Growing up Sadie

Breeding, raising, and then riding your own horse is a privilege that not many of us get to experience. Some of us (the sane, smart ones) don’t want to. I don’t blame them. It’s expensive and risky and rarely goes as planned. But still… there’s something kind of cool about riding and showing the same horse that you “made”. You were there to see that first ultrasound confirming the heartbeat. You were there when it was born. You were there when it was really really ugly and you thought “Awesome, I bred a mule.”. Okay maybe that last one was just me. You’ve all heard the abbreviated story of Sadie’s life, but what about those first 4 years when she was ugly and things were hard – the part no one wants to talk about? Let’s start at the beginning.

For pretty much all of 2005 I hemmed and hawed, looking at stallions and mares. Once I settled on the mare:

It was a matter of picking the stallion. I was stuck mostly between two: Cascani (a jumper) and Westporte (a hunter). At the time I was showing in the hunters, so I ultimately went with Westporte in the hopes of producing an A/O horse for myself. Back then he was a young horse, only shown in the Baby Greens and he only had a couple of foals on the ground, but luckily I chose well. He went on to have success in the A/O’s and Second Year Greens, and has tons of nice babies on the ground now.

I mean… he wears a tophat. How could you not love him?

In the spring of 2006, the mare was bred. She took on the first try, but when we went back in for the 45 day check, she had lost it. So she was bred again, she took again, and this time it held. There’s nothing more beautiful on an ultrasound than that black dot. Especially when it’s already cost you several grand up to that point… the first of many times that it occurs to you that you are, in fact, a complete idiot and that breeding is, in fact, the hardest and dumbest and most financially unwise way to get a horse.

the first picture of Sadie

But then finally, about a year later (a really ridiculously long amount of time BTW) your own personal little demon foal is born and it’s so cute you don’t care how much it cost. Sadie in particular looked like a little moose, and I fell in love.

I was the one responsible for teaching Sadie all the important stuff on How to Horse. You don’t realize that until the first time you’re holding the lead rope of your own little creature, going “Oh my God, who put me in charge? I don’t know what I’m doing!”. Don’t worry, it’s just the basic skills that the horse needs to learn to carry it through it’s entire life and make it a productive member of equine society. No pressure. Don’t mess it up.

But she learned, with fairly minimal argument, and before I knew it she was a weanling… officially her own creature, no longer an extension of her dam. This is also the last time she was cute for, well, YEARS. The uglies were strong with this one.

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that’s a donkey. jk it’s Sadie.

Finally toward the middle of her yearling year she looked a little bit more like a horse than a mule, and I started teaching her All The Horse Things. Lunging (at the walk and then later a little trot), wearing a saddle and bridle, standing tied, voice commands, ponying. She never took exception to any of that, so after the first five times you’re like “Well… that was fun. Now I’m just gonna stand here and wait for her to get older so we can do something else”. You know what feels like an eternity? Those first two years.

The older she got, and the uglier she stayed, the more panicked I became. Oh my god what if she really did stay ugly forever? What would I do then? She was also a midget – at 2.5yo she was barely 15.2h and about as wide as a fence post. I tried to assure myself that she would eventually blossom, because every once in a while she would have a really pretty week. But truth be told, I was terrified she wouldn’t. What would I do with a tiny ugly hunter?

at her RPSI inspection/branding
first time freejumping

And then finally when she was coming 3, the glimpses of a nice horse started to stay for longer and longer. She filled out a little and started moving really well. At least for a month or two. Then she would grow, and with every growth spurt she looked really lanky again. From one month to the next she could look like a totally different horse.

Year 2-3 was also The Year of the Neverending Vet Bill. Stiches, staples, a hock infection, and pretty much any other injury you can name. She also started to challenge authority a bit and developed a mind of her own. I discovered that a bored Sadie was not a good Sadie. She learned that she could sit back at will and break just about any halter/lead rope. She decided she was suddenly herdbound and could not function without her friends. My sweet little donkey had taken on the personality of a rabid teenager.

sadieboot Sadieeatmask

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staples

Which is why, shortly before her 3rd birthday, I sent her to a cowboy to get started. I’d started my own horses before but this one was different – she was a little too smart, and it was a little too important that she not be messed up. I would never be able to live with myself if I ruined her, and the mere fact that that thought had entered my mind meant I really needed to let someone else do it. Fear of failure is crippling to progress.

After 30 days I went up to see her and was very pleased with how she looked. She seemed much happier to have a job, and she was obedient and quiet. My sweet Sadie was back.

I was not expecting to ride that day and had not come prepared, but Cowboy Dan insisted, so up I went. And you know what? That first ride was kind of magical. She was scrawny, she was wiggly, she was green, and we didn’t do a damn thing interesting, but it was a culmination of many years worth of dreams to finally be sitting on the horse I bred.

After 60 days I brought her home and spent the rest of her 3yo year hacking, trail riding, trotting the random crossrail or two, and reinforcing the groundwork she’d learned at Dan’s. He, and in turn she, taught me a lot about young horse mentality. You have to make a lot of decisions, and every single one of them is important… you’re laying the building blocks upon which their entire life will be constructed. Sadie turned into a steady, reliable partner with an incredible work ethic and fantastic retention. We both learned how to channel her smarts for good instead of evil.

At the beginning of her 4yo year when my h/j trainer came to pick her up, she was still ugly. I was actually so thankful that it was cold enough that day to keep a blanket on her, because I was mortified when I handed the lead rope to him to load her onto his trailer. I was sure he was thinking “What the hell is this thing?” even though he was too polite to say it. And though he did give her the nickname of Muley, eventually she started getting prettier and blossomed in his care and under his tutelage.

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sadiemark2

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sadiejumpers

Sadie is now 8 years old and every bit of 16.3h. I did not actually end up with a midget, she was just a late bloomer. She never did become the A/O hunter that she was bred to be, so in a way I guess you could say we failed. Turns out she really preferred the jumpers. Turns out so did I. But I think sometimes even when you don’t accomplish what you originally set out to do, it doesn’t mean you failed. It just means the universe knew better.

prettysadie

People sometimes ask me if I would do it all again. Breeding and raising a horse isn’t for the faint of heart. To be honest – it sucks. But it also comes with it’s own unique set of rewards. Sometimes I think the answer is an emphatic YES. Other days I’m so thankful for my cheap, quick, easy purchase of Henry that breeding again seems like nothing short of absolute insanity. But despite that, the dream of another baby horse still sparkles in the back of mind. All those hopes and dreams… all that blood and sweat and tears. That’s horses. After all, it takes a special kind of stupid to want to do this, and I’m just that kind.

25 thoughts on “Growing up Sadie

  1. Awww, thanks so much for sharing Sadie’s history! I loved learning your experience with breeding and starting the horse that you “made”. Really interesting stuff!

    And this line, “But I think sometimes even when you don’t accomplish what you originally set out to do, it doesn’t mean you failed. It just means the universe knew better.” LOVE THAT 🙂

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  2. Sadie turned out awesome, dude. But I can see how breeding is not for the faint of heart. I kinda have the same philosophy about horse babies as with human babies or dog babies–there are already so many that need homes, I don’t mind the problem fixer upper ones.

    Also, this post was a fun reminder about the completely mysterious but also completely effective ways of Dan.

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  3. Aw I love hearing more about Sadie. Eventually, I’d love to breed a mare and raise up a foal. My mother and a few of my friends have done it and it’s definitely a very hard, but really rewarding thing.

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  4. Dear god. As someone who is in the process of attempting to get a mare pregnant (with very little success) you are so right. My mare didn’t catch on the first round, so we’re waiting to ultrasound to see if it stuck on the second. If it didn’t, I’m done! It’s so ridiculously stressful and like burning money. With that being said, cross your fingers that she’s pregnant! Sadie is a lovely mare now! That’s what matters! A lot of us were kind of ugly kids. 😉

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  5. I love this post and hearing the story. It is amazing hearing how much truly goes into it. You did such a nice job and made all the right choices. It is such a huge responsibility to breed, raise and educate a young horse. You really are setting them up for success or failure in life!

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  6. Great story, one I related to very much. I had great success bringing Tucker along, which tricked me into thinking raising babies is fun and rewarding. Then I bred a baby in 2006 and she ended up being… not what I wanted, for a number of reasons (mainly she tried to kill me a little too often, and that was before she was broke). She is now living a happy life with someone else as an eventer. Sadie looks like she turned out to be a very nice horse, even if she wasn’t an A/O. Always a learning experience!

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  7. As you well know, mine was bred for ALL the wrong reasons and therefore was ALL the wrong horse for me. No matter how cute and sweet she was. And I just couldn’t sit my way through the uglies on the 10% off chance she would prove me wrong and be what I wanted. And yet somehow that decision still kills me to this day when I see pics of someone else riding her and she is still cute and sweet and still 10% maybe what I wanted… Maybe one day my nerves of steel will lead me to breed the RIGHT made to the RIGHT stud for the RIGHT rreasons and I’ll find my staying power.

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  8. I’ve kinda been through this with my mother in law, as she bred her mare the second year my boyfriend and I were dating and I helped play with the babies as they grew up. She is equally torn — she wants to continue her beautiful line of horses that she thinks are magnificent (and imo, they are!) but the struggles of YEARS of work and money put into a baby make buying an overlooked project a bit more appealing. Of her last set of babies (she pulled two embryos, one split, so we ended up with three), the filly is her dressage prospect as planned, one ENORMOUS colt is an eventer and beloved by his owner and trainer, and the other colt is a hunter and flashing around with three high whites on the California coast. I’d say that it was a pretty successful venture, but MAN was it a long one!!

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  9. ha I recognize some of the background shots of those early photos! 🙂 Sadie is a treasure big ears and all 🙂 I think she turned out perfect.

    Oh my god she was an injury magnet though wasnt she?

    My best memory is of you dumping my ass (to go when Hope starting giving birth to Sadie) on the way to an actual show you guys (BYE MICHELE GOTTA GO SEE YA!)……

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  10. Ahhh, I love this post and story! I once attempted to breed my own baby but the mare didn’t catch on three times and by then it was late fall and it just didn’t seem worth it anymore. Maybe someday.

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  11. Thanks for sharing! I’ve currently got a 2 year old and it’s nice that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It has actually been really fun bringing her up but I feel like we are just on the edge of getting to do the fun stuff…like riding! 🙂

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  12. love your story with Sadie. not sure i’ll ever go down that road… but might be secretly hoping that you decide to do so again with Sadie and some of those *magical* belgian horses…. that way i can live vicariously through you haha 😉

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  13. I loved this post! It’s really interesting to read about your history with Sadie (from day one onwards-), and your recent entry about Henry over the years. It’s so great to see hard work and patience pay off.

    Sometimes the late bloomers are the ones that surprise us most, and damn, she was a cute foal!

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  14. Awww loved reading Sadie’s story. It is very special to breed, train and ride your own horse and yeah it’s crazy and not financially smart but damn, there is just something about baby horses…

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  15. This post gives me hope. My little asshole is coming up on a year old and he’s the kind of ugly you hide in the back forty.

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