Friday, February 18, 2011
Talk about unprepared. I had nothing. I borrowed a saddle and bridle from my aunt, she gave me 2 brushes, a bucket to carry them in and an old screw driver for a hoof pick. I found a place to keep him that wasn’t too far from home. Fortunately, the woman who ran the place was used to new owners. This made a big difference. She lined me up with a great farrier (who I still use 24 years later,) a vet and put me on a program of worming every 8 weeks. I was on the path to success. I didn’t have a currycomb, and as it was spring, so I ended up shedding my horse out by rubbing him with my hands. Eventually, I found the local tack store and got on some good mailing lists for horse supply catalogs. These were the days before the Internet was even imagined.
The only thing that didn’t work out was the vet. I tried using him for a number of years because everyone I knew used him and they swore by him. I ended up switching because I didn’t feel comfortable with him. He was a grumpy, old curmudgeon that I couldn’t get clear answers from. My current vet is so much better. I can talk to her, and we can work together very well. A good vet/owner relationship is so important. If you don’t feel comfortable with your vet, ask around and find out if there is a more suitable vet for you.
I got my horse, Brandy, on a Monday. The barn owner pointed me in the direction of the park where the trails were and I could hardly wait to try them. Saturday, there were some people going on a ride, and I decided to accompany them. Mistake! Of course I had ridden Brandy before when I was a kid, not to mention a couple times that week in the indoor arena. What could go wrong? The park was ½ mile down the road. I made it down there all right, but as soon as we got on the trail, I learned that my horse believed that other horses were racehorses that had to be challenged. He wouldn’t walk with them quietly. He trotted past all the other horses to get in the lead. When they caught up, he trotted away again. Once, he even cantered. I could see that I was disrupting the group’s ride, so I decided to leave them and go home. I turned around and found my horse in an even bigger hurry to get home. The blisters started forming on my hands as I struggled to keep him at a walk. It was to no avail. Upon arriving at the barn, he was coated with sweat, even though it was a very cool day. It eventually dried off, but it sure was hard to get him clean without a currycomb.
I tried riding him a few more times on the trail, but things kept getting worse until the last ride when he spun around and took off running down the center of the street. That is when I realized I had a big problem. I called my aunt, but all she told me was that I could sell him if I wanted to. I didn’t give up . Instead, I decided to do the best I could with him. I spent many months working with him in the arena. I read everything I could get, and talked to people. Even more important, I listened to people. (By the way, don’t take everything you hear as gospel. A lot of people sound like experts, and they don’t know a thing. Be sure to evaluate all the things you hear and not just assume they are correct.) I wasn’t a very good rider, and he wasn’t a well-trained horse. We both needed work. At this stage of the game, I was still afraid to canter a horse! How could I expect to be trail riding him successfully in the first week that I owned him? I also got to learn all his little tricks, and he got to learn that he could trust me.
The next spring, I tried trail riding again. It took some time, but since I understood him better, I had some ideas on how I could get him to listen. It all worked out fine, and I was able to trail ride him 2 years before he died. After that, I felt that time and patience could solve nearly all horse problems. The week after he died, I bought a 2-year-old half-Arab that had very little handling, and his owners called Satan! I renamed him Cruiser.
The good news is that I learned the most important lesson of all from my first horse, Brandy. Take your time. Don’t rush into anything. Start gradually and get to know your horse before trying anything challenging and make sure that your own skills are up for the challenge. I slowly trained Cruiser to be ridden without any serious difficulties, and he has turned out to be my constant companion and a fantastic trail horse.