I tell people all the time that if you described my horse on paper, I wouldn’t want him.
16.2hh OTTB. Bay. Medium build. High withers. Stride is on the shorter side. Sticky changes. Requires hock maintenance. Tons of local miles in all three rings, but happiest as a jumper.
It’s not that he’s terrible on paper, but I’ve never shopped for a horse like that. Eight years ago, I considered ‘Thoroughbred’ to be a dirty word… OTTB doubly so. (Before the Thoroughbred bandwagon comes to mow me down, I can tell you that I’ve changed and have learned to love and respect the Thoroughbred.) I wanted a big bodied Warmblood that could walk down the lines, with chrome to boot. I wanted a push ride. A hunter. Something that took an XXW saddle and had huge cannon bones. Something that’s pretty much the exact opposite of the horse I have now.
I think it’s easy for amateurs to get stars in our eyes when it comes to horses. If you’ve been bitten by the show bug like me, there’s a never ending stream of media to be found that covers the best of the best. The scopiest jumpers and flashiest hunters are all just a click away. I bet I’m not the only person who’s scrolled through countless sale ads in-between meetings, lulling myself into a meditative Wouldn’t it be nice state of window shopping.
While the horses in those ads I peruse are undoubtedly amazing, I realize that lovely for someone else doesn’t always mean lovely for me.
When I first started getting serious about showing, I decided to sell my older, not terribly athletic Quarter Horse gelding in favor of upgrading to a younger, taller, more talented horse. On paper, that new horse was my dream. He was impeccably bred, incredibly fancy under saddle and had more than enough style for the 3′ hunter ring. He was perfect… for my trainer. For me, it was a trainwreck.
Bolstered by the forgiving nature of the steady-eddy horse I sold, I had over estimated my riding ability. Turns out the push ride I thought I wanted, actually exposed how weak I was in the saddle. A more athletic horse over fences also lended itself to occasional athletic spooking and bucking. Even though he wasn’t a bad horse, I quickly became afraid of my new fancy hunter. My trainer tried to get me through it, but I completely crumpled in defeat and ended up selling him.
This wasn’t the only time I would be over the moon excited about a horse that I thought was exactly what I wanted, only to realize that it wasn’t a great fit. I don’t know exactly what constitutes the perfect horse for me, but it’s a lot more than basic traits. If I were to write an ad about the reason my current horse is amazing, it would go something like this:
Whinnies when he sees you, and will always walk across the big pasture to come to the gate. Enjoys licking your arm, and makes funny faces when you curry his itchy spots. Will jump any fence you approach with confidence, and usually even when you don’t. Thinks he won every class he’s ever entered. Which is not wrong, because to me – he has.
My life with horses has taught me that it isn’t always what’s on paper that’s important. I need my plain, commonly bred Thoroughbred with sticky changes and bad hocks. He won’t pass a vet check, but he’s taught me how to keep a horse fit and what proper conditioning can do for soundness. He didn’t have any show miles when I got him, but he’s learned to horse show alongside me and is forgiving of my many mistakes. He’s made me a better rider, one that might even be able to handle a big, fancy Warmblood one day.
He’s shown me that partnership is about more than a list of requirements, and that the best things in life often need a little dusting off before they shine.