At the age of six, I started dreaming of my own horse after watching The Black Stallion. But I didn’t learn to ride until I was nine and absolutely loved it. When I was ten I started working at Idyll Acres Farm in exchange for riding/leasing an older semi retired horse named Dillon. He was a great horse to learn on as he knew when to spook at something and buck me off if I wasn’t paying attention.
My first horse Elmo was the biggest influence on my life, and the fulfillment of my dream of my own “black stallion.” A former racehorse who retired because of an injury in the starting gate and then getting pneumonia, he never lost his competitive edge and desire to run. That did prove quite a challenge when I started taking him to horse shows. As I was still young and not quite strong enough, there were times he would take off running, especially when all the horses were cantering to the left in the show ring, and it was impossible to stop him. Needless to say I was frustrated and embarrassed, but my desire to succeed in what I loved kept me going. My patience and persistence paid off and soon we were winning ribbons. Victory is so much sweeter when there is hard work behind it.
We had eight great years of shows together. In 2008, I had to make the heart breaking decision to retire him at 18 as his former injury kept flaring up and he couldn’t stay sound. But I spent time with him everyday and he loved it. Then I came across a supplement for senior horses that helped him feel young again. I was able to ride him lightly around the farm, and he gave “pony rides” to kids who adored him. He was very quiet when I led him around with a child on his back, but his fire was ignited when I rode him out in the field. He was the best horse ever and taught me a lot about myself. Sadly I lost him to a really bad colic in December 2010, but his memory lives on.
For two years 2008-2009 I leased a horse name Absolute Dream and competed on the show circuit. He had been impossible to jump until I met him. He really lived up to his name and we cleaned up the ribbons, ending both years with Grand Champion at the year-end banquet.
About six months, I galloped racehorses at two home tracks. It was an awesome feeling to gallop a horse on the track and pull him up after the workout. I also got the chance to visit a few racetracks and watched how horses were worked. It really helped me understand how to work with and train retired racehorses.
My current horse Spicer is quite an angel, but she didn’t start out that way. I started working with her shortly after she retired from the track at the age of three in 2001. She had quite a hard life at the track and was not fond of people at all. No one wanted her because she was a mare, and “not cute” or “pretty.” It was a rough start as she had some soundness issues that I could not address as she still was owned by the farm at the time. A few years later she was given to me and I was able to find out the source of the problems and had a vet treat her. We worked hard together and she blossomed into a beautiful girl.
All was well until I brought my horse trailer into the picture. (Up until this time I rode in horse shows with Elmo and then on friend’s horses.) She proved to be very claustrophobic and refused to go near the trailer. It took weeks and months of working with her before she was somewhat more agreeable. But I still couldn’t close her in it. When I asked some friends to help, it really intensified her fear and hatred of the trailer. Nothing seemed to work and a few people suggested dumping her or giving her back to the farm. I spent sleepless nights trying to figure out a solution. And then it hit me: I was so focused on getting her to go in the trailer because I wanted her to. I hadn’t thought twice on how she viewed the trailer.
With a renewed sense of purpose I set out building different contraptions with hay bales and then boards of plywood to get her to get the feeling of being enclosed. I made each situation pleasant for her, but if she disagreed, I made it uncomfortable without any pain or force. And then it was like the light bulb went off: she realized it was fun and she actually wanted to get in the trailer. It took some time for her to build her confidence to stay in it, but she was so trusting. My hard work paid off as I took her off the farm three times to the shock of quite some people who thought it would never happen. She was awesome at her first two horse shows and was amazingly quiet and took it all in stride.
Unfortunately, she was laid up most of last year to a paddock injury so shows were put on hold. By the time she was sound again in the fall, I brought my trailer back after getting some work done on it. Although she hadn’t been in a trailer for over five months, she walked right in without a moment’s hesitation. Patience and persistence are the keys to working with any horse. Once you win their trust, there is no limit to what you can do.
Recently I adopted a young horse fresh off the track. He is really sweet and quiet, quite amazing for having been gelded upon retirement. I am using my experience from galloping the racehorses to retraining him. For example, to get him to pick up the right lead, I don’t ask him on a turn like would normally be done with any horse, but on a straightaway. When the starting gates fly open and the horses jump out, they usually pick up the right lead and then switch to the left as they approach the turn. And it is working really well. With the winter weather here, it is almost impossible to ride so I am really looking forward to warmer days when I can ride everyday again.
Listen to your horse, they can teach you so much more than anyone ever could.