Meet Romeo. Romeo is one of the favorites around our farm. He is a go-to for everything, including pony rides, lessons, camp, trail rides—you name it. He is a great all around horse that is as unflappable as a horse can get.
Lesson # 1
It pays to have good contacts in the horse world. I heard about Romeo through my farrier at the time. He knew we always were interested in a horse or pony that might be suitable for our program. It takes such a special type to do what we do. Tater, our farrier, had a large clientele and went to a lot of barns. He knew lots of horse people. He knew which ones were trustworthy and which ones were not.
He also had a photographic memory for horses and remembered every horse he interacted with, especially if it was a really, really nice one. Romeo is one of those! Tater heard about Romeo through the grapevine of his clients and told me how good he was. He said if we were interested, we should go as soon as possible because someone was going to snatch him up. We went that weekend!
You can get good beginner horses for free. Romeo was formerly a racetrack pony...meaning he was the horse that accompanied the racehorse to the starting gate. He was old now, and couldn't keep up with those big racehorses anymore. There was no need for him to be thrown out in a field though and forgotten, he was still a perfectly rideable horse.
He definitely shows his age at times. His joints can be stiff, and his weight tends to fluctuate throughout the year. He has trouble maintaining his weight in the winter when its extremely cold or summer when it's extra hot. Romeo would not be up to running and jumping anymore. He is a phenomenal lesson horse though. He stands like a rock on the crossties and is quiet as can be under saddle. He is worth his weight in gold in a program like mine. The best part, we didn't pay a dime for him.
Lesson # 3
Listen when the horse tries to tell you something. One time we were out on a trail ride with Romeo coming down a hill towards a river crossing. It appeared to be a pebbly hard bottom. My friend was riding Romeo in front of me, and he hesitated to move forward down the trail. Being the honest old man he is, though, one slap with the crop and he headed down the path towards the water. Hesitantly, but he went.
Before we knew it, he took his first steps into the water and hesitated again. My friend pushed him again and he went, even though you could tell he didn't want to. Next thing we knew, he had sunk up over his knees and hocks in the mud.
It happened so fast. We couldn't do anything about it. He lurched himself up in the air and out of the mud. Then just kept on walking like nothing ever happened. Luckily, my friend managed to stay on. The other two of us on the ride were able to steer around the awful mud and avoid a bad accident or injured horse.
We know Romeo's normal behavior and should have known that there was something wrong if he wouldn't do what he was told. We will never doubt Romeo's judgment on the trails again. Most horses if that would have happened to them they would have been shaken up and nervous for the rest of the ride. Not Romeo, he was back to his happy trail horse self before we knew it.
Lesson # 4
On windy days when you are loading your horses on the trailer, make sure the doors are secured back. One of the latches was broken on the one side of my trailers door. So it was hanging open when we were loading instead of hooked back like it should have been. Romeo always willingly walked right onto the trailer. That day, the crazy wind blew the door and whacked Romeo in the hip with it.
He went flying backward in shock and took some coaxing to load up. I'm sure it hurt when it hit him, the wind was blowing like 25 miles per hour that day. Luckily it did not cut him or scrape him or anything. He has never forgotten it though.
To this day, he always takes a good long look at the trailer before he gets on. He has never fought us or tried to avoid getting on. He just stops and takes a long hard look each time he is loaded. He wants to remind me of my mistake so that it doesn't happen again.
Horses need sunscreen too! I have had many horses in my life, just never one with such a sensitive pink muzzle as Romeo has. It is very prone to sunburn. If we don't religiously keep up with sunscreen on his nose, he gets very sore and even gets blisters.
I knew that this was something that was common with horses that have light colored muzzles, and noses. I just never owned one myself, until Romeo that seems to be so affected by the sun. So that was definitely a good lesson. A good reminder of yet one other thing to be aware of with your horses.
Sometimes a pony ride pony is actually a horse, not a pony. Romeo is probably 16 hands. Much bigger than a normal size pony used for pony rides. Romeo is so calm and quiet. He will walk quietly in circles, just as well as the best pony ride ponies. We use him for pony rides, along with the little guys during the busy season. People are always surprised to see a full-size horse. Much of the time, the kids really want to ride the big horse!
Lesson # 7
Old horses are the best horses. I do not know Romeo's exact age, but he is over 20. He has seen the world, been there, done that. Knows what is expected of him and does it without complaint. This kind of wisdom in a horse just come with age and experience. This makes him ideal for my program.
He is literally a jack of all trades. Pony rides, lessons, trail riding horse, we even vault on him sometimes. He is absolutely worth his weight in gold. Don't overlook a horse because it is old, you might really be missing out.
Romeo is one of the best horses I have ever had the pleasure of owning. He is one of those that the moment I saw, my sixth horse sense told me I needed him. My sixth sense doesn't steer me wrong!