I could want in a horse, even if I didn’t recognize that at first. She is happy to go bareback in a hackamore, and then equally as happy to work with me on my new goal: becoming a dressage queen. She is also excited to jump some jumps here and there and is always bringing her A-game to every ride, whether that’s in the ring or on the trail. She tries her heart out for me, and I am so enjoying seeing the progress we make.
I like to think this was the plan all along. Sometimes we’re simply just along for the ride, and the bumps are just lessons we are privileged to learn.