For the majority of my life I’ve always had horses that were green and/or young and/or remedial. Part of that was because projects were the only thing I could afford. The other part of that is that, luckily, they’re also what I’ve always tended to enjoy most. I like taking something and molding it into something better. It’s rewarding, it’s challenging, and it keeps life interesting.
Sure, I fantasized about the whole “if I won the lottery I’d go buy an experienced horse” thing, but since it was so far outside of the realm of reality I never devoted that much thought or desire to it. Realistically I didn’t really even understand the appeal… a horse like that seemed honestly a bit boring to me. What was the point really? And if, in my price range, you gave me the option between the young/green/idiot vs the older/past it’s prime/but likely a lot easier horse… my dumb ass is gonna choose the idiot every time. I can’t help it.
And, truth be told, because pretty much all I’ve ever had is projects (aside from my first horse who was older but actually WAS, in retrospect, fairly dangerous for 16yo kid), I’ve never kept one long enough to enjoy it as more of a finished product. The closest I’ve ever come was the lease horse that I rehabbed from a soft tissue injury and showed a little in the adult jumpers. He was further along in his training when he came to me compared to most I’d had, although he was T-R-I-C-K-Y to ride. Particularly the first 5 minutes where you had to convince him that he was, in fact, required to move beyond a stand still (every ride. every effing ride.).
In my time as a barn rat, though, and then later at boarding barns, I was lucky enough to have access to some more “made” horses. I got to ride some nice ones, and it was of great benefit to me as a rider. I still never really found myself jonesing for one though. I can’t help it, I really love my projects. When it comes to horses, green is my favorite color.
But now, 6 years into owning Henry, I find myself in uncharted territory. He’s almost 13, we know each other really really well, and swinging a leg over his back is like slipping on your favorite pair of gloves. He’s not a dead-head, but he’s a pretty confirmed, trained horse by now. There are few surprises (even last week, when he spooked at the bushes because the lawn guys trimmed them and they were SHORTER THAN THEY HAD BEEN BEFORE OMG… it was still the reaction I expected). And although he is a spooky idiot and probably always will be, he’s predictable.
I think the best part, though, is that even when he’s off for a few months, or we do things we haven’t done in a while, he still just shows up and and does his job. He has buttons firmly installed, and they don’t come and go depending on the day. Like when just a couple weeks into riding him again, I got on bareback and ran through all of his confirmed dressage movements and he just… did them. Half pass? Ok. Halt-rein back-canter? Ok. Shoulder in? Ok. Counter canter loops? Ok. They weren’t perfect, he’s not as strong as he was, but… he did them without question. I have been riding for almost 30 years and this is legit a new experience for me.
The jumping is much the same. I’ve taken my time working him back up, but on Sunday I put up a 3’3″ course and hopped around it a couple times. First of all, he knows when it’s a jump day, and all he really wants to do from the second I swing a leg over is canter. Which I find more amusing than I probably should, but I just can’t help but think his enthusiasm, and the fact that he obviously knows what’s on the agenda, is endearing. And the fact that he’s so excited to be doing his job, one he knows really well, that he’s more than happy to cover any of my rusty mistakes (could I find a consistent distance? any distance, just not 500 different ones…) because he’s confident and happy in his job.
Now I get it. I get the appeal of having an experienced horse, and I understand why it’s so fun. No it’s not boring. No it’s not monotonous and predictable. Yes it’s still very rewarding… I made the horse, now I get to enjoy him. Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong all along. Not in the respect of buying green horses and projects – that will always be my first love – but in not keeping them and enjoying them long term.
But maybe I’m also able to say that now because I look out in the pasture and see the next big project waiting for me, and knowing what all is in store. It makes it easy to appreciate the horse I’ve built, and at the same time I’m also really excited to get started on the next one. Maybe this is the way to do it – one older established horse, and one dumb baby idiot. Best of both worlds.