One mans trash is another mans treasure…
In January of 2012, I received a phone call from my best friend saying that she was going to finally sell her pony Miles. She had decided six months prior that he just wasn’t “the horse” for her and had started riding another horse at her boarding facility – discovering just how much she truly loved and MESHED with this new mount – and had decided to finally quit on her pony and let him get fat and obnoxious. It was the decision that Denny Emerson is hammering into all of our brains – to make the realization that not every horse is every humans cup of tea. Does it make them unridable? Dangerous? Or even mean? No. But just as every woman wouldn’t date every man, every human doesn’t enjoy riding every pony (Especially spotted ones. With a Mohawk. And who jump people out of the tack. For fun). She had bought him for $200 from a livestock auction, and had given him every chance to be her lifelong horse, but as we all know, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole is never successful, and neither was their partnership.
So she did the right thing by the horse and turned him out. But eventually bank accounts grow smaller, and car payments grow larger – so she made the decision to sell him. But seeing as he hadn’t been ridden in over 6 months, was fat and ornery, and wasn’t exactly a “packer” even during his training – she called me and asked if I would take the ride and get him sold. At the time I was looking for another off the track thoroughbred, having just three months earlier sold a horse that nearly did me in – he was supposed to be my keeper, having bred and raised him at the farm that I managed – but eventually selling him to what I considered a show home – knowing that I hadn’t shown in over 5 years, and didn’t have the time or the funds to show him myself. I had cried myself to sleep for quite a few nights after loading him up, and had decided that my next horse would be a keeper – as selling these horses nearly did my heart in. So when Meghan called and asked if I would sell Miles for her, I refused. Adamantly.
He was not what I was looking for in a horse – he was around 15hh, an appaloosa/paint mix, an ornery ride, and had the reputation for two things – being both a dirty stopper, and had a nasty back crack over fences. When he jumped – you better hold on, as “Wood Allergy” was his alter ego, but when he didn’t jump – his theatrics in front of the fence would make most cutting horses jealous. His compact conformation, and years of evolution into his appaloosa ways, made him turn on a dime – good for between fences, not so good in front of them. And yet I agreed to come ride him and see if I still liked his pony ways.
Miles as his alter ego “Wood Allergy” with his mom Meghan.
So on a dreary day in January, we tacked him up and hacked him around a field. He was light in the bridle, happy to move off of my leg, and most importantly – he felt SAFE. After having had over 6 months off, he offered no spook, rear, or buck, and just went around happily in a frame. I brought him to a halt, dropped the reins, and glared at Meghan – thinking over all of this in my mind. Was I really ready to get attached to yet another horse only to sell him and have my heart broken? Was he even sellable? His reputation preceding him had me nervous. But being the gambler that I am, I told her that I would take him – and get him sold. We drew up a contract, in order to keep our friendship intact, and I loaded him up and brought him home.
I quickly discovered that while Miles might not have been everyone’s (ok, really, he was just about no one’s) cup of tea – I adored him. I hadn’t competed, or even truly jumped in over 5 years, and yet fence by fence, round by round, he brought my courage back. I had been quite the brave rider growing up – but after hanging up my safety vest at the age of 18 to pursue an education and retiring my event horse, I had started to see 2′ logs as death traps. But I soon discovered what people had always spoken of when talking of their GOOD event horses – the horse that came down to a Weldon’s wall with their ears perked and their head up – EXCITED at the prospect of getting to jump it.
Miles during our first XC school together.
I began to quickly realize that this pony might just be the one to get me back into the game, and entered him (and I) into my first event in 8 years. I went out and walked the course the night before with Meghan, noticing with each fence that Beginner Novice suddenly looked like Advanced to me, and I began to get more and more nervous with each step. This was ludicrous – this pony had this reputation for a reason – I was going to be an embarrassment, or worse, I was going to get hurt. I tried to knock these ideas out of my head, braided him up, and shipped him in to the Kentucky Horse Park with a grimace.
But as I soon learned about this pony, who I affectionately called The Heathen – where I had doubts, he was quick to replace those doubts with one word – FUN. He LOVED his job, and he LOVED to jump. Dressage? Not so much. But you get him out of the sandbox and in front of fun rails, boxes, coops, and tables – and he THRIVED.
Miles at our first BN event at May Daze at The Park – KHP 2013.
I began to remember why I had gotten into this game in the first place, and quickly lost any apprehension of why I was doing this, and began to remember why we all SHOULD do it – it is SO MUCH FUN. Miles and I began to really get into sync, and I moved him up to Novice after he had qualified for AEC’s in his two BN starts – and then he went double clean at Novice at Erie Hunt and Saddle Club – the same course I had officially retired my old event horse on, due to finally realizing that he was extremely afraid of water, and I was not having exactly that – fun – back in 2003.
Miles in his novice debut at EHSC, August 2012.
Soon after placing 7th in his first novice, I received an email from someone interested in purchasing him. She told me that her 11 year old daughter had outgrown her small pony, and they were looking for a new event horse for her. I remember reading the little girls age and grimacing – Miles was FUN, but he was still a heathen, and truly enjoyed nothing more than making a 3′ fence look like it was 5′. For me, this was hysterical, but I could just envision a crumpled little body underneath that fence. But knowing that Miles had packed a few of my friends around smaller courses – I knew that he wouldn’t be malicious in her trial – and after her mother guaranteed me that she was a good little rider – having been the youngest rider at the most recent AEC’s – I invited them to come try him.
Kerry Slicker and her daughter Ainsley arrived in the evening of October 10th, and I quickly tacked Miles up and took him to the paddock to be hacked in front of them. To put it mildly – it was probably the worst ride I had ever had on him in the 10 months of our partnership. He was stiff, he was bolting, he was, quite simply, living up to his name of Heathen Pony. I felt completely defeated, knowing that if I was this child’s mother I would be running back to my car – but I pulled him up to the rail, nearly in tears, and instead of seeing fear – I saw a HUGE smile. Ainsley was chomping at the bit to get on, and thought he was just the COOLEST thing ever. I handed her the reins, gave her a leg up, and whispered a soft prayer (mixed with a bit of a threat) to the Horse Gods.
But there was no need to worry. The minute that Ainsley sank her weight into the irons, it was like they merged into one. Miles immediately relaxed, and they moved off into a graceful and balanced trot. She giggled her way around the ring, and Miles just did whatever she asked with his ears perked. I set up a line for them to pop over, and he jumped more relaxed than I ever had seen – I knew it immediately – these two were destined for each other.
I called Meghan and told her that this 11 year old was truly Miles “person” and I thought she was going to hang up on me. For a pony with the reputation that he had, selling him to such a young girl was frightening to everyone – but I just had a good feeling about it. Ainsley was a competent rider for her age, was going to have him in a solid training program with experienced trainers, and her and her family could offer him a home that would make even the most hardened horse salesperson happy – full of peppermints, lush turn out, and fun hacks with other young girls at the barn. I was sold, they were sold, Meghan was (hesitantly) sold, and in just a few days – Miles was off to his new home.
I quickly forged an amazing friendship with both Ainsley and her mother Kerry, and received numerous text messages as well as social media updates letting me know that they just ADORED him and were so thrilled with their purchase. The following summer I got to meet up with them at the Kentucky Horse Park to watch Ainsley not only go double clean on XC at BN, but also score a 28 in her dressage – knocking a solid 15 points off of my average score! You could just see them in a synchronicity that I (nor Meghan) had ever experience with him – it was like watching two soul’s become one – something so beautiful to watch!
Ainsley and Miles (now Rhythm) placing 3rd at MidSouth at the Kentucky Horse Park, June 2013.
I have now gotten to watch Ainsley and Miles, now known as Rhythm, at two events – both last year and this. It has been such an amazing experience to watch them grow together, knowing the bond that a girl (and now young woman) has with that first horse who steals her heart. I know that Miles will get her through so much during her teenage years – fights with her parents, first loves, and first heart breaks – and it makes it so worth it to have my own heart break every time that I sell one of these horses. Most recently Ainsley and Rhythm placed 10th in a large division at the American Eventing Championships, only further confirming that gut instinct I had two years ago that these two were destined for each other, and destined for great things.
I have seen so many comments under Denny Emerson’s posts about making sure you own the RIGHT HORSE FOR YOU, and most of them ask what they are supposed to do with their current horse – one that they are sure will never be rideable, or that is dangerous, or that they LOVE but just aren’t doing well – and to them I say – do what Meghan did. Make the realization that if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth it. Find someone who finds the fun in your horse. Put the miles on that horse to make him enjoyable again. And then find that horses PERSON. There are always the rare cases where horses ARE dangerous, or ARE unrideable – but those chances of that being your horse are SLIM. Whether it be fear, riding style, the wrong sport of choice, or just the wrong person – find the horse who wants to be with you, and find the rider who wants to be with your horse. It will be worth it for your horses sanity, your own sanity, and the smile that you will see on that persons face as they gallop past you towards success.