One year ago yesterday marks the day that Henry officially became mine. One year ago today marks the day that I actually met him for the first time. In celebration of this little milestone I figured it would be fun to take a look back and summarize how our year went.
December 2013 –
On the morning of December 14th I made a really low offer on a cute potential jumper project horse I’d found on facebook. By mid-morning the money was sent via Paypal, by noon he had a coggins, and by mid-afternoon a horse named Jerry – a 2007 16.1h plain bay TB gelding with the registered name Hesalmostsweet – was loaded into a friend’s trailer, headed from Arkansas to her farm in North Texas.
The next morning I arrived (in a borrowed-last-minute truck and trailer) to pick him up from his layover location and bring him the rest of the way home. This was the first time I ever met him. This was also when I decided he was definitely a Henry, not a Jerry.
On that first day we got home after dark, but I pulled his blanket off anyway to at least get a look at what I had underneath. Answer: adorable, but really fat and really out of shape.
He got a makeover, and I slowly started riding him again (he’d pretty much just been in the pasture for a year). I also discovered that he had a hilariously derpy personality.
January 2014 –
By January he was more into a regular program and we started taking lessons. At this point he was very very fussy about his mouth and wanted to go nose-to-chest at any contact. He was also oversensitive to leg. Getting the right lead was a crapshoot. But I did discover that he was really honest, really tried hard to please, had a cute jump and easy lead changes. I spent a lot of time playing around with bits, trying to find something he didn’t totally object to.
February 14 –
The bit dilemma was temporarily helped by putting him in a hackamore. We still had a definite nose-to-chest tendency, but at least I didn’t lose him completely. Obviously this was going to be a long work in progress.
And he went to his first ever jumper show. We just did the 2’3″ and 2’6″ jumpers and we were pretty much the slowest pair there. My goal was simply to get him in the ring, let him jump around quietly, and get some miles. In our first class we had a grand total of 11 time faults. You can only get better from there! But all-in-all he was great at the show. He stayed very sane and rideable, and while he definitely had some green moments, he showed that he was going to be a pretty cool horse with a little time and a little confidence.
March 2014 –
In March I took him to a Thoroughbred benefit show in Ft Worth. Again we entered the little jumper classes. This venue was quite visually imposing… a big coliseum with lots of atmosphere. Definitely intimidating for a green horse. I felt this was the show where he really began to blossom though. On the first day he walked into the ring as a pretty wide-eyed greenie that needed his hand held, and by the second day he actually started to “lock in” on the fences, look for his line, and he came out of the ring feeling like a confident horse. Everything seemed to really click for him here, for the first time. We still kept it simple with generous turns and nothing ambitious but I was able to ask him for more pace and he felt comfortable going more forward. He also got a second place TIP ribbon!
April 2014 –
With the regular mechanical hackamore becoming a little too much bit, I decided to step him down to a plain sidepull hackamore for a while. I was occasionally playing around with him in a plain french link loose ring but all bits still seemed to immediately make him tense and worried and chompy. And I was still struggling with his nose-to-chest problem. We continued to have it in the hackamore, but it definitely wasn’t as bad.
We went to another jumper show and did the 2’6″-2’9″ and 2’9″-3′ jumper divisions. He was really really good here, even stepping up a couple times to save my butt, taking some tighter turns, etc. We were able to be competitive, and signs of maturity were really starting to emerge. I also learned that optimum time classes are our true forte.
May 2014 –
In May I started playing around with riding him bridleless.
At the end of the month we went back to another show in San Antonio. This time I was really too ambitious with what I was asking him to do, rode him badly, overfaced him a bit, and had a pretty bad show. Mostly bad because I felt like I’d made poor decisions and let my horse down, but also something just didn’t feel right with him there. He wasn’t himself.
June 2014 –
Over the next couple weeks it became apparent that it wasn’t my imagination – he really wasn’t himself. He was having a hard time coping with the heat and humidity, his respiratory rate would go through the roof and he’d become pretty uncomfortable, but he was still sweating normally. I had the vet out to look at him and run blood work but the only thing we really came up with is that he seems to have some summer allergies that make it tough for him to get enough air when he’s working. It was causing him to have a very high respiratory rate and poor recovery time when I rode him. In retrospect I realized that he’d been acting pretty wiped out and uncomfortable at the show too, which happened to be the first really humid/hot weekend we had. At least now I had an answer. I started riding him in the cooler parts of the day and hosing him off a lot, and while it never really got better it was manageable.
I also decided that it was time to quit avoiding the issue and have a month of serious flatwork bootcamp, in a real bit. We worked on accepting hand and leg, moving out in front of my leg, and lateral movements. This is also when I started to truly learn a lot about how Henry’s brain works, exactly how much pressure I could put on him and exactly when I should quit. I knew when I bought him that the reason he’d been turned out for almost a year was because he’d gotten a bit mentally fried, so it was important for me to figure out what program worked for him without pushing him too hard.
July 2014 –
In July we moved to a new barn. I just felt like it was time for a change of perspective with a different trainer, and I was looking for a place that a) was closer to my house and b) had better footing. Henry is crooked legged and while it’s never caused a problem, I feel like I have to be even more mindful of his shoeing and the footing I ride him on than most people would be. We settled in at the new place, started lessons with the new trainer (who pinpointed A LOT of my own issues right off the bat) and got to work.
August 2014 –
Summers are generally our off season, being that it gets so hot here. We mostly just continued to plug away at lessons, jumping a little bigger and harder stuff, and kept working particularly on my position. I switched him to my beloved Nathe bit (which I had tried on him originally in January but it didn’t work for him then) and felt like he went better in it.
This also marked the first time I strapped on a safety vest and decided to go play around over the little XC jumps in the field at the barn. That little event ignited a spark…
September 2014 –
In September the eventing trainer at the barn asked me if I would be interested in going XC schooling. I had to think about that for .00001 seconds before saying absolutely YES. So away we went to see what Henry thought about XC. He was a little nervous when we got there, wide-eyed in the field taking everything in, but once we started jumping he was pretty much a machine. A little looky at one scary Novice train jump, and some confusion at the down bank, but otherwise he was a rockstar. And what’s more… he seemed to LOVE it. By the end he was clocking right over anything and everything I pointed him at, and he basically strutted back to the barn like he’d just finished Rolex. It gave him a lot of confidence and was the first time I ever really felt him be 100% engaged in what we were doing. He’s always been super willing and kind, but he never felt enthusiastic before. I started thinking maybe this was his niche?
At the end of September there was a very small show benefiting a local TB rescue. My original plan was to do the hunter derby and some jumper classes, but after XC schooling I got the hair-brained idea of trying the eventing derby instead. So we entered the Beginner Novice derby, with the hunter derby as a back-up plan in case I totally died. To be honest I had no clue how he would be. He’d never had to go to a show and jump things without getting to school over them first, he’d never done a dressage test, and he’d XC schooled only one time. But I figured if we were going to crash and burn, better to do it at a little show with fewer witnesses. He went in the dressage and was super obedient (albiet not very dressagey, we had a grand total of one dressage lesson beforehand) then marched right around the stadium and XC like he’d been doing it forever.
October 2014 –
Time to seriously re-evaluate what this horse wants to do with his life. Sure, he’s perfectly capable of plodding around the lower local level jumpers his whole life and getting okay ribbons. But he does not have a ton of jump for big fences, and I don’t have a ton of money for rated h/j shows. And honestly… it’s pretty hard to ignore his joy for XC. So we switched to the eventing trainer, went on another XC school, and changed our goals.
November 2014 –
The biggest goal change was to try to qualify Henry for AEC’s in 2015. That of course meant that we had to enter recognized events (at least they’re way cheaper than rated h/j shows). Feeling only slightly doomed and terrified, I sent in my entry for an event the weekend before Thanksgiving. We went on one more XC school to prepare…
crammed in as many dressage lessons as we could (giving us now a grand total of four) and off we went. My big goal was to not get eliminated, and despite awful weather conditions my little horse stepped up to the plate in a big way and showed that this is really what he’s meant to do.
December 2014 –
Here we find ourselves now, a year later.
Henry has far exceeded even my wildest dreams for him already. I had no intention of finding my way back to eventing again, but here I am and I’m loving it. I have a nice horse who tries his heart out for me every day and continues to prove that you just can’t beat a good thoroughbred. He’s positively the strangest horse I’ve ever known… he’s ridiculously goofy, he’s sensitive, and he’s particular, but he is so incredibly kind and would turn himself inside out to do what you ask. He makes me laugh every single day with his antics. I hope that this is only the beginning of our journey, and that he continues to develop into the horse I think he can someday be. I will keep doing my best to listen to him and stay out of his way, because after all – the world does completely revolve around him, just ask him. Happy one year, Henrypants… here’s to many more.