Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mistakes I Have Made

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?


Anonymous said...

I've had my own share of mistakes. I've bought the wrong horses for the wrong reasons, too. I had excellent luck with the two horse I first bought as an adult - Noble and Promise. Both were great fits for me, and great horses too. But then I got Lily, too quickly after Promise's death. Lily was a great horse, but hot, hot, hot, and a difficult ride with uncomfortable gaits. Fortunately my daughter wanted to to jumpers, so after a few months of coping with Lily - I could ride her but it wasn't any fun for either of us - I passed her to my daughter. She was a very successful jumper, but never an easy ride. She's now retired and we still own her.

Then I got Maisie - drop dead gorgeous. Being seduced by the beauty, I ignored her conformational faults and her, um, how shall I say this - slow learning ability. She was very sweet, but a bit high-strung and slow to learn anything. She had constant soundness problems from the moment I got her and was never a fun ride. She's now retired and we still own her.

I've changed what I'm doing and how I go about getting horses and now have just what I need - a solid QH with a good mind - Pie. Maybe I'm the one that's a slow learner - but I'm finally getting there, I think!

I think it's important to remember that we all have made mistakes when selecting or working with horses. I expect I'll make some more mistakes before I'm done.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I read about your search for Pie on your blog, and it really sounds like you picked out a great horse. I totally did the "seduced by beauty" thing on one of the horses I bought after Burt that didn't work out. It took me quite awhile to figure out that this very good looking horse had a truly resistant personality. Thanks for sharing your story. Makes me feel better to know I'm not alone in having made some less than great choices. It is tough, isn't it? Trying to find a horse that fits. Even when we have a bit of experience.

Dreaming said...

Ahhh, getting my first horse - what memories! At the time we thought we were going about it the right way. We visited lots of barns. I tried lots of horses. I knew a smidgen about confirmation (I was 15 and a devout Pony Clubber) so we turned away from the narrow-chested, knock-kneed horse we saw here, or the guy with the neck put on all wrong that we found there. But, I was a sucker for color. When we came across this compact, incredibly talented jumper with a beautiful dappled gray coat and a black masked face, I was a goner. He became mine. I enjoyed him for just over a year and then he developed navicular. We game him to a farmer who promised that my guy would enjoy a quiet life in pasture.
Then there is the story of my current horses...mistake? Maybe! Ruled by my heart and not my head when I got them? Of course! But I love them. They are sound, and their lives and mine have been better since they have come to live with me - so... life is good!

Laura Crum said...

Dreaming--I hear you. My current horses are not perfect, either. But they work for me and I love them. That's the bottom line, isn't it?

Gabriella Elise said...

As I am not quite an adult yet, I haven't OWNED any horses. But I have leased and taken care of quite a few.

The first was Emmy - if you've read some of the early posts of my blog you'll hear some stories about her and her death. She wasn't gorgeous, but for a 13.3 hh Morgan, she was alright. She knew the ropes and how to tell you what you're doing wrong, that's for sure. She wasn't conformationally perfect at all (in fact, far from it) but I rode her from the time I was 5 (when I first started riding) to her death in 2009. I guess you could call her my first 'forever horse'. She's stuck with me and I still use and remember the tricks and lessons she taught me..

After her death, for a few weeks from December 22 2009 until mid-January of 2010, I rode April, Mallory, and Sonny. Sonny has remained one of the horses I ride consistently. He's my jumper, a QH, and he's actually fairly respectful. He's in no means beautiful, and he has his own, distinct odor that no one can stand if they haven't been around him for a while. So far, him and I are partners; who knows what'll happen in the future, though?

Next was Tarzan. He was adorable but not gorgeous, and as the rides went on, we discovered he had issues with his right hind. We first thought it was a hock issue, then a hip issue, and now we know it was a stifle issue. After many home remedies and vet visits and finally xrays, he was deemed unrideable due to a genetic defect that made it painful for him to move. He's now just a pasture horse and he's loved by everyone, but I'm the only one who brushes him and loves on him and gives him treats. I'll keep him in my heart for forever, and if his owners want to sell him, I'll buy him. Simple as that.

Then came Missy. She's 24 and a QH, and she's still goin strong! We're barrel racing partners and she's the easiest and most respectful horse I've ever ridden. She doesn't have vices, she just needs tuned up every once in a while. She's nowhere near the end, and I hope it stays that way for a while. She's better conformationally than the rest, but her face is a mule-face. Her nose is a mule nose and she has huge ears. But that certainly doesn't mean I love her any less!

Somewhere between Tarzan and Missy came Lucy; my blog has a ton of stuff about her. She came to us as an abandoned horse and we 'rescued' her. We take care of her, buy her supplements, pay for her vet bills, and try and keep her sound. At one point, she was riding sound and I started re-training her to ride and do halter and such; I think I threw too much at her, though, and that's one of the mistakes I've made. I overloaded her body and brain and she just broke down. Now, we don't know if she'll ever actually be sound enough to ride or breed, but we sure hope so. Currently, she has a permanent limp in her step but, my plan is to keep working with her like I have with halter and showmanship and (since she's absolutely GORGEOUS) show her on the ground. She has a lot of attitude and meanness, but I guess I've looked past that. Though we don't really get along, I don't mind. She's my baby.:)

Currently, at one barn I'm riding Pete, Sonny, April, and occasionally Mallory, Mona, and/or Dakota. They're all nice but only Pete and Sonny will be shown this year. At the other barn I'm barrel racing Missy, taking care of Lucy, and trying to help train Chief (3 y/o). I've made tons of mistakes and caused lots of problems, but in the long run, trust me,... it's been worth every minute of time, every bit of pain on my part.

Laura Crum said...

Gabriella Elise--It sounds like you're learning a lot and a great life with horses in front of you!

horsegenes said...

Like you Laura my first horses were picked out for me. My father had passed away when I was 7 and my mom thought that a horse might help me adjust and keep me out of trouble. She enlisted one of my older brothers to help and he brought me an old ranch horse named Mosquito. I had Mosquito for about 3 years before he developed ring bone and went very lame and had to be put down. I don't know how old he was but he was no spring chicken when I got him. He was the perfect horse for a beginner. Point and go. No vices, no bad habits. Then came Rusty. My other non-horsey brother picked this one. I went to look at him and he immediately took his owner under a tree limb and brushed him off. He was 7 years old, made right, had good ground manners and he was smart. I was probably around 10-11, didn't care about anything, I just knew I needed another horse and this one we could afford. We didn't have a trailer so my brother had to ride him home for me. Bareback. When he went to cross the highway, the horse bucked him off. He never said a word about getting dumped until at least a year later. I rode Rusty for at least 12 years and then retired him. He was with me until I had to put him down. The horse and I just clicked. He was a fast learner, very forgiving, and really never gave me much grief. It could have been a train wreck, but someone up there was looking out for us. I showed him in Halter, showmanship, pleasure, trail, and even barrel raced a time or two. I don't know how many trail miles I put on that horse but it was alot.

You can read the story of how I came to own Semper on my blog... and you can see that I bought with my heart and not my head. He is a forever horse for me. I have a relationship with this horse that is just ridiculous. I didn't set out to "pick" anything. When I look back on Rusty and at Semper I know that they could have been huge mistakes. There is an old saying... "Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good."

I have purchased several yearlings and brought them along, had them trained only to realize that they weren't right for me or the job at hand. I have tried to place into situations that they were suited to. Selling and placing horses is a tough job that I absolutely loathe.

Laura Crum said...

kel--I did read the story of how you got Semper on your blog. It was awhile ago and my memory isn't so great any more, but didn't you go to look at him for a "husband horse" and your husband wanted nothing to do with him? I know he's been a horse you really love.

Funny thing is I justified buying Sunny (when I already had a riding horse) on the grounds my husband could ride him. Uhmmm, my husband rode him all of three times. But Sunny has taken me on literally hundreds of trail rides and beach rides in the three years I've owned him, so I guess it worked out well.

I, too, hate placing horses in other homes. These days I mostly give them away with a firm promise that I get them back if things don't work out. I have had a few that didn't fit me find very good homes where they have been for many years. I still check on them. But I'm done placing horses--except for friends. The ones I now own are staying with me.

Funder said...

Champ was my first, and you couldn't ask for a better first horse.

I didn't ever really click with Poppy, my Percheron. I took him from "sometimes people sit on me while other people lead me around" to pretty solidly green broke walk/trot, and I sold him to a fellow boarder who fell in love with him. He wasn't very broke, but she knew that and honestly she didn't want to ride much - mainly she wanted a big pocket pony to love on from the ground. The draft personality that I never really enjoyed was perfect for her.

About a year after I sold him, he died from a twisted-gut colic. :( Very sad end, but at least he didn't get shuffled on down the road for years and years.

I often thought Dixie was a terrible mistake. We didn't really click for years. But I felt like if I sold her and bought something easier, I wouldn't become a better horseperson. So I just slogged through her issues, and somewhere along the way I ended up a better rider and she ended up a fabulous horse. She's still hot and half-trained, but she listens and trusts me and tries hard now. Every now and then the wrong horse will become the right horse. :)

Laura Crum said...

Funder--That is so true. Perhaps the best horse I ever had was Flanigan, and when I first saw this horse I wanted nothing to do with him. I thought he was common looking, his way of moving didn't impress me, and he was cinchy and wanted to buck. But he turned out to be one of my all time favorites and I will always be grateful for the thirteen years we had together. So, yeah, it isn't always the love-at-first-sight horses that turn out to be the good match. Congratulations on where you've come with Dixie. I understand its been a long road.

Anonymous said...

I have not had the pleasure of owning a horse yet, due to finances but I will someday. I can share a story about Quin though. I dont own or even lease him, but I've been riding him for close to two years now. He's just a bay TB, nothing spectacular to look at. He failed out of the hunter jumper program spectacularly by crashing through a jump. The barn owner put me on him because Quin has dressage training and that's what I want to do. So I rode him and hated it, I was afraid of him. He's got a huge stride and very sensetive, even for a TB. Then I started taking dressage lessons on him and everything changed. The horse I was was afraid to canter, I have now ridden bareback, bitless, galloped in the field, took trail riding, can canter in the arena with no reins at all, etc. I so wish I could buy him right now, he'd be perfect for me, I totally trust him; but finances just don't allow that... Who knows what my first horse mistakes will be one day.

Laura Crum said...

sumire7--Thanks for sharing your story. I know how hard it can be when finances won't allow us to buy the horse we want. Hope you can continue to enjoy Quin.