Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Story


It's rainy, cold and generally miserable here. I have zero motivation to ride. I grew up in the hot humid swamps of Louisiana and, although I've lived in NJ for over 10 years now, my blood is still quite thin. I have no problem riding in 90 degree heat and humidity, but the first hint of real cold or , *shudder*, snow sends me into hibernation.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the progress Spider and I have made over the years. Spider was a bit of an impulse purchase, and several of my friends questioned my judgement. There was nothing really special about him, no standout features to wow a potential buyer. As one friend put it, "He's just kind of 'there'". So why on earth did I buy him? I guess I'll take some time on a rainy, crummy day to tell a bit of his story.......

In the spring of 2006 I was working out of a training facility in Central NJ. The head trainer used to let us barn rats work the consignment horses. In exchange, we got a percent of the price of the horse when (or if) it sold. Spider showed up that spring, from a broker in North NJ. They'd been trying to sell him up there, but no one was biting. We weren't really told anything about him, just that he had done Open Jumpers and was either ring sour or wild over jumps (we never quite got the full story, as often happens with brokers). The owner wanted him gone, and he was at our barn to be sold as a dressage prospect.

I'm not going to sugar coat it, there was nothing spectacular, or even particularly interesting, about Spider. That's his sale picture at the top of the post. He's over at the knee, hocks are a bit too straight, ewe necked, kind of scrawny...not exactly what most are looking for in a dressage prospect. His movement wasn't much better, he went in that stereotypical "peg-legged" TB gait with his nose up in the air and a flat back. And he was a complete spaz; a cribbing, head bobbing, spook at everything, whites-of-the-eyes-always-showing spaz. But there was something about him. He was never mean or rude, just neurotic. I began to find it charming.

Pretty soon I was the only one riding him. In a barn full of fancy imported Warmbloods, nobody else really wanted to ride the spastic Thoroughbred. I liked him, though, and within a month I had decided to buy him. In the midst of all his mediocrity, he had one quality that none of the fancy moving Warmbloods had: he loved to work. I have never met a horse more excited to get tacked up and do his job. And that quality made all the difference. Gaits can be improved, muscles can be developed and movements can be trained, but none of that is possible without a willing attitude. Conversely, a horse with beautiful gaits, perfect conformation and natural talent will never accomplish anything with a poor work ethic.

Three years later, I have a horse that would put any Warmblood to shame. A horse that I know I can do anything with because he wants to work for me. The cribbing and head bobbing are things of the past and he doesn't even spook much anymore. He's still pretty neurotic, but that's easy to manage. It adds to his charm.

What's the point of that little story? Horses are what we make of them, good or bad. It doesn't really matter what their bloodlines are or where they're from, if they want to work for you the sky is the limit. So next time you see a crazy little horse bobbing and weaving in the back of his stall, stop and take a closer look. You just might end up with this:

7 comments:

  1. He sure looks great now! You sure are right about the attitude being key - and sometimes those overlooked gems in the rough turn out to be the best horses. And I'm certainly a fan of bays, although I'm happy with a horse of any color!

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  2. Love bay TB's and mine, as you already probably know, is a bit neurotic in his own way. Tuck could use a better work ethic too, but that has not generally been the case with my other TB's.

    To me the best part of your story is not so much how well Spider turned out to be, but that you proved once again how much good training can change any horse. Too often, all people think they can do is buy a good horse instead of taking the time to "make" one.

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  3. WOW!!! What a difference. Well done you should be very proud. I think Spider is very lucky to have a mum that loves him and was willing to put the time and effort into him.

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  4. What a pretty boy! Good job with him.

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  5. Shannon, I just read this...what a great story! Good for you for seeing what others couldn't. I totally agree, that loving their job and loving the ride are SO important in a horse...any horse really, but especially a horse expected to show, and win. I think Thoroughbreds have that in spades as a general rule. Good job with Spider:) You two look marvelous in that picture.

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  6. Having a horse that passed through many hands as unmanagable, I totally understand where you are coming from. That unmanageable horse is my favorite horse to ride, and he gives me all he has. Its all about putting the right horse with the right person!

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