Jun 1, 2016

The Real Horses of a Lifetime

by Kim Ablon Whitney

When some riders talk about a horse of a lifetime, they're talking about a horse that they rode at the most prestigious horse shows to big wins.  With these horses, they won coolers, had their names engraved on trophies, and saw their photographs on the pages of The Chronicle.

But what about the rest of us?  We've had horses of a lifetime too.  They just aren't horses whose names people remember for years to come.  Well, we remember their names.  We always will, because they taught us important lessons about horses--and life--we otherwise might not have learned.

They are:

The horse that never worked out.  He seemed perfect when your trainer matched you with him.  You could envision how far he'd take you.  But for some reason you could never figure out how to ride him.  In the end, he brought only disappointment and eventually you had to part ways.  You learned that partnerships can't be forced.  

The horse that wasn't fancy or careful enough.  He was straightforward and solid and you nearly always put in a good trip on him.  But he just wasn't fancy enough to win the biggest hunter classes, or in the jumpers he always had that one careless rail.  Sometimes it was hard to put in a perfect trip and still finish out of the ribbons.  You learned to care more about how you rode, than what place you got.

The horse that was never sound enough.  He had everything needed to win.  Movement, scope, attitude.  But it was one thing after another and no matter what treatments and training regimen you tried--and you tried everything--he just wouldn't stay sound enough to achieve all those dreams you had in mind for him.  You learned that talent doesn't matter if a horse isn't healthy.

The horse that killed your confidence.  He was a nice horse, when he wasn't spooking or stopping.  Sometimes he'd win for you, then, bang; he'd stop dirty, leaving you in a pile of rails.  You began to doubt your ability as a rider and soon you didn't know who was more worried about a spooky-looking jump, you or your horse.  You learned to be a little less trusting, and to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep on going.

The horse that was too easy.  He was so perfect, it felt like you were just along for the ride.  You didn't have to ask him to swap leads or work to keep him straight down a line.  He was on auto-pilot.  It was fun for the first few shows but then you found yourself getting bored and feeling like he had won the ribbons, not you.  You learned that you like a bit of a challenge or else it doesn't feel like a sport.

The horse who fought you.  You wanted a hunter and thought you'd bought yourself a nice green one that you could bring along.  Only he turned out to be too high-strung for the hunters.  You thought about selling him but you liked him too much.  So you switched rings just for him.  And he loved it although he still wanted to go his way.  After trying to make him do it your way, you decided you needed to be a little flexible to make this work.  You learned that sometimes you have to meet a horse halfway.

The horse you never could let go of.  You didn't mean to keep him forever.  There was a time when you should have sold him.  But for some reason you didn't, and then you'd had him for ten or fifteen or twenty years.  You leased him out but he always came back to you.  He became family and now you're spending more for his retirement than you do on your own groceries.  And it's worth every penny.  You learned that a horse of a lifetime can have many different meanings.

Kim Ablon Whitney has had many different horses of a lifetime, including the one that she had for twenty years.