Day number two was an evening appointment and was in an indoor arena! Yah! However, it was two hours away and not until dark so I knew I'd be doing something I hate to do - drive at night on roads I'm not familiar with.
This horse was a relatively young Paint (10) and had been used mostly for Western pleasure by his owner (a teenaged girl). She wants to run barrels and he "doesn't seem to have the heart for it" so she bought a new horse and is trying to sell him. Side note - young girls who ride, especially jumpers and barrel racers, are fearless. They tend to fly over things and around things at breakneck speeds while giggling. For instance, while demonstrating his canter for me, she was having a conversation with a friend, grabbing at her cell phone that she had forgotten she left in her back pocket, talking to me and smooching and kicking her horse all at once.
The little bugger was a nice horse. And at 15hh a great size. Pretty laid back too. My main issues with this visit were that I was not at all sure I wanted another Paint and also not sure I wanted to have to work on bringing a horse back around to more natural cues (which I'll explain in a moment). As with many large barns (and I do not get this) there were three horses loose and unattended in the arena with us as well as a couple of younger girls riding. He took it all in stride. The barn itself was huge, close to forty boarders and lesson horses.
He was actually SO laid back it took some nudging to get him to trot. As a rider I do not use spurs (which a lot of Western riders seem to) and I have seen horses like him often owned by kids. Kids like more GO than WHOA and they tend to (over generalization) overdo cues, aides, etc. So, if you regularly use spurs, the horse gets to a point where if you don't have spurs in his ribs he doesn't feel the need to be very cooperative. After all, your heel isn't gonna "nudge" him along like a piece of sharp metal poking him. My first lease and best horse ever, Apache, was a horse who had been "over-aided" for most of his life. This little horse had a nice trot and I wish I would have been able to use the whole arena and work him a bit more without all the distractions.
Welcome to horse shopping complete with snotsicles. LOL. I am not kidding I actually cleaned a nice horse's nose out for him today and then blew my own nose (not with the same tissue of course).
This was our "six horse day" and we started it before sunrise. I fed the truck some gas, got snacks for the road and we beat it up into Pennsylvania and ended up meeting one of the most down-to-earth, normal horse people we have ever come into contact with. Meredith of Double M Farms if you ever read this blog you are the real deal! At Meredith's place we met several horses. One that I had originally contacted her about and a few more that she has for sale but hasn't been able to video yet due to the weather. These were all gaited horses, a whole new ballgame for me.
Basically, really quick rundown is that a horse is not just a horse and many of them move differently. Having been "raised on" the standard Quarter Horse and Paint walk, trot, canter (or lope) I am completely unfamiliar with the feel of horses that have other types of standard movements. Such horses are often referred to as "gaited' horses, but really, all movements are gaits. For a detailed article about said differences check THIS out. It is a really cool read with video examples and even just watching them will give you a feel for how different the movements of horses can be.
So, back to our visit with these lovely horses on a very cold morning. She showed us the barn and the horses currently for sale and invited us to get any or all of them out, groom them, play with them, think about which one(s) we wanted to ride and just get to know them. During the introductions there was one in particular that caught my eye (heart). We got four out, groomed and loved them, played some horsey games. He was the first one we played with and when it came time to pick possible rides, we both immediately went back to him. There was something about his look. She told us she purchased him from a guy that expected a lot from him. She felt the horse really tried to please his person and wasn't always acknowledged for trying. The more time we spent with him the more his eyes came to life. He was particularly fond of me and my girlfriend felt that my nurturing personality (yes, it only extends to animals) was a plus to him.
When I mounted this freakin' horse I felt like a princess! LOL. There is something about a gaited horse. Their heads are higher, their necks extend elegantly as they walk and this horse neck reined so smoothly that barely a touch was needed for him to do an equally beautiful change of direction and take me down the aisle in the opposite direction. When my girlfriend (and riding instructor) mounted him she actually giggled with delight.
We stayed a good while with these awesome steeds, got several more out and groomed and visited with them. One was a very tall recently acquired three year old that the kids at the barn had named Sven after the reindeer in Frozen. Having not seen the movie I can't attest to the comparison, only that his step was so big I practically had to run to keep ahead of him. LOL. There was Sparky - a cute little guy with a fuzzy face and one blue eye. Sparky reminded me of a fun little guy just skipping through life, but I desire a little less skipping in my old age. There was Patch, an older horse that would make a lovely companion or complete beginner's mount, and also Aries, who was the horse we were originally interested in. And this is why it is important to MEET horses. Once we met, I did not get the vibe that he felt we were a good fit. He was a lovely horse but we just did not jive.
See, I actually spend more time looking into a horse's eyes than most people I think. I like to groom them and help tack them if I can when I do visits. I pick up their feet, stick my fingers in their ears, rub them all over... I like to know (or try to know) what a horse thinks of me as much as what I think of the horse. I just don't think you can do all this when you buy a horse based on a video alone. I guess many people do and things go well but I don't feel entirely comfortable with it.
After thanking Meredith and the ponies for their time, we headed back toward home as our next appointment was on the way. We arrived on site at a nice little home and barn with about five horses and a big field. The snow was about four inches deep and crusty. It had warm a little that day but the was a cold breeze and the weather could be described as "extremely crisp". The horse we were meeting, Toby, was a big 16hh Paint horse. The owner had him tacked up and we talked a bit about his history and why she was selling him. She explained that he was just a bit too tall.
He was also a bit too stubborn. I think that was part of the issue for her and as we talked more little bits of information kept coming out. The prior owner had let her kids ride him wherever he wanted to go. Key - wherever he wanted to go. So, while he is probably very spook proof and tolerant of being handled, he has a mind of his own where direction and task is concerned. This is not something I'm interested in AT ALL. I don't want to spend my time arguing with my horse and I truly felt (and my GF agreed) there would be a point where such disagreements might escalate (we weren't so sure they hadn't already with his current owner).
When we got back in the truck, our stomachs growled loudly in unison and we headed toward home in search of dinner, a hot shower and a warm bed.
All in all a fabulous horse day!
A break in the weather has brought with it the opportunity to visit some horses. Eight horses. In three days, located in three different states and criss-crossing around 400 or so miles in various directions, no doubt down unknown hollows trying to find some connection to a specific horse with no idea in mind as to which one it will be.
Exciting? Yeah! Unnerving? A little.
One day we will be meeting a few Tennessee Walkers. One nice looking black gelding that we have watched on video plus some others that we have yet to see. Wouldn't it be funny if I ended up with a horse that I could introduce as my "Walker" and then giggle inside and think of TWD? Lame, Gillybean. Really lame.
Next we are stopping to meet a big ole' Paint horse. I had originally said "no more Paints" and not for any bad reason it is just that I leased a Paint for a really long time and possibly want to make friends with something else. But, Paints are everywhere and no two are really the same. This guy is pretty tall (16hh) and built like a Mac truck from what I can tell in his pictures. He also has loads of trail experience.
Then there is another smaller Paint with a good deal of trail behind him as well as some arena showing to his credit. He looks like a fun little guy and is a full hand shorter than the taller Paint. But, the thing that tugged at my heart was that he has this goofy, crooked blaze that kind of veers to one side of his face. LOL. He is just cute as a button.
Next is a Quarter Horse mare (gasp, a mare!) advertised as one who is not "mare-ish" at all. Also with several years of trail experience. She is not at all what I would have thought I would go look at. She's a chestnut color with white feet and it looked in the picture like a white star on her forehead. She's just a "plain" horse but something about the look of her kept bringing me back to the ad. She looks like a horse that enjoys her work to me and you cannot beat that.
Then we have a grey Quarter Horse, trail competent and people friendly. I have a soft spot for greys. Something about the coloring and the way some of them are dappled just appeals to me. I guess it is because they are different, at least around here. Everyone wants a Paint horse or a bay QH but no one ever says "I want a grey horse" and that is probably why they always catch my eye.
Tonight, for the first time in weeks, I have not spent my internet time looking for horses and people to call about horses. Believe me, in getting these appointments there have been just as many (probably more) that didn't pan out. Horse already sold or you talk to the people and learn that the "bombproof" horse kicked his stall over one time or people just don't return your calls or they do return your calls but the scheduling doesn't work. I won't experience real relief (and joy) till I make a decision but it is nice to have a break from getting bloodshot, horse shopping eyes.
I need to go to bed soon. I may not sleep well but I have to get up near 5:00, get ready and meet my girlfriend/instructor who is going with me on this first adventure. I have a carton of powdered donuts for her (lol) and caffeinated beverages for us both. We are stopping at a tack shop in between visits tomorrow and won't be home till well after dark. Then, repeat by myself for two additional days.
Unless, that is, I meet my true horse love somewhere along the way...
So I called my barn today to just, you know, say hey this is the girl with the empty stall, full locker and no horse and I'm still looking because I actually secured the stall three weeks ago and didn't want them to think I'd skipped town.
As it turns out the weather has everyone down. The girl with the horse that is vacating my stall (due to a new job and move on her part so it is a positive relocation) has yet to be able to get her horse moved. On the first day he was to go we got the Polar Vortex. On the second day she picked we got another storm that brought 10 inches of snow. The third day she was to try was today and last night into the morning we got two more inches and the temp has been in the single digits. So, it is just as well because horses need to be safe.
The barn owner also told me that yesterday the horses went out in the morning and by 1PM she decided to bring them back in due to the wind and temps and having had their romp time they were more than ready for their stalls. Water buckets are frozen, de-icers aren't even working that well and the daughter of a lady I was supposed to meet with about a horse tomorrow fell on ice at her own barn last night and broke her elbow.
So, right now, I guess I should be sort of happy that horse duties are vacant from my life during this less than perfect season. It got me thinking about how this is indeed the first winter in a decade or more that I have not had at least a few days per week of mucking frozen shit piles, chipping ice out of buckets, pulling on Carhartts caked with frozen mud and dirt and carrying out the duties of horse care looking like Ralphie's little brother on the way to school.
Winter is NOT a fun season to have a horse. All those picturesque, perfect depictions of people riding horses in the winter? Happens maybe once or twice per season. Every other day is misery. LOL. Not for the horses, hell they don't care so long as they are healthy, can seek shelter and it isn't Polar Vortex cold. Horses are two things in the winter. Mud Collectors and Shit Machines. LOL.
Due to the single digits, broken elbow, another "snow event" on Saturday, horse meeting appointments have been postponed until next week. One day is looking promising. Another iffy. I keep thinking it has to quit snowing and blowing sometime. Right?
In the true spirit of doing everything backwards (I am left handed after all) I am piecing my horse life back together in a non-conventional manner. Maybe. I dunno - I firmly believe that if you are going to purchase a 1200 pound animal you should have somewhere to put him (or her). Surprisingly, many horse people will go out and start a horse buying search without a clue of where that horse will live. The general manner of thought seems to be something like squeeeee I'm buyin' a horse! and meeehhhhhhh, I'll look for a boarding barn tomorrow...
The horsey life goes like this: If you are not lucky enough to have a shelter, fence and some grazing area on your own property (I am not I live on a forested rock farm) you will have to board your horse at a boarding facility. In many places this isn't really an issue because facilities are plentiful. Where my mom lives in Florida they are practically on top of one another and all have tracks, trails, arenas... In other places, like here (unfortunately) stalls are a hard to come by commodity. The barn where I leased horses for years before deciding to go out on my own is private, another nice boarding facility closed a few years ago due to financial issues and now a housing development sits in its place. The fancy, snooty barn is 45 minutes away and out in the middle of (scuze the phrase) BF (bum f8ck) nowhere. Too many horses and not enough available stalls is the way it goes 'round here.
So, because I was worried about finding a space, I secured my stall before I bought a horse. The facility is the oldest one in the area. I believe it originally opened in the 1960s. It is an old fashioned farm complete with chickens that run around pecking the ground, pig pens and cows. The digs ain't fancy and board includes morning and evening feeding, turn-out and turn-in and they dig out your stall once a week. If you want it mucked daily, that is up to you to do. So, I see a whole lotta mucking in my future. LOL.
So why didn't I go to the fancy barn? Well, besides it being 45 minutes away it is also over twice as much monthly. I can afford the fancy barn yes, but when you make your two columns and checkmark your points, half the cost wins that category.
Discipline is also a factor. It does you little good to have a horse that you want to trail ride if there are no trails. I have run into this issue before in my life as a horse leaser. My new barn has over 200 acres of trails/fields to play in. It has no indoor arena (the fancy barn does as did my lease barn) and only a small outdoor ring and then a separate round pen. I will miss the indoor arena a little. It means you can ride any day, no matter the weather. But, I'm not really a cold weather arena girl so I'll get over it. The round pen I will dig. Believe it or not at my lease barn we didn't have one and working in a round pen is really cool for natural horsemanship games.
My new barn is also 6 minutes from my house. I clocked it today. A definite checkmark in the plus category. 45 minutes is a long way to drive and part of having a horse (at least to me) is spending time with him. That is the ONLY way you are going to establish a relationship. Grooming, talking, touching, simply walking around with your horse is just as important as riding regularly. Horses are like other animals in that they recognize who cares for them. What kind of connection are you going to have with your horse if you are only able to see him once or twice a week. Yes, at times this will happen to the best of us but for me, close proximity ensures that I can meet what I feel is my obligation of the heart to my horse. And the fact that I gotta muck his stall or he will have to stand in poop that night doesn't hurt either. ;)
My new barn is also predominately a Western barn. I get a walk-in locker. LOL. Yes, my locker space is important to me. And Western tack is bigger so Western lockers tend to be more roomy than your standard English locker.
And lastly there is the country factor. LOL. Many barns are full of lovely horses with fancy names and chicks with lockers full of ribbons. All that is fine except that (especially in barns that are predominately English, Hunter/Jumper and other panties in a damn twitch disciplines) it sometimes lends itself to that snotty attitude that the horse world can be known for. I have dealt with that in the past at more than one barn and I was over it then, I'm over it now and I just don't want those types of people in my life anymore.
So forward I go. The actual horse search will no doubt be long and frustrating at times. I am keeping in mind the information that I have presented to people when they ask me what I am looking for. I want a friend. A horse that I mostly trail ride and kick around with in a field. A horse that I can do a little flat work with on occasion, play some horsemanship games and hug. I want a companion. I want to teach him, learn from him, grow with him, care for him until I bury him. That is why it is so important to find the right horse. I don't want the perfect horse but I want the perfect horse for me. And I want to be the right person for him.
This is all a tall order I am beginning to realize. It should be easy as what I described to someone that I need in a horse is not complicated. Until I find him I guess I'll just pimp out my walk-in locker. ;)
I have been riding horses on and off for a little over fifteen years. As a child I always dreamed of having a horse. What little girl didn't I guess? Other than pony rides and the occasional trail ride at a State Park though, most of my aspirations about horses were all in my head.
When I turned 30 I decided that I had waited long enough and no matter what my finances were (and believe me they were not great at the time) I would put money aside for riding lessons. At least that way I would learn to do something I had always dreamed of - know something of horses, know how to ride. I figured I would never be able to actually have a horse, so lessons would have to do.
I first took lessons at a Hunter/Jumper barn, which was not the best experience for a beginner rider with no interest in showing. But, I learned some things and it was my first introduction to the "horse world" in general. After the barn moved locations and became almost an hour-long drive away, I was without my horse fix for a time but then I started trail riding and doing some natural horsemanship work with an acquaintance through the clinic that I was working in at the time. For about a year and a half I worked with her two horses plus another older horse she boarded and we knocked around the Pennsylvania mountains teaching (and learning from) our equine pals. She then sold her house (and her horses with it) and I found myself again searching for a way to have horses in my life.
On a bitter cold January night in 2003 I was to have my first riding lesson at another local (closer to home) barn. It was 8 degrees. Interestingly enough just about the same temperature it is as I type this in 2014. I made my way to the facility and was greeted by the instructor, who suggested that if it was OK with me we would just talk about my goals and meet the horses that evening due to the bitter cold. I was fine with that! LOL. So, off we went down the barn aisle and she named them one by one until we came to the stall of the most handsome Palomino Paint horse I had ever seen. He had blue eyes and his name was The Last Apache, or Patch for short. At that very moment I knew this horse would be special to me. I didn't know how but of all the horses I met that night I clearly remember whispering like a little girl ~ now, that is an awesome horse.
Eventually, I was lucky enough to lease Patch and for over a year we saw each other at least every other day. He was older and had some medical issues so his work was all on the flat and we had to keep his cantering to a nice, light minimum, which was hard to convince him of because he still loved to canter! Patch not only taught me everything I know about a good horse but everything I know about how a good horse's heart can be limitless and pure. It is unfortunate as with most animals so precious that they seem to be taken from us well before we are able to conceive of life without them and so it was with Patch. When he died I was devastated as if he were my own. I still cannot imagine had he lived all the love that my life would have known. Surely my heart could not have held so much pure goodness.
I went on to lease other horses. A mare with a reputation for being the bitch of the barn. She was my first lease after Apache and I was so ill prepared for how different horses can be from each other that I drove home from the barn in tears many times at the beginning of our relationship. But, eventually we settled into some trust and good will. I determined what she needed from me and she was then willing to give me what I needed from her. Up to the day that I moved on from this particular barn and despite leasing other horses there, I would still sometimes get her out of her stall and groom her, talk to her, clean her feet. I referred to her as "my Big Girl" and she generally greeted me with warmth even while snarling at others who crossed her path.
I leased a huge 17 hand high bay gelding who was by far the most expensive, graceful, beautiful horse I will ever have the privilege of riding. He was also half crazy. LOL. Horses have mental issues just like we do. Some of them never really recover from things like harsh training and forced jumping. Sometimes it is hard for them to trust and they end up reacting to things that are no longer the case. When I began leasing him he was for sale and I got to be with him for almost a year. It was a real learning experience for me not only because he was so regal and a "real" show horse but also because his mind was somewhat broken and since I was a novice and so careful as to not hurt him further I actually was able to get into his heart. I stood at the window and bawled like a big baby the day he left. I only hope that someone was patient with him for that is all he was able to relate to.
I then leased my big goober buddy Max for several years. Max was ridden strictly Western for the first couple years of his work, but wasn't really taught anything other than the basics. We were able to polish his Western skills and teach him English cues too. I did some awesome things with Max and the long term lease with the same horse gave me a chance to really work on specific skills, horse knowledge (which you never stop learning), to trouble shoot and just get that extended time in the saddle that a person needs to further their relationship with horses.
I recently reached a point where, in my mind and heart, I am ready for my own horse. I have taken much, much longer than many people to get to this point. Part of that is because for a long while my circumstances allowed me to be involved in leasing long term and it worked well. But, at the same time, since I have leased horses for so many years I have more than once found myself frustrated by schedule conflicts (leased horses are often lesson horses as well) and even disagreements on care and/or handling. But, more than anything, what I want in my relationship with a horse has changed. I have been arena bound for years and my true love is trail riding and horse games. I totally appreciate the skills I have learned in the ring and will still use them and do some work on the flat I'm sure, but to me, riding is more of a leisurely activity done for fun and the love of it and the structure of an arena is not where I am at this point in my life.
So, I am in search of a horse. I'm calling it The Next Apache for now because I know in my heart that the kind of relationship I was afforded with that first horse is the relationship that I am looking for. This will not be a horse that I acquire, train and sell. This will be a horse that I bond with, teach, learn from, love, care for and someday put to rest after a hopefully long and full life together. The horse I am looking for is special. It doesn't have to be the perfect horse. But, it has to be the right horse for me. This blog is dedicated to that horse, wherever he or she may be.
Although I am horse searching and working that search diligently I am reminding myself in times of frustration (due to weather, lack of prospects, weird owners, other buyers) that beyond being an active part of my search for a forever companion I must trust in the Universe and that when the time is right, that horse will find me. And when I see him (or her) I will know, just like I did that frigid night one January long ago, on some level I will know, this horse....
In Loving Memory
...of the first horse to hold my heart