Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Realizations of a Life-Time Dressage Rider

About three weeks ago, I was having my weekly dressage lesson. A few days prior, another boarder had sent out a message on our barn loop about a very nice little Arab gelding for sale on Craig's List. I mentioned to Kari, my instructor, that I'd toyed with the idea of looking at this horse.

Those innocent words launched me into a week of realizations and answered the question I've been struggling with for the past couple of years. Anyway, back to the story.

Kari mentions, "I didn't know you were looking for another horse."

"I'm not. I was just toying with the idea of having a horse I could actually show," I added as I ride around on my not-quite sound 16-year-old mare.

"Did you realize Sandy is getting a divorce and having a fire sale?"

Now I hadn't realized Sandy (name changed) was divorcing. I'm way out of the barn loop when it comes to gossip. Gailey's been unsound so much that I don't spend a lot of time at the barn anymore. Now Sandy is a student of Kari's and breeds a few horses a year. She also boards, trains, and gives lessons at her little place. Her husband managed the barn operations and did a lot of the work at the barn (which is a subject for another blog altogether. As in, how much can we really expect from horse husbands?).

"She has a really nice 6-year-old chestnut mare going 2nd Level she's selling for cheap if the horse goes to someone at the barn. You should look at her." Kari continues to gush about the virtues of said mare, but I already knew a little about her because I'd been riding in the arena last fall when another student, Leslie, tried the horse out during a lesson. I'd liked her quite a bit, but not for the former asking price of $35,000. Anyway, Leslie chose not to buy the horse because she didn't flex sound and because of some issues on her x-rays (anyway, that's also the subject of another blog).

I went home that night and checked out the online videos of the mare and fell in love, not necessarily with the mare, but with the idea of showing again, of having a horse I could actually compete on, one that was less-complicated to ride and manage than my current horse. I contact Sandy and made arrangements to try the mare in a week, while my imagination made arrangements to show again. My excitement level went higher and higher as the days ticked off. This was the opportunity of a lifetime to own a lovely mare for a fraction of her value, assuming she vetted sound.

After two days of fantasizing over showing again, the dressage bug had bitten me once more .

A few days later, I received an email from Sandy that the horse was sold. Now, normally, I'd have shrugged it off and moved on. It wasn't meant to be and all that stuff. Instead this news set off a chain reaction of events.

I contacted several friends looking for another deal like the mare. They all told me "good dressage horses in that price range either have physical issues or behavioral issues." Devastated that I'd missed out on the "opportunity of a lifetime," I made my final decision. My mare needed to be retired from intensive dressage work. It was time to come to terms with that. I didn't have the money for a nice horse. I was done. It was time. Financially, I couldn't afford the type of horse Gailey had been. I did NOT want to go back to square one with an unbroke horse, and I didn't want a horse of much lesser quality.

I decided to quit dressage, gave notice at the barn, and made arrangements to bring Gailey home. Instead of my decision being a relief and for reasons I still can't explain, I had a melt-down. Something I never do. Not since I lost my mother at 25 have I come apart like this. I was inconsolable. The tears came, and they wouldn't stop. Some remote part of me watched in wonder and couldn't believe I was so upset about this.

Yet, I was suffering from grief at the loss of a dream I'd never fulfilled. I'd never gotten to Grand Prix, never won my medals, never gotten to do all the things I'd set out to do when I'd started riding dressage as an 19-year-old college sophomore. A huge part of my life was on the verge of being gone, not just the riding but the social aspect and the exercise aspect. Almost all of my good friends I've made through horses. I've put on 30 pounds in the past two years since I haven't been able to ride regularly because of Gailey's soundness issues.

The next morning I started crying again and had little crying sprees throughout the day. Then it dawned on me, actually hit me over the head. I realized if I was so upset about my decision, I wasn't ready to quit yet. If I'd been ready to give it all up, this decision should have been much easier to make. Somehow, someway, I'd find another horse or lease one or something and keep going.

The events of the last few weeks will take several posts to explain, including another shot at buying the chestnut mare, horse shopping, the trial and tribulations of flexing, and riding unfamiliar horses, which I'll go over in future posts.

To make this long story short, I'd like to introduce all of you to Polaris aka Larry. I picked him up yesterday on a 30-day trial.

And so continues the saga...

Stay tuned for more details...


Francesca Prescott said...

Jami, I know you've said my posts have made you cry in the past, but this time you've made me cry. I felt all your pain and frustrations, but also identified with your "Scarlett O'Hara" moment: you're not ready to give up!

Polaris/Larry has a lovely face, and I hope he works out and takes you all the way to Grand Prix. And you know, even if he doesn't, you'll still be forging forward, living the dressage dream. I'm with you all the way. Lots of love.

Ms Martyr said...

Looking forward to reading about the rest of this story. From what I understand, some Grand Prix riders don't ride their own horses. Is that an option for you or one you wouldn't consider?

Linda Benson said...

Aww - I love this picture of Larry. He looks like such a nice guy, and I love his other name, too: Polaris. I hope he's your North Star, Jamie!

Shanster said...

Good luck Jami, my heart goes out to you. I know it won't be easy but there ARE horses out there.

My trainer came across a very nice horse that came to her for training. Yes - he had behavioral issues. However, once she worked with him she decided to buy him, got him cheap because his owner was afraid of him and wanted him off her hands even after training was working and he's been fabulous ever since. She took him to shows last year starting out at 4th level and the behaviors stayed gone.

I know another woman who found a nice warmblood in Canada... someone had enough horses, this one wasn't being used, his owner is showing internationally and hadn't seen him for months - told the barn to sell him...he is older - in his teens - but sound and working Intermediaire...

Hang in there.

I'm glad you decided to try and I hope with all my heart you find a horse you can enjoy and have fun with again!

kippen64 said...

Hang in there. Some dreams are worth hanging onto and this is one of them.

Minus Pride said...

I can't wait to hear more!!
A positive story to pep you up...I was able to buy the horse I could never afford normally thanks to a kind friend/barn owner and her willingness to do payments as long as I kept the horse at her barn.
I made sure my payments were always early, as were board payments and she actually reduced the price in the end.
So best of luck, and I hope Larry works out!!!

Andrea said...

I can sympathize totally. I've free-leased 2 horses for the past couple years and a couple times thought I'd never be able to afford a horse of my own. And every single time I had a melt down. Not riding much for a couple of months with the plan to get back into it is totally different than giving up on that dream forever.

Your comment about the Arab caught my eye because my mom has "offered" me her 16yo Arab. We've had him since he was 6 months and I was 12 and other than his initial 60 days I was the one to train him. He's been a pasture pet for the last 10 years though and she's realizing she doesn't ride enough to justify keeping him (that was also true 16 years ago when she bought him, but whatever). I'd never be allowed to sell him(and wouldn't at his age anyway), so the idea of 10-15 years of mandatory board payments is somewhat daunting compared to getting an OTTB who could be sold if needed. Your post helped me remember that after 20+ years of riding I'm still unlikely to be ready to be done in the next 10-15 years, so thank you.

horsegenes said...

Just thinking about giving up my horsey life makes my throat start to swell shut and tears come. I am pretty sure I wouldn't get as upset if I were to lose an arm. Makes me believe that it is more a part of us than even our physical body is.