In starting my final list preparations for this horse decision I had some clear ideas about what I wanted and what I didn't want.
I don't have ribbons in my future nor do I want them. My horse does not need to be perfect. He or she only needs to be the right horse for me and me the right person in turn. I want a friend and a long term companion. I am of the age where this horse and I could very possibly grow old together depending on its age now. I want to love it, teach it, learn from it, be with it, laugh over it, care for it, shower it with affection, give it comfort and security. I want a trail buddy and a barn pal, someone who nickers when he or she hears my footsteps enter the barn (Patch used to do that as did my Dark Prince - the show horse I used to lease). I want to live with this horse. And far into the future, I plan to bury it. So, when the barn owner where I board graciously offered (because it was taking me so long to find a horse) to sell me a "fixer upper" little mare I could train and sell "just to have something to get me through" I, of course, declined. I'm just not at that point in my life anymore.
Trail and field riding are at the top of my list. Fun and cowboy games are up there as well. Things like making capes out of tarps, stomping on swim noodles, building "bridges" and steps to go up and over. These things encourage trust and give horses things to conquer and master. I think they make them feel good about themselves. Now, at this moment I am arena sour to the ultimate degree. I have spent the last several years in an arena, helping train a horse, working on my own riding, and it taught me a lot. But, I am tired of riding around in circles! With that said, I know I am not done with the arena for good because it can be a good way to get a short ride in and horse and rider benefit from the environment that it creates - one where your concentration is inside the ring and you are working on specific things.
I liken parts of riding to different types of personal training. I would never want to run exclusively. Or only lift weights. I'd eventually go mad out of repetition. It is the same with riding. You need to mix things up a bit to keep it fun.
Lastly, I need a horse who is kind. Nothing too hot and nothing really stubborn. I am in this purely for pleasure and enjoyment. I want the horse to enjoy it too. I am not expecting life with my horse to be without hiccups but I do not need or want constant battles of will.
That all said, the big Paint was out. We knew this when we left that very day. He was very mellow in a sense of being non-spooky but his cooperation meter was on low. He was also a bit herd-bound, not wanting at all to leave the other horses to even go a couple hundred feet through the field. I do not want to mount my horse wondering what the battle of the day will be.
The smaller Paint may have been a possibility but I just could not get a moment to myself with him amongst the chaos of that barn. And I was worried about how to back him off of the more intense cues he had been trained with. We did it with Max and although it took some time, it can be done. I just don't think I feel like doing it again. I think it was at this point that I realized I don't think I want another Paint. This is fine. People have preferences on horses all the time and I guess mine has changed.
The mare was kind but she was...a mare. LOL. I think I would have to know a mare for a long time before I could say - OK, she isn't one of those mares.... The owner was odd. He had not had her very long but it seemed he should have had more of an opinion even so. He was very hard to talk to - like pulling information from a mildly uncooperative person. Believe it or not this does matter. An owner can give a vibe that extends to the horse, or by not having/providing information the owner can make the visit seem only partial. I left the house feeling like there was no way I would truly know that mare by meeting her with that owner.
There were several other horses that I met that were not right for me and I not for them. Basically in the end it came down to two horses that I felt drawn to.
The first was Keifer, the Tennessee Walking horse that made me feel like a princess on his back. He had a wounded heart and when we went into his stall and Meredith started to tell his story my girlfriend and I looked at each other and in unison whispered the name of our Dark Prince. We were both taken with him. He was reserved at first but came out of his shell the more time we spent with him. Meredith was attached to him too and said he was one horse she would go beyond the grace period she allows to customers and say that if anything were to ever happen to hinder the ability of the future owner to keep him, she expected a call. He was special, she said. Something about him had called to her and so there he was and would stay until she found the right person. Keifer was 13 or 14, so older than I had originally planned. He was also very well trained in his former life and as Meredith put it - if you point him at something and put your leg on him, he is going. Meaning, watch your legs cause he is very responsive LOL.
The second was Jacob, the grey Quarter Horse. He was also kind and patient, had a good attitude in the field with the other horses and while riding was willing to leave his buddy, go over mud, slush and snow in the little field we walked through. He was also seven. A nice age that gives a horse some maturity but still room to explore new things so long as he or she is fairly well rounded, which Jake seemed to be.
These two were both lovely horses. I will admit that my little girl heart was immediately fiercely drawn to Keifer. My girlfriend said it best - I am a nurturer by nature with animals and he seemed to be drawn to that in me as well. Jake had caught my eye on-line. Something in his expression said "friend" to me and when I met him in person that expression was still present. He seemed good natured.
The selling price of both horses was almost the same so that was not an issue that even needed factored in.
I did walk through my two top choices with my girlfriend because I had questions for her regarding the fact that Keifer was so well trained and the future of arena work when I become UN-sick of it. I also had legitimate concerns (as opposed to my just being a worrier) as a first time horse owner. Adding a whole new repertoire of movements to everything else I will be learning might be more than I can successfully handle. Also, in terms of our nurturing instincts and wanting to "save" Keifer I commented that in reality, he has already been saved. Our conversation with Meredith made it pretty clear that he had a place in her heart and barn and that it was her mission to do well by him.
I reviewed my ride with Jacob and explained the differences in instruction, what I felt good about, what I wondered about. My girlfriend has a great feel for horses (and people) and the ability to get a sense of where a horse is through a detailed description of behavior and feelings. She agreed he seemed like a horse that was waiting to be provided with direction, but not a horse that constantly wanted to give his own opinion. We felt that I would have to remind myself that through leadership, friendship and love will grow. When I say "leadership" I don't mean bossing around, I mean assuring him what I'm asking of him is not only OK but also the appropriate thing. Horses are a little like kids in that way - they may not act like it if you aren't giving it to them consistently but they crave structure and discipline. You don't have to be a mean old harpy to provide those things either. You just have to be clear, kind and consistent. It seemed as if he was in a great place to learn and I am in a good place to grow.
I slept on it, because that is something I always try to do, and the following day still felt that Jacob would be the horse that fit me best and that I would also fit him and be able to give him what he needs at this point in his life and beyond.
In Loving Memory
...of the first horse to hold my heart