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Sunday, July 27, 2014

…On Growing a Pair.

As I mentioned recently – before my long blogging hiatus – my friend, Alia, and I acquired some giant baby Warmbloods this past spring.  They were nearly four when they arrived, and each had technically had a human butt on its back a handful of times.
Alia’s arrived first and we loved him.  Mine arrived six weeks later and we loved him, too!  We’d done our research, put our trust in an agent with a fantastic reputation, enlisted the expert eye of Greg Best, and thrown caution to the wind.  We thought, given the gigantic leap of faith, that we’d done a pretty dang good job picking our giant babies. 
I cannot imagine getting any luckier in my quest.  Megatron is quiet, sensible, pretty, a fantastic addition to my herd, and a fun divergence from all of my plain bays.  Still, it’s not like having a regular baby around.  When he decides to do something typical of a young horse, it’s big and occasionally he ends up on the wrong side of the paddock fence.   When he decides he doesn’t want to do something, he pretty much doesn’t have to.  When he decides he doesn’t want ME to do something, I pretty much don’t get to.  When a toddler weighs 1500 pounds, everything is a conversation.
I’m used to very broke horses whose favorite phrase is “Yes ma’am.  What can I do for you ma’am?” so this is new for me.  And I truly think it’s good for me in my journey to be a better all-around horseman...but that doesn’t mean I always enjoy it. 
Alia’s horse is similar in that he’s not like the true-blue broke guys that we’re used to.  Although he never says no to her the way that mine can, his responses are often less “yes ma’am” and more “HELL YEAH!  LET’S DO THIS!  ONLY… DO YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD MAKE THIS EVEN BETTER!? DO YOU!?...”
And then he follows that up with one of the following:
1)    “…IF I PUT MY FEET ON IT!”
2)    “…IF I COULD EAT IT!”
3)    “…IF I STEAL IT AND RUN!”
 Jumps.  Mounting blocks.  Umbrellas.  Alia.  You name it, and he can do one of the above to it.  So we both have our work cut out for us.  I have a bit of experience with young horses, and I liken a four year old Warmblood to an 18 month old quarter horse.  EXCEPT HUGE.  It’s an undertaking.
That said, one of the reasons that we undertook it was that we were tired of the show scene.  While we didn’t want to quit, we wanted to do it differently.  The usual cycle of “buy the horse, show the horse, sell the horse, repeat” has never, and will never work for us.  I didn’t want to buy something that was already jumping around courses with an amateur, and then be the new amateur that jumped it around courses.  While there is considerable challenge in that method, apparently it was not enough of a challenge for me.
I also have this subconscious idea that if a little is good, a lot is great.  Constantly.  It almost defines me.  That said, I couldn’t just go get a lightly shown 6 year old that could, oh, I don’t know, canter on both leads maybe, and bring it up the ranks myself.  No.  If I’m going to do this, I’m going to DO THIS (it turns out that I have some things in common with Alia’s horse). 
So we got these fours that we call The Megas, and we’ve made it our life’s mission to educate these babies in an unconventional way.  We want horses that can trail ride, jump logs, hold their own in a dressage ring, stand quietly, stay in a pasture all day, survive without daily poultice and ice and massage and supplements and and and…  
We want REAL horses…that show.  I often flip through my mental photo album to the picture of Snowman, a Hall of Fame jumper, swimming in a lake with 3 small children on his back and remind myself that this is possible.  
Additionally, Alia and I have realized that both of our horses are very smart.  Megatron is nearly as smart as my Doberman, and Alia’s horse practically IS a Doberman.  In the interest of our goals of having REAL horses, as well as keeping our toddler prodigies from being ring sour, we’ve decided that it is important to get these guys out and about as soon as possible.
A few weeks ago I took Megatron to Alia’s house for his first field trip.  It was the best ride we’d had to date.  Last Saturday I hauled him (200 yards) to my neighbor’s house and rode him in her arena for a change of scenery, and he was great.  Yesterday Alia had the genius idea of taking The Megas to the open land, which is essentially a trail system and hundreds of acres of hay fields that wind through my town.  I succumbed to peer pressure against my better judgment, and spent the morning taking deep breaths and trying to grow a pair. 
I consciously tried to take in the beautiful day and the perfect weather.  I rode my soulmate, Johnny, in case it was my last day with fully functional limbs.  I packed a cooler full of water for the ride and beer for after the ride.  I took the visor off my helmet to increase my peripheral vision.  I put on [one of] my Megatron t-shirt[s] so he'd know we were on the same team, and waited for Alia to come get me.
When we arrived at the parking area of the usually quiet preserve there were cars and people and bear-sized dogs everywhere.  Then a couple more horse trailers pulled in and unloaded.  Then a tractor came by with a giant scary horse-eating hay-making machine.  Then it dropped that machine off somewhere and came back with a gargantuan scary horse-eating squeaky hay trailer.  Then more dogs.  More people.  More horses.
In the midst of all of this we somehow managed to remove our wiggly babies from the trailer and saddle them (with some effort).  We finally climbed on and headed down the trail toward certain death.
And what do you know?  Our overgrown, green-broke, often scary babies took to the trail like a couple of old school horses.  It was easily one of the most rewarding horse adventures of my life.  And…drumroll…it was FUN!

I’ve shown at some big shows and won some decent prizes, and I’ve done a lot of really interesting things on horses (including galloping around Kenya on them), but it took some serious huevos to strap my extremely controlling self to a mildly-controllable Decepticon with less than forty rides and take it into an extremely uncontrolled environment.

I was proud of us for doing it.  We knew it was what the boys needed, and we went for it.  I was proud of The Megas for handling it so well.  Most importantly, it felt like affirmation that even though we’re not trainers and we’ve never raised young jumpers before, we’re doing a good job.  When a horse’s mind is in the right place, the jumping is the easy part.  We’re growing a pair of really solid horses that, despite their athletic prowess and/or willingness to jump big fences at a horse show, will always have a useful place in the world.  With a likely 25 years left on this earth, I truly believe it is the best gift we could give them.