Sunday, May 31, 2015

Horse Shopping for Mom: A comical adventure with a happy ending!

More than two months before my husband accepted the inevitable - a horse of my own - I stumbled
upon an ad on Sport Horse Nation. "Event horse with lots of lower level experience ready to move up." I looked at the ad every night for two months. Eventually I noticed that the horse lived in Ontario, Canada, about 2 hours north of Toronto and a 12 hour drive from where I live. Still, I couldn't stop thinking about him and I determined to find a way to make him my own.

The first thing I had to do was convince my husband, with a little creative math, that my horse wouldn't cost him too much money. I pulled that off by April and went out to find my horse.

I spoke on the phone with the trainer of my Canadian heartthrob. She was great, he sounded ideal and I wanted him more than ever. My trainer thought I was nuts, but she usually does! There was still snow on the ground and I couldn't imagine how I was going to get to Canada to look at a horse - I couldn't completely abandon my three kids, my husband travels and life was busy.

So I set about finding another horse or two to look at closer to home. My plan was to bring my daughter or my trainer along with me to look at horses. I couldn't possibly buy a horse without at least one of them but, unfortunately, they were too busy to go with me. So I decided to just go out and look all by myself!

The first thing you should know is that I hadn't even sat on a horse in 8 months. I had leased a horse last year until the end of July. I rode my daughter's horse about 3 times in the fall and that was it! So I really had no business trying horses on my own but I'm an obstinate person with no patience and I knew I wouldn't get my trainer to go to Canada without demonstrating my determination.

My theory was that I was capable of sitting on a horse to walk and trot and possibly canter.  I would be able to eliminate any horses that were super obviously unacceptable. I was looking at horses that were pretty close by so if I thought they were worth a second look, I could bring someone more qualified back with me.

I went to see two horses somewhat locally.  The first was an 8 year old OTTB mare. She was very sweet but I was pretty sure my trainer would say no to her. I did manage to walk, trot and canter her all on my own without falling off which struck me as a bit of a miracle at the time. The second horse was with the trainer we bought my daughter's pony, Pumba, from a couple of years ago. She had heard I was looking and thought she had just the thing for me. The horse was super cute and lovely on the ground, well behaved under saddle but a little small and not really my match. I was very proud of myself for going out shopping on my own and saving everyone's time.

The only horse left to look at was my man in Canada. In all seriousness, there was very little for sale at the time and I had a pretty tight budget. If I travelled to Pennsylvania or Virginia where there would be more horses, the prices went up. My Canadian had the exchange rate going for him so I decided it was time to book a trip.

My trainer decided to go along with my plan. Neither of us had ever been to Toronto so it sounded like a good adventure. I booked plane tickets, a rental car and hotel all with my husband's airline miles. That was a bit sneaky of me. He gave me a budget and told me it had to include everything - travel, vetting, tack, etc. He never mentioned use of air miles!

I suppose it was a bit crazy to go so far to see one horse. It was a tiring trip north and we landed right after a huge plane from China so got stuck in a long immigration line. We drove an hour to the hotel and in the morning headed north. The drive was desolate and beautiful. We were absolutely in the middle of nowhere. It's a bit of a miracle that we managed to find the place!

When we got there, Crafty - that's his name, Crafty Breeze, and it's a bit ironic since I am very crafty - was just what I hoped he would be. He has excellent ground manners. I rode him around a bit at all 3 gaits and he made me look good. He's handsome which doesn't hurt. We walked him out through some fields so my trainer could take him over some XC jumps. He was a perfect gentleman.

As we walked the Canadian trainer told us about the property which used to be home to an event called Checkmate and which my trainer was very familiar with. Later I looked up some old photos of the place which were pretty cool. There were still some old advanced jumps in the woods. The farm had been sold and would close in the fall so it was pretty cool to be there.

My trainer hopped on, rode him around, jumped over a fence a few times and had a great time! We walked him back, hosed him, grazed him and headed off to find some food. It is worth mentioning we found an absolutely amazing restaurant called Mylar and Loretta's seriously in the middle of nowhere and well worth going out of your way for a visit. We chatted over an excellent feast and marveled at my luck.

We caught an earlier flight back to Massachusetts and I got to work on vetting a horse long distance (worthy of a whole separate post) and shipping him down here.

I've waited a long time to have a horse of my own. I am so grateful Crafty came into my life. I'm having a blast riding him everyday and think he is just the coolest horse ever. And it doesn't hurt that he looks good too!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Looking Back: When buying a horse feels good and right.

I've posted a few times about the struggles we've had over the winter but I would like to go back and tell the story of how we found Quizz and the incredibly positive experience we had buying her.

Last summer we went to Elizabeth's first recognized event. She was doing the Starter Division but still, it was a step up. While she was out walking the XC course with her trainer, I stayed in the barn to finish braiding her pony. A lovely young woman stabled across from us asked me if I knew of anyone interested in buying a horse. She seemed less determined to sell a horse and more confused about the right course for her future as an eventer.

I said I might be interested in a horse and invited her to tell me about her lovely mare. At the end of our conversation I told her I thought that sounded like the kind of horse you keep, not the kind you sell, and reminded her how difficult it is to find a horse that can stay sound and take good care of you. I think these were difficult conversations for her. She had owned the horse for nearly 6 years and had known her since she was a baby. Quizz had helped her overcome some fears and they had moved up the levels together. I could tell she really didn't want to sell her but she was also aware that it wasn't fair to ask Quizz to do more. They had gone as far as they could together and it was, sadly, time to part.

We went out and competed, went home and moved on with our lives but I kept thinking about Quizz. I mentioned it to my trainer and she thought I was a little crazy. We really weren't looking yet. We hardly met the horse and I had one conversation with the owner. It was strange how seriously I wanted to track them down.

A month or so passed and I was unable to contact them. The prior owner is not on Facebook by her full name and I didn't know who her trainer was. I found their records online but not them.

The first week of August I was at Apple Knoll in Millis, Massachusetts where our Pony Club is fortunate to have camp for one week each summer. I was in charge of camp so was there around the clock. The first day of camp a trailer pulled in and I recognized the driver as a woman who had been stabled with us at the show over the summer. I was pretty sure she would know where to find Quizz. And yes, I was still obsessing about finding her!

This is the craziest part of the story. I approached the woman and asked if she remembered the horse and rider pair from the show earlier in the summer.  Her answer is too much to believe. The passenger in her trailer was none other than Quizz. She was at Apple Knoll to be sold. As luck would have it, we were able to spend time with Quizz that entire week. My daughter rode her a few times in her pony club lessons. We were able to see her lovely personality and be very sure of who this horse is. Our trainer came to ride her thinking we were nuts but by the end of the morning, she was a little in love as well.  Quizz has that effect on people.

Later we found out that as we were trying to track down Quizz's owner, she was looking for us. She wanted Quizz to go to a young rider who would keep her forever and give her a really good home. The best part of buying Quizz has been expanding our family to include her prior owner. When someone owns a horse like Quizz for as long as she did, they want to know that their horse is being cared for properly. From our end it felt wonderful to buy a well loved horse from a responsible owner. Quizz had a heart condition which the owners immediately informed us about. They opened their vet records. They gave us the report from Tufts regarding her heart issue. They did everything so well that I think I'm a bit spoiled as I go through this again looking for my own horse.

I did freak out right after we bought her. We do intend to keep Quizz forever and I think as that reality washed over me I panicked. But her prior owner could not have been more wonderful. We are in constant contact. I am excited for her as she starts her adventure with a new young horse and she loves getting updates on Quizz's adventures.

A couple of weeks ago, after Elizabeth's first XC run of the season at a schooling show, she sat in the
back seat texting with Quizz's old owner all about how much fun she had. I think it's pretty awesome for all of us. Quizz is amazing. It would be selfish to keep her all to ourselves.

This weekend the announcer at King Oak called out the name Quizz D'Orange once again but this time with a younger rider and at a lower level. Quizz had her issues over the winter but honestly that is to be expected in an 11 year old who had been going Preliminary last summer. Her issues were confusing for the humans and we never really identifies what was bothering her but whatever it was, we addressed it and she feels great now! She's very confident and proud of herself, especially as she runs XC. And she is again building confidence in her rider. Rather than fearing speed, my daughter received time faults for going too fast! Looks like it will be time to move up sooner than we thought but we couldn't have done any of it without Quizz.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Relief: when the tide turns and everything starts to work again.

If you read my post on lameness, you may recall our distress and uncertainty about the future. I could not possibly be more pleased to report that we have come out the other end. The experience was traumatizing, frustrating, stressful and ultimately inspiring.

Quizz is an amazing horse and we bought her sound, of that I am certain, from a wonderful woman who loves her deeply. But somehow, things fell apart as they sometimes do. Whether it was shoeing mistakes, maintenance that just needed to be done or a sudden and random change, she was unable to work at the beginning of the winter. 

I don't have any answers regarding a silver bullet or magic formula we followed that could help others. But as I reflect on the past 6 months certain things stand out as contributing factors as to why we came out the other side ready for show season.

The most important factor in helping my daughter's horse get back on track was our trainer. We listened to her every step of the way. We did everything she told us to do, even when it went somewhat against our usual process. We changed farriers. We involved an additional vet. We were very aggressive with injections. It was not easy to go along with all of this but I knew that if we really wanted Quizz to recover we couldn't listen only to the things we wanted to hear. We either had to go along with the plan or not go along with it. Half a plan would not help.

There were dark days. I never doubted our trainer, her knowledge or her intentions. I did doubt the horse's ability to bounce back. I doubted whether we had identified the issue. I doubted the miracle farrier. Shoeing changes take time and my patience was thin. I seriously doubted the ability of my daughter to rise to the occasion and do all that needed to be done to help her horse recover.

At one point, not all that long ago, I thought the best thing for the horse might be to find a more advanced rider that could give her what she needed. Even mentioning this brought tears to my daughter's eyes.

Again, our trainer gets all the credit for salvaging the situation. She did more training rides. She gave my daughter more lessons. She sped up Elizabeth's education. Elizabeth learned so very much in such a short time. But even more importantly, our trainer kept her cool while I rode the emotional roller coaster. She was there for us everyday. She knew how hard it was for us to go through this and she cared. She didn't make any promises but she encouraged us to have faith.

We did everything we could think of to try. We lunged with a Pessoa, rode with German reins. We used Back on Track pads. We did a course of Adequan. We even engaged a PhD Equine Nutritionist who I think is fantastic. We only made minor adjustments to her diet but I think it helped. And I should admit I hired an animal communicator. That was a bit disappointing, really, and brought me down way more than it propped me up. 

In the end we will never know what one thing made the biggest difference. But the part that will always stand out to me is the support and encouragement we received. From the lameness vet to the miracle farrier, from our super supportive Pony Club friends to our trainer, we were so fortunate to have had this experience. As painful as it was, I am glad we ran the gauntlet and came out the other side.

So tomorrow Elizabeth and Quizz will do a schooling horse trial in preparation for their first big recognized show together. Two months ago we weren't sure if Quizz would jump again and now we have an incredible season planned for this fantastic team. Last week they galloped - a real gallop! I am so incredibly grateful. And I am humbled by my daughter and her amazing and trusty steed.