Alright, I’m going to admit. I NEVER liked Thoroughbreds. After being spectacularly catapulted from a 17 hand TB over a fence and breaking my finger and tailbone, it was safe to say I despised them (sorry guys!). Add in an off the track thoroughbred, and it was all over – pass!
Well… if there is anything I’ve learned in horses, it’s never say never. After showing Mountain Horses for years, I will admit I was ready for a new challenge. I love my Mountain Horses, after all – my farm is designed around them. I lived and breathed them for years, defended them when people told me it was “just a gaited horse” and wanted to show the versatility of the breed. I took Rain to Rolex as a Mounted Steward, rode Star sidesaddle at Equine Affair in our RMH Breed Demo in 2008, and took Jolene to a hunter pace in September where she held her own against some full sized hunters and kept pace with them the entire time, then settled in beautifully and took her new owner on a quiet, smell the daisies trail ride not two hours later. But, something was missing.
My humble origins were originally in hunters. I bumbled around on a patient and kind buckskin gelding who’s life goal was to teach up down lessons to tiny tots. I’ve been doomed to equine obsession since I was a wee one, and hunters were the ones I’d always wanted to be, until a fall off a pony as a fourth grader. That got me out of horses for several years until my reintroduction with Rain and Star, those adorable little weanlings who who set the stage for my Mountain Horse career in high school. My senior year I started jumping again, until the horse decided I was more dedicated to jumping the fence than he and let me take the jump myself, sans him. That ended that endeavor and I settled into western horsemanship in college, then dipped into reining exercising some spectacular QH that competed in futurities at QH Congress, all the while funneling my interest into my Mountain Horses.
I let my desire to jump sit in the back of my mind, until recently. My friend jumped and darn it, I was going to too. Forget the fact I have a bad knee, bad back and sometimes bad balance. I was going to do it! So I donned my breeches, bit the bullet, and took my first lesson. And then my second, and third, and soon I was riding 2-3 times a week with my wonderful instructor. But it wasn’t enough – I wanted my own horse to develop and grow with, not just the lesson horses. I wanted a partner who would hopefully allow me to fail and help me succeed. But I sure didn’t have 15 grand to drop on a horse. Not to mention a good saddle, show clothes, etc.
But then, he came into my life. A beautiful, albeit a little green, off the track thoroughbred gelding I’ve since renamed Atlas. I knew I didn’t need a horse who hadn’t jumped, even though I could start and train Mountain Horses. Was I crazy? I didn’t know how to jump the good ones, let alone a horse who hadn’t seen a crossrail. What if he was crazy? What if he hated jumping, or worse, hated me jumping him? I could imagine the scenarios of us parting ways in increasingly ungraceful ways. But, I knew this gelding before, and I just had this gut feeling. So, I scraped together every extra penny I had from my paycheck and sent him directly to a trainer after loading him up from the barn I got him from.
And let me tell you, it is the best money I have ever spent. If my years in the industry have taught me anything its that – when in doubt, get professional help (and not a psychologist). The worse thing that could happen would be me trying to help a horse who was still learning his own way over fences flopping around like a dying chicken and both of us getting frustrated. So, off he went with a successful eventer who knew to develop him in whatever way he wanted to go. Wanted to be a hunter? I would practice my best eq and spend my days counting strides, hoping I could make my line in a certain number. Wanted to be a jumper? Grit my teeth and learn that speed was a ton of fun. Want to be an eventer? I’m terrified of cross country but the hunter pace was fun, so maybe I could learn it. Want to be a dressage horse? Well… I guess I’d learn dressage.
Atlas learned over time and I learned with him. I haven’t done much over fence work with him, trying to determine how to properly ride him on the flat and feel him grow and develop muscles. I am 45 minutes away from him and have many other duties I have to complete so it’s been near impossible to ride more than 1-2x a week and sometimes it’s less than that. But, we’ve learned and found out he was happy to be a hunter, so hunter we will be! He seems very happy to go around and pop over fences and I am gearing up for a real show season this spring. I’ve taken him out trail riding and shown him that a giant herd of 20 deer speeding past him in all directions means he’s not going to die, and he’s shown me that he’s not a “crazy” OTTB.
Does he process situations and provide different answers than my quiet, serene mountain horses? Most certainly. They have completely different lines of thinking – the Mountain Horses might go 10 feet and look at the object, then be interested and touch the object. Try that with Atlas and you might be in a different zip code, though he does settle down quickly after you trigger a flight mode. He’s lithe, he’s agile and he’s conditioned. And he’s tall. 16.2 compared to my 14.2 Mountain Horses. That’s a lot of real estate! Mounting blocks are my new necessity, for sure.
His biggest obstacle is me, honestly. But he’s obliging and forgiving so we work out well. And I’ve since done more research, spoke with more owners of the off the track TB, and I’ve completely changed my mind on the breed and I am so lucky to have the horse I have. I can with great certainty tell people that working with a qualified trainer can make the difference between a happy ending in a story and disappointment and pain. I have been able to follow my horse and see him execute beautiful flying lead changes, jump fences with his trainer, and then carry me around with a humor I greatly appreciate.
Now.. navigating that warmup ring seems like the next big challenge. But we’ve made it this far so why not?