Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Thursday, March 26, 2015

In the Arena #157 - Two birds with one stone,
or in defense of the ottb...

Finally, something to jog me out of the place where everything I tried to write for this blog -

sounded whiny,

sounded boring,

was complaining,

was complaining about the stupid weather, which = whiny + boring.

[With any luck, this post will conveniently combine catching up on the past year's worth of never published posts, with a blog renaissance. To anyone who has continued to stop by and see if we're still breathing - thank you.]

Recently I came across several posts and comments out there about knowing what horse is right for you, knowing when a horse is not right for you, which types of horses are right for which people... it got me thinking. So here's our story.

I am the owner of a 2002 model ottb. He was found for me by my trainer at the time (as a seven year old), whose school horses were nearly all thoroughbreds.

I had invested in four years of dressage lessons with her. For a few summers before that I was a trail guide. Lots of barn watching and catch riding. By no means a super confident rider, but I felt ready for horse ownership, with my trainer's guidance.

Was Val crazy / wild / hot when I got him? No. He had three years off the track (trained, injured I suspect, never ran), eventually doing hunters, some low level jumping, and recovering from injuries before we met. Could he become crazy /wild / hot? Yes. He wasn't above exploiting my lack of leadership and my inexperience.

Less than a year passed before my trainer lost her farm and moved away. Living in the middle of nowhere means that finding any dressage trainer at all is tricky. Finding the kind of person I want to work with - not "putting the horse in a frame", not seesawing on his mouth, not using gadgety tack, but improving rider skills / seat / feel by listening to the horse - even trickier. The nearest candidates are 5 - 6 hours away.

We had some setbacks, and made some progress too. Slow, micro progress, but it was ours alone, and we earned it. Then, summer before last, I was overjoyed to finally find a biomechanics trainer. After a few successful road trips for lessons on her horses, I scheduled a mini-clinic so I could take Val with.

While I was tacking him up for our first lesson, the trainer, in a major hurry, rushed into the stall with me and began to "help" saddle him. He got wiggly. When she scooted around behind him to get out of the way, spooking him and blocking me in, he swung around into me, pinning me at the stall entrance, and breaking the living tar out of my arm.

If that wasn't bad enough, because I'd knuckled under and hadn't insisted on stalling Val upon arrival, (what we had planned initially as there was no dry lot), he was pastured on rich grass - enough to make him super lame on both fronts with raging digital pulses, within 36 hours. In retrospect, this likely added to his behavior while tacking up. What a nightmare.

Fast forward through trailering my horse home seven hours. (one-armed + standard transmission) Through the surgery I couldn't afford. Through missing four months of work from my landscaping job. Through being assured (wrongly), that my injury would be covered by the trainer's insurance. (not without me suing her) Through putting a serious hit on my down payment savings. Through taking care of my horse and farm one armed. Through an extended depression. Through endless groundwork while I recovered my health and my confidence. Through screwing up the courage to ride again...

Fast forward to today. Val standing out in the middle of his paddock. Wind gusting 40 mph. At liberty - no halter, no lead rope - for an hour, while I shed him out, curried and brushed every inch of him. While he showed me where the ticks were (in his man parts) and let me shove my head up in there to find them, and my hand up in there to remove them. While he held up all four hooves for me to pick. While he didn't move one step.

Are we madly rising up the levels? No, but I hop on bareback and feel totally comfortable. Do we trail ride solo? Not yet. But he's super appreciative of my amateur trimming attempts. He'll back up a dozen steps on my hand signal. In close quarters, he (now) respects my space. I can put his blankets on, over his head, out in the pasture, at night. He ground ties. He's awesome at self-loading.

Am I accomplishing what I envisioned when I brought Val home? Not exactly - circumstances have led us down a different path. But I have learned valuable lessons - some painful, some expensive. And I'm a much better horsewoman now.

Are ottbs for everyone? Maybe not. They can be challenging. They require a tactful rider. They're forgiving of your inadequacies, as long as you're humble enough to admit to having them. I have high hopes for finding instruction again, once my house is built. (!) In the meantime, we'll keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Are ottbs for everyone? Depends on the circumstances. But isn't that true about most horse / human combinations?



  1. great post and not whiny at all. It sounds like the two of you have made a lot of progress.

  2. So great to hear from you again! This post is a great reminder that life is about the journey and not the destination. Val is lucky to have found you . . . and vice versa.

    You have certainly been put through the wringer in so many ways, you certainly have my respect.

  3. Wonderful post! You've had a lot to deal with, but you've got a great horse and great determination to go with him. Can't wait to read the next chapters on your journey.

  4. It's so nice to hear from you again. You and Val have come a long way in your journey together. Everything is a learning experience and makes us all better horsemen.

    Don't stop writing and let us know what's happening with you. Don't worry you could never be boring or whiny! I have great respect for you and what you manage to do on your own.

  5. Its great to hear from you. It's not about the discipline or the levels -- its about the connection. As you well know, it is what brings the greatest joy in horse ownership and riding. You and Val have that in spades.

  6. Life sometimes takes us on unexpected paths, and sometimes for the better (: I'm in the process of trainer searching also but right now my auction mare and I are just enjoying time together.

    And it's good to hear from you again! I complained so much this winter- I must have sounded like a pain haha

  7. Your last sentence sums it up perfectly: any horse/human combination can maybe not work, or go through rough patches, or require change from either party. I have become a stronger (in many ways) person because of the challenges with my horse.

    That being said, I'm glad you're riding again and healthy! No more of those bad types of challenges please. Onto more good stories of training and adventures. And happy to read about it (I like all of it: the good, the bad, the whiny, we've all been there.)

  8. You got the important part right. I had a beautiful OTTB for many years. Over the years we did so many things together. He was never a horse I could totally relax on, but I could put kids on him and he would be a perfect gentleman. It's hard to explain how they can be so sweet and full of fire at the same time.

  9. It's great to hear from you again, and I love this!

  10. Yay you posted!! Loved this so much. I think the challenging horses, regardless of breed, are the ones that teach us the most about horses yes, but especially about ourselves. It's fun to have competitive goals, but it's meaningless when we don't have that special bond with our horses. The story, the journey, is the best part.

    Did you ever hear the Anastasia song? "At The Beginning" by Donna Lewis and Richard Marx.
    "And life is a road I wanna keep going
    Love is a river I want to keep flowing
    Life is a road now and forever
    Wonderful journey.
    I'll be there when the world stops turning
    I'll be there when the storm is through.
    In the end I wanna be standing at the beginning with you."
    I think it sums this up perfectly. :)

  11. I loved this, and I love the ongoing discussion about OTTBs as appropriate or not appropriate for amateur owners.

    Many wonderful thoughts for you and Val going into the future.

  12. Wow. Somehow I missed this. I think you nailed what I like about TBs: that ability to balance the wild with the gentle, and the incredible bond they form with those close to them.

    Pig doesn't stand for hurried tacking. He'll deal if it is just me rushing, but if you add another rushing person to the mix, he is out of there. Poor Val, and poor you. That whole situation was just a mess.

  13. So glad you're back in the groove with Val. :)

  14. I love OTTBs and think that a lot can be learned from them. It's really just a basis by basis situation, I think. It sounds like you and Val have had a really good journey and have so much more to look forward to. Great post!

  15. I love this post! So true with horses isn't it, to remain true to who they know us to be on s regular basis!


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