I’ve had a lot of random low-budget project horses over the years, and Cruz might be one of the most random and almost, but not quite, the lowest budget. I bought him in December 2008 for $350 out of a field as a halter-broke 17.1h 4yo. Because when I say project, I mean project. It took a while to catch him, he’d never been on a trailer, sorta kinda knew how to tie, and didn’t even know how to lunge. I’m always attracted to a challenge, so how could I possibly resist?
Getting him home was a feat. I was not there to load him but apparently it included grain, round pen panels, and lots of coaxing. As soon as he arrived I worked with him daily, starting with a massive makeover, then ground manners (although for a big horse he was a bit timid so this wasn’t hard), and he got a new name. Previously he’d been named Slim, which I didn’t like, but I noticed that his star was kinda shaped like a heart. Hence the show name Te Amo which spawned the barn name Cruz.
After a few days of round pen work I started to introduce tack, then climbed aboard. He was not the first horse I’ve started but he was probably one of the easiest. After those first few days with me he decided I was not in fact going to eat him and became pretty darn game to do anything I asked. We spent the first few rides in the round pen then I decided he was “broke enough” and rode him around the ring and pasture. Everything came to him really easily… he was smart and once he trusted me he was totally on board.
That’s not to say he was totally perfect. He had a continually tough time with trailer loading (eventually he got to where he loaded fine but he was never 100% relaxed) and got over-excited in his stall when it was turnout time. He was also a little cheeky about being caught in the field – if you tried to go straight up to him you’d end up chasing him all day, but if you just walked out there and immediately chased him away from you he’d turn around and trot right back. Horse brains, or lack thereof… go figure.
After a couple months I moved him to a different barn with a real ring and some jumps, then started him over fences. We even went trail riding in the big 300 acre park next door – he loved going for a gallop. Considering he’d had a less than ideal start to life, he really came along pretty quickly.
I took him to one horse show to school, where he was really really good despite a Cinco de Mayo festival happening next door (complete with inflatables). He handled the atmosphere better than many of the seasoned show horses.
Cruz didn’t really have stellar hunter instincts over fences but he was athletic and had a lot of “try” so I thought he’d make a nice jumper or eventer for someone. After about 6 months I put him up for sale, because you can’t keep them all, and he sold to the first person who came to look at him.
The journey through taking a horse from nothing to something will always be my favorite thing. That’s why I’m still a sucker for a good project and probably always will be. One of these days I’ll tell you about Max… 😉