|Home Contact us Site Map|
It was mid-summer 2008 and my mind was on ANYTHING but buying horses. I had just come away from looking at a neighbor’s hay fields, searching everywhere I could for a good deal on hay. With gas prices rising in 2008 and several years of less than spectacular haying weather, our hay prices had soared and with 50 head of horses to feed, we were feeling the crunch. As I drove back to camp, my cell phone rang.
I recognized the voice immediately. It was Connie Pass. If you have read any other Cedar Lodge horse profiles (see Joe, Sam, Auntie Em, Dilbert and Brenda currently) you will recognize the name and understand why I was instantly guarded when I recognized her voice. Connie could mean real trouble for me.
“I’ve got you a horse you’ll want to take a look at.” Typical start of the conversation.
“Sorry Connie, but Chris would absolutely kill me if she knew we were having this conversation.” I was starting to feel like I was cheating on a partner.
“Well, I thought you might say that.” Connie continued. “But Chris said you had a horse you wanted to get rid of, and well, I’ll be willing to take him off your hands if you would take a look at this one in return.”
Oh, that Connie was a sneaky one! She definitely knew how to kick below the belt. She was right. We did have a horse we wanted to get rid of desperately fast. Actually, the horse belonged to Cathy, one of our instructors, but until he was out the door, Cathy was really not free to bring any other horses in. I sighed in defeat.
“What do you have?” I asked resolutely.
The answer was average. Chestnut. 4 years old. Off the track. “Big” “Slow” “Kind” Connie knew the adjective
I was looking for, and she didn’t miss a one. I told her that I would discuss it with Chris but I guessed what the answer would be. Chris wanted Cathy’s horse gone as much as any of us did. We had been trying for half a year to find him a good home and I hadn’t agreed to BUY the chestnut, just look at him.
A quick conversation with Chris confirmed my assumption. I called Connie and set the meeting for the up coming weekend.
Connie arrived promptly at , towing her usual stock trailer behind her truck. I saw her come in, but I was schooling a horse out back and didn’t see the horse when he came out of the trailer except from a distance. He was indeed a chestnut and I noted high white socks and a white blaze. These notes were of interest, because it changed his category from “chestnut” to “flashy chestnut.” I hurried through my schooling and put my horse back in the barn. Connie greeted me in the driveway, horse in hand.
On first close look, the chestnut was quite pleasing. He stood calmly next to Connie with a pleasant look on his face. He was big enough. Over 16.0 hands. How much I couldn’t guess with out a tape. He was “flashy” with white socks half way up both cannons behind, and a large crooked blaze running down his face.
Connie started in with his story.
“His owner (a small time breeder/trainer) decided to give his son a chance to help out with the business. They had started this horse out to race, but he had been so big and slow, that they decided that he would never have any speed. The father gave the horse to the son to take to the track and train to be a “pony” (horses that are used for leading race horses back and forth on the track) horse. Pony horses (good ones) can be worth some money, and the father thought it would be a way for the son to make some money. The son had kept the horse on the track and though he was never mean, he was neglectful; never feeding him enough, or caring for his grooming and feet. After several months of not riding or caring for him, the son traded the horse in a card game to another trainer. It seems that the son was both a gambler and had a drug problem that the father was unaware of until his horse was gone to pay off debts. The person that bought the horse is a friend of mine and someone I buy horses from every now and then. I bought him as soon as I saw him and then called his old owner to see if I could get the registration papers on him. Let’s just say that his owner was not very happy with the sale of his horse and said there was no chance I would ever see his papers.”
I shrugged. Papers weren’t important to me on a gelding. We took the chestnut to the front ring to lunge him.
I was so hopeful after seeing him stand there. He was attractive, calm, big. Everything you look for in a young prospect (if you’re looking for a young prospect, which I wasn’t…..but I digress). I eagerly followed Connie looking forward to seeing him move.
My heart sunk on the first trot steps. He moved AWFUL. Maybe that’s overstated. He was straight enough front and back, but from the side, the whole hunter movement that we so look for that give us an idea that they can jump was missing. He flipped his head straight up in the air and trotted out in short choppy steps. I waited to see if he would relax and drop his head. He didn’t. We asked Connie to canter him. He was barely enough to manage 3 strides before breaking back down into a trot. I turned away. I had seen enough.
To my surprise I heard Chris say, “Connie can we see him go the other direction?” Two directions? Why? Wasn’t one bad enough? He was no better in direction number two. I looked at Chris to see what she was thinking. She shrugged. “Maybe he will make a walk, trot, canter, beginner jump horse.” I looked dubious. Picking up 4 year old race track rejects for beginner jump horses is not a quickest means to an end. It takes years. Then I remembered Cathy’s horse. That must be part of the reason. In the end I shrugged. I had certainly brought enough horses into this barn without Chris seeing them first that if she liked this horse, even for a school horse, even when we were definitely NOT looking for another horse, even when hay prices were high, I was not going to be the one to say anything. I was only positive that I was NOT interested in him as a show prospect. A school horse? Who knows?
When Connie pulled back out of the driveway, she took Cathy’s horse with her and left the big chestnut behind.
I watched the chestnut for several days. He was quiet and sensible. Not hot, not rude. I let him settle in for a couple of days. Someone, I think Hillary suggested naming him Hal. He looked like a Hal and it stuck.
Though we were still 2 weeks from the end of camp, I was eager to see what Hal would do under tack. Kali would be home in September and wanted a project horse. I thought if I could tell whether Hal was quiet by then, Kali could take over the ride. It would be that much less work for me. One slow afternoon, I tacked up Hal and showed up for Chris’s afternoon riding class. He had been good in the barn and on cross rails, but now he was a bit nervous as I waited in the middle of the ring for Chris to be free enough to give me a header at the mounting block. I had opted not to lunge him (he really didn’t lunge anyway) or start him in the stall, which was my normal routine. There was something about his eye and his way that I really thought he would be ok. He was tense as I mounted him, but stood solid. Chris gave me a lead around the rind and let me go.
It was obvious from the start that he didn’t have any basics. Very much like Joe, but with much more energy. He didn’t understand legs, or hands or whoa, but he was quiet and not too stupid. I put him on my list to ride over the next couple of weeks. At first, his head and neck did exactly what they did on that first trial lunge…….straight up in my lap. No contact. It made whoaing (and turning) a challenge. But after about 5 days of constant trotting, his head started to come down as I patiently didn’t grab at it. After all, he really wasn’t going very fast, so there was no need.
After a week, I got brave and decided it was time to try the canter. Hal was trotting quietly and his halting was coming nicely. I was once again in the ring with Chris and told her of my plans. I waited until her class was catching their breath and Chris told them to clear the rail “babies don’t steer well, especially at the canter.” She told her Horse Lover’s class. I wondered if she would start her next lecture series using Hal’s way of going at the canter as what not to buy for a hunter. I steered Hal to the rail and asked him to trot. We rounded our bend and in my favorite, safe cantering spot I softened the reins, closed my leg and clucked. Hal responded almost immediately with
I was amazed. For all Hal’s awful trotting, he had one of the nicest baby canters I had ever ridden. I cantered twice around and switched directions. It was just as good in direction number two. I whooped excitedly. Chris smiled. Maybe Hal would make a horse after all…….
I rode Hal for two weeks and then handed him over to Kendra for two weeks so that I could focus on my next horse show. Kendra loved him and while she was on him it gave me a chance to take a better look at what he was going like. He was greatly improved over that gangly 4 year old a month ago. It appears, for all Hal didn’t know, that our method of riding agreed with him. I started wishing I hadn’t promised him to Kali, but a promise was a promise and I DID have a very full riding schedule this fall…..
When Kali came home in September, she liked him, too. She rode him several times, and I tried not to show the wistfulness in my face when I watched them together. Hal was really starting to grow on me. And so, I was not to unhappy when Kali decided that she really didn’t have time for the every day commitment of a baby. I don’t think I clapped my hands together with glee, but I did come close. I wanted Hal, bad!
I rode Hal all of September, October and a week in November
before snow and cold took over
We are very excited about Hal’s future. He is calm, big, attractive and well mannered. By the end of the fall he was jumping 2’3” courses and thinking about lead changes. If all goes well, we plan on showing him pre-green in 2009. From there, who can tell what Hal will become, but I would not be surprised if he is at Cedar Lodge for a very long, long time. I guess there is a moral somewhere here, or maybe a couple, but I will end with just this one: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth……..or……..even if you think something is a crazy bad idea, if your business partner disagrees, give her the benefit of the doubt. Thanks Chris. I owe this one to you.
|Return to top|