by Laura Crum
I posted a blog last month titled “Pitfalls”. In it I detailed the rather bad decisions a person new to horses has made when it came to buying a horse for her family. This got me thinking about the bad decisions I myself have made when I was new to owning horses. And that got me thinking about Honey.
Honey was the second horse I ever owned. I did not do a spectacular job picking out the first one, either, though I give myself a break on that—I was only fifteen at the time. My experienced uncle, my trusted advisor, selected my first horse, a somewhat cross grained gelding named Jackson. Jackson seemed an appropriate choice—he was fifteen years old when I bought him and appeared sound and gentle. Well, it turned out he was sound, but he wasn’t all that gentle. Jackson was prone to vertical rears when under pressure and to kicking out hard. He kicked me in the head once and laid me out cold. In short, he was not my dream horse.
Still, I rode Jackson and learned to deal with him. If only asked to walk, trot, lope in an arena, he was pretty much an easy ride. Two years later, when he and I were both seventeen, I sold him to the riding school where I learned to ride. (And yes, I checked on this horse—he was a success at the riding school and remained a well loved lesson horse until, several years later, he was kicked by another horse and had to be euthanised, due to a broken leg.)
Now, by the time I sold Jackson, I had helped my uncle break and train several colts, and I wanted to buy a young horse I could break and train myself. I shopped around a bit, and, as an eighteen year old, I bought an unbroken four year old mare named Honey. Honey had excellent cowhorse bloodlines (she was an own daughter of Leo Bingo) and she was a good looking sixteen hand bay mare. She belonged to an older lady who had raised her from a foal and simply let the mare run loose in the pasture. So Honey wasn’t really spoiled. But she was a hot-blooded four-year-old who had virtually never been handled.
Was this a good choice for an eighteen year old who had never broke and trained a horse single-handedly? Not so much. But my uncle liked this big good looking mare, and so I bought her.
Long story short—I got Honey broke. She didn’t hurt me; I didn’t hurt her. She developed a bad vice along the way—when she didn’t want to do something she backed up. Relentlessly. I couldn’t cure her of this and my uncle eventually took over and backed the mare until she fell down, then asked her to take a step forward. He had to go round and round with her awhile—I had her thoroughly confirmed in this vice—but eventually Honey could be talked out of backing as an evasion.
I took Honey off to college with me, intending to ride her every day. But I didn’t. There were too many other things to do, and I never really trusted Honey. I could walk, trot, lope her, take both leads, ride down the road, but she always felt resistant. I didn’t enjoy her. When winter break came around, I took her home and asked my uncle to sell her for me.
I heard she went to be a broodmare, but I never checked on her.
To me, in retrospect, this is a sad story. My intentions were good, and had I gotten some good advice, I probably could have been steered to a project horse that I might have enjoyed much more. I certainly would advise an eighteen year old girl with the experience I had at the time to go for perhaps a greenbroke horse of an obviously cooperative disposition. Not a hot, completely untouched four year old mare.
I did not ruin Honey, I don’t think, but I didn’t do her any favors either. I wanted to love her and keep her forever (that was my idealistic vision when I bought her), but I found her frustrating and sold her a year later. Not the happiest horse story in the world.
This “mistake” did not turn me off to horses. After Honey was sold I bought a little green broke four year old gelding named Hobby (another story), that I did manage to train such that he became a successful showhorse for the people who bought him from me a year later. Because, once again, Hobby and I were not a good personality fit. This story has a happy ending, because the people who bought Hobby kept him until he was a very old horse, loved him dearly, and euthanised him when his time was done. However, at the time I was just disappointed that yet another horse had not worked out for me. And then I bought Burt, a five year old with only thirty days of riding, whom I kept until his death in his late thirties. Burt was my first forever horse.
After Burt I bought two more horses that did not work out for me and that I subsequently sold. So I was in my mid-twenties when, with the purchase of Gunner, I began to be able to conciously choose horses that would work for me.
Thus, when I write about other people’s mistakes, I always try to remember that I made plenty of mistakes myself. I chose horses that weren’t suitable for me, and when I didn’t enjoy them and felt I didn’t have time for them, I passed them on. Today I am able to choose horses that work for me, and when I do place a horse in another home, I check on that horse and make sure he is doing OK. I am, I think, a responsible, competent horse owner. But I wasn’t born knowing how to do and be this. I had to learn through my mistakes.
So today I want to ask if some of you, like me, have made some big mistakes in your journey to becoming a good horseman. Or perhaps you were able to get good advice and make many less mistakes than I did. Does anybody want to share their path?