Honestly, I wish my new horse’s first year of competitive eventing didn’t make such an interesting (or humorous) story. I’d have loved to write “we came, we competed, we kicked pony butt.” Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead, I ended up with an almost farcical string of events to report. Go ahead and chuckle at my expense – I’ve learned to. And, I’m sure quite a few of you will be empathetic…your lives involve horses, after all…so you know all about things not always going as planned.
I think there are few things in my life that have made me question fate, luck, chance, and how they all work with (and often spit in the face of) preparation and perseverance, as much as eventing has. The more I sink into this sport (especially competitively) the more I marvel at the number of us who do. Yes, it is by far the most fun you can have with your horse and great people, but man, what a roll of the dice it seems to be.
My husband often remarks that he can think of few athletic endeavours that have more variables…and definitely not more variables that you have virtually no control over. And he’s well versed in that; he’s a competitive sailor. It’s true; a sailor can’t control the wind, but don’t get him started on the list of what is out of the eventer’s hands.
Once, in a holiday issue, one of the major equestrian magazines interviewed top riders from several disciplines and published their list of “wishes” for the New Year. I chuckled at the eventer’s response…something to the effect of him and his horse performing well in all three phases on the same weekend. Yep, I’m right there with you, dude. But, that first year, my goal evolved into something not quite so lofty. Forget the “performing well.” Simply “finishing,” and sometimes even just “starting,” were looking pretty good.
I bought a weanling, Omaha, about seven years before getting my current event horse. I had big plans. Omaha turned out to be by far the most difficult horse I’d ever ridden. But of course, he was also one of the lightest, most responsive, talented, and athletic ones as well. Go figure. So, even as challenging as he was, I stuck with him. We were moving at a snail’s pace competitively…largely due to the fact that when I tried shipping him alone on my straight load, he’d jump the chest bar. We could only go to an event (or anywhere else) if I took another horse. The other two horses at my farm were not competing, and even if I took one of them for companionship, that would mean leaving the other one alone and stressed about being alone. So, I had to come up with an alternative.
It ended up that I would have to convince a fellow rider to ship to my place so we could trailer together. Or, I’d have to go and pick someone else’s horse up then come back home to pick my guy up…then…drop my guy off at home first before taking her horse home! Yep, it got rather old for both me and my wonderfully understanding friends. Finally, I made the decision to put my beloved old straight load trailer on the market and get a slant. I figured I could just open the dividers and let Omaha have at it. I was sure he’d figure out some way to get hurt, but at least not have such an easy time tangling up and contorting himself like he did with a chest bar. Shortly before I’d made this decision, my herd was whittled down to two. I figured I’d take a chance leaving one horse home alone and Omaha and I headed to Aiken with some friends for the weekend. On our way home, my husband called. He wasn’t happy. Basically, he’d been home all weekend with the lone horse that had never really gotten over the fact that he was alone. I think my husband was more frazzled than the horse. We decided that, ASAP, I needed to go out and find a third horse, even if I ended up with something only suitable as a companion.
As fate would have it, that very night I got an email from a dressage queen friend in Florida. Her neighbour was going through a divorce, and had to place her horse. My friend thought of me, because I have draft crosses and this guy was ¾ thoroughbred, ¼ shire. And, as she put it, he was “probably nice enough for eventing dressage.” Ah, gotta love a good DQ. What do you call ten DQs in your basement? A “whine cellar.” But I digress…
My friend texted me one photo of this horse. I got the photo on my phone. This was before many of us had smart phones, so I got a 1” square photo of a black horse standing in a pasture with his head hung over the fence. He had four legs; that was about all I could determine. But, I needed a horse, and I couldn’t argue the price, so I told her to send him on up.
Grant’s owner agreed to deliver him, so she could approve of my farm and me. And, paying her for her fuel and time assuaged my guilt a bit. Grant arrived on a Sunday evening, which was coincidentally my husband’s birthday, but Grant was not the new spinnaker he was surely hoping for. (Hmmm…maybe I should have renamed him Spinnaker, but I don’t think my husband always shares my sense of humour.) I had been out of town that weekend and was en route for home when he got there. My husband called me to say that Grant had arrived, and that he was really actually quite nice…no new sail, but nice. He was big (a true 17 hands), black, in great flesh, lots of bone but not heavy, and nice to handle on the ground. What about his feet? Well, they were draft/thoroughbred cross feet, which is often not a good thing. In Grant’s case, it was definitely not a good thing. His owner spent the night, and I rode Grant the next morning, did a fairly good job of convincing his mom I would be a good home, and happily took over custody. He needed a good deal of training and conditioning, was a bit lazy, but was relatively uncomplicated…something I’d not experienced in a long time.
Article (part 1 of 4) by: Karen Czarick of Dancing Horse Farm who lead a team of four to the Chronicle of the Horse 2013 USEA Training Adult Riders Eastern US win