Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Vinny's Story

I don't write much about Vinny.  He was already retired when I started this blog.  His chapter was over, and I was writing about my training experience with Spider.

Many parts of Vinny's story have floated through my head over the years, but I always planned to tell it when he died.  His story would be a sort of closure for that chapter of my life.

But, Vinny has made it clear that he isn't planning on dying any time soon, and it's a story that needs to be told.  So, I'm going to tell it now.

I met Vinny when he was 18 and I was too young to know better.  He was an FEI Schoolmaster, I was a working student.  We seemed to get along well, and when his owner told me she had purchased a new horse and needed a good home for Vinny I jumped at the chance to acquire him.  She gave him to me, free and clear.  Little did I know she was lying about everything.  She was getting rid of him because he was soured and and difficult to handle.  She was scared to death of him, and for good reason.

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth"

I'm the only person who ever called him "Vinny".  His real name is Stravinsky.  He is by Strauss, the famous Swedish Warmblood sire.  He was bred for dressage.  Bred for it, built for it, tested for it and should have been amazing for it.  But, somewhere along the way he was soured.

I didn't know that when I took him on. I knew he had some quirks, but surely I could handle them.  I was young, I was strong and powerful and had all the convictions of "classical" training and knowledge behind me.

And so I "scored" a free Schoolmaster.  I thought I had really made it.  Vinny had other ideas...

Once I started to work him consistently, his vices started to come out.  He could be difficult to handle on the ground.  Under saddle, he bucked, he spun, he reared and he bolted like a saddle bronc on the rodeo circuit. But he only acted like that sporadically.  Most times he was great.  So, I dealt with it.

I began to show him and ride him in clinics, which is when I started hearing the stories about him.  Random people would come up and ask if this was "The Stravinsky": The Stravinsky who had the blowup at the Horse Park, The Stravinsky who dumped that BNT, or the other BNT....

They were never good stories.  It turns out Vinny had spent most of his life going from trainer to trainer because of his behavior problems. But I was able to manage him, so I just shrugged and laughed it off.  We all have our quirks, and surely age had cooled him off.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Vinny was well and truly soured, and his behavior got worse and worse. He was dangerous. He only dumped me once, but he broke my back when he did it.  That injury was the end of my career as a horse professional.

The trainer I worked for at the time wanted him out of the barn immediately. She wouldn't touch him. No one would.  At the time, I didn't have my own farm, so I sent him off to a retirement farm.  Which he then got kicked out of for bad behavior.  So, I sent him to another retirement farm, which he also got kicked out of for bad behavior.

Luckily, by the time Vinny got kicked out of the 2nd farm, I had my own place and he came home to live here.

I remember when I went to get him like it was yesterday. I hadn't seen him in months and it had been two years since I had been his primary caregiver. He must have heard me or smelled me as I walked down the barn aisle, because he stuck his head out and pricked his ears up as I approached.  He remembered me.  I loaded him up with no issues and drove him home, unloaded him and put him out in the pasture. And I didn't have a clue what to do next.

I resented the hell out of him.  He had ruined my career.  He taken everything from me, and then continued to be a thorn in my side by getting thrown out of the purgatories I'd sent him to.  And now he was at my house and I had to see his sorry ass every day.  I had to feed him and take care of him every damn day as though he weren't the creature who had ruined my dreams.

I expected him to resent me, too.  After all, I was the last person who had made him do dressage.  He rebelled against me so hard back in those days.  I could still remember the last time I rode him: the way his eyes glassed over when I asked him to enter the arena, the way he had just shut down and decided to do whatever it took to get me off him.  I was just in his way.  And now here we were, forced to co-habitate.

He didn't resent me, though.  He greeted me every day like an old friend.  He was still a prick, and still got into trouble, but he didn't hold any grudges against me.  And, slowly, I let go of my resentment for him.  It's hard to hold a grudge when your grudgee pretends like it never happened.

Horses don't hold onto grudges or resentment.  I have no doubt that they remember things, but they don't hold onto them like we do.  Vinny was perfectly happy to give me another chance, which was more than any human had ever done for him.  He had spent his life bouncing from trainer to trainer and barn to barn as the humans in his life got fed up with him.  In spite of that, he gave me another chance and I couldn't do any less for him.

I've owned the bastard for over a decade now and, while I wouldn't describe our relationship as "warm and fuzzy", we do have a mutual respect for one another.  He may not have been the Schoolmaster I wanted, but he taught me enough.


  1. Wow, quite the story, glad I was able to read it.

    1. I'm glad I shared it. It's a story that needed to be told. We mostly only hear the good stories, but that's not the whole picture.

  2. You two have quite the history together. He is lucky you didn't send him off with a horse broker and end up as horse meat.

    1. I'd be a liar if I said it didn't cross my mind. But I was afraid that someone would snatch him up from the auction or broker, not knowing his story, and try to ride him again. I couldn't bear the thought of someone else getting hurt by him. So, I kept him. It was the right decision.

  3. Shannon, the fact that you still have him even through all of that says tons about you as a horsewoman.

  4. I had no idea your accident was on him. I thought for sure it was some stupid green thing. What a story. I think I'm still processing.

    1. Stupid green things are easy, it's the soured old devils who will get you. ;)

      I was inspired to write this after reading your last post about Cuna. Although our circumstances are different, the common thread is that our relationship with a horse can change and still be meaningful. If I had given up on Vinny, I would have missed out on a very important lesson.

  5. Vinny's a lucky guy to have landed with you Shannon.

    Most people wouldn't have stuck with him, and as we all know, his story could have ended very badly.

    Maybe your cosmic reward was Spider? I don't know the order of your lineup - assuming Spider came later - but you certainly deserve to have a special guy like him. Thanks for sharing a great story.

    1. I got Spider about 8 months after my accident with Vinny. Spider is the reason I am still riding today. My experience with Vinny and the humans surrounding him had soured me on horses and riding, but Spider brought me back to my passion.

  6. A poignant story indeed. So sorry about your back and career ending accident, of course, but the fact that you still kept Vinny says a lot for your character. It would have been awfully easy to just send him off to what would have likely been a bad end.

    Wonder what it was in his past that ruined him. Of course, there's always a possibility of some physical cause --some kind of pain someshere--that started the downward spiral and never got resolved.

    I think Vinny has taught you a lot more than just horsemanship. He's taught you about forgiveness and kindness in a most unexpected way. I salute you for giving him a home where he can be content and just "be Vinny."

  7. I had no idea Vinny even existed, but this is a phenomenal entry. Wow.

  8. A free schoolmaster would be a dream come true for an aspiring dressage rider. It is a shame that his previous owner did not have the same ethics as you do, especially since you were seriously injured. She probably should have put him down if he was that dangerous, but instead she gave him away to someone whom she knew would not refuse? That is infuriating. I am truly sorry for the loss of your career.

    To say that Vinny is a lucky horse to have you is an understatement.

  9. What a story! Is he ever lucky to have you.

  10. Thank you for sharing this story, beautifully told.


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