It has been tough watching my partner grow old. I’ve discovered as Heathcliff has changed through the years, that I’ve been changing right along with him. We’ve gotten old together. I made him a single promise when we first met, that I would do everything in my power to make him happy. I hope I did that, right up to the end. I feel a bit lost without him, but I suppose that too shall pass.
I was returning back to the shed row when I first noticed him. He was a deep chestnut galloping alone in a pasture against the background of white fencing at the training track. I kept my eye on him as I rode up the pathway and it was a good thing that I did because from the back of the pasture, the chestnut colt took off at full speed down the side of the fence line straight for us.
The next thing I heard was a high pitch shrill when he spotteds us and he had no plans of slowing down as he was getting closer to the end of the field. I can remember feeling my stomach tighten and realizing that this crazy thing was going to crash into the fence and kill itself.
I jumped off my horse and yelled for help, hoping that someone could stop what was bound to happen any second. The grooms and a handful of stout Irish boys came to the barn’s doorway to see what trouble the silly blonde girl got herself into.
I was scared to look in the direction of the colt, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him. He screamed again as he came to the fence, rocked back onto his hind quarters and lifted off the ground giving it everything he had, while clearing the 5′ fence.
We were all silent. Everyone. Totally silent. We stood there looking at each other, looking at the fence and back at each other. He cleared it. He more than cleared it – he sailed over it. It was beautiful. It was poetry. It was the type of jump folks would talk about over a pint at the pub.
Then someone broke the silence with a, “Bloody f- – -ing hell! Did you see that?”
We located the colt grazing peacefully outside the broodmare’s paddock, the ladies standing nearby trying to get the colt’s attention. He never bothered to make their acquaintance, but simply wanted to graze near them and not be alone. He hated to be alone.
That was how it all began. I promised to make him happy and I promised he’d never be alone.
The benefits of investing in a green prospect as your next Eventing partner
For some, the only direction they want to go is to look at a ‘made’ horse who has mileage and a competition history. For others, taking a young green horse (sometimes straight out of a field) and molding them into a talented teammate is one of personal accomplishment. While this topic is always up for debate, there are obvious reasons why a person should consider purchasing a green prospect.
Cost. The amount of money to invest in a horse can sometimes place a person into a particular market. On average the cost of a green prospect can range from $0 – $15K. Those who are priced on the higher end may already be confidently working at all gaits and jumping small courses and even doing low-level competitions. What can be attractive about a green horse can be the price, where it allows a larger number of the public to purchase quality young stock at an affordable price.
Clean Slate/No Baggage. Buying a green horse gives an owner the chance to start the horse’s training from a clean slate. It’s at this stage where the horse can work on building a solid foundation of the basics such as walking, trotting, cantering and halting. If done properly with sometimes the assistance of a professional trainer, then the natural progression of training a prospect is footwork over poles and small obstacles. Gradually the obstacles should increase in their technical questions as training progresses. Working from a clean slate can mean zero baggage, where the horse hasn’t had the chance to learn something incorrectly or develop negative behavior or vices.
Soundness. Prospect Eventers can be a mixed bag of breeds ranging from Draft crosses, Warmbloods, Arab crosses, Appendix Quarter Horses to traditional Thoroughbreds. Prospects will generally be young and have less physical wear and tear on their bodies, and physical soundness combined with correct conformation is important when purchasing a green prospect. The basics to pay attention to is to start with good solid feet, then on to clean legs, up towards a large shoulder, over to a big kind eye, down the neck to a short coupled back and correct hip angle.
Horsemanship. Buying ‘made’ horses does have its benefits, but so does owning a green horse. It’s here that an owner commits themselves to the training and management of their prospect, sometimes learning things as they go along, sometimes having the guidance of an expert and sometimes relying upon their own personal horsemanship skills to successfully take a horse up the levels. As with any horse hands-on, there will most certainly be good days and bad days in training. But what riders can admit about the experience of working with a green horse, is that they’ve not only become better riders, but better horsemen all around. It’s a trait that seems to be disappearing throughout the equine community. And maybe the fact of never having experienced what it’s like to bring a green horse out from a pasture and back it for the first time, is somehow connected to the lack of riding skills.
My family has been involved in Thoroughbred racing for years. As a child I would hang out in the training barn, tack rooms and the jockey diners to listen to the chatter of riders bragging about their horses or to hear a trainer discuss the problems a filly is having loading in the gate. Now as an adult, it is still a daily adventure where I’m involved hands-on with bloodstock agents, memorizing pedigrees and racing results, breaking, galloping, sales and marketing. If there was ever a ‘Jeopardy Horse’ game show, I’m positive that I’d walk away with millions – at least that is what I thought until yesterday.
I was introduced to some potential buyers who were interested in looking at ex-race horses for show prospects. The women were very excited to be in the barn and were chattering between them so fast, that I could hardly follow what they were saying. They kept repeating something about, “Oh! I just love O-T-T-B’s, don’t you?”, “O-T-T-B’s are my
favorite breed”, “O-T-T-B’s, O-T-T-B’s, O-T-T-B’s . . . . ”
What the heck were they saying, and why do they keep spelling in front of me, I thought?
10 minutes into the visit it finally dawned on me that they were referring to the term ‘Off The Track Thoroughbred’ and were using the abbreviation as if it were a noun and not an adjective. For me it was like nails on a chalk-board and I interrupted their conversation to explain how to properly use the term ‘OTTB’. I explained that OTTB can sometimes be used as a reference to describe a Thoroughbred that once was a race horse on a race track, and that it’s an abbreviated adjective. The women stared back at me in silence and I thought I heard crickets chirping in the background somewhere. So of course, I continued to explain that a Thoroughbred is the name of a type of equine breed, just like an Arabian or Quarter Horse. They’re nouns and they’re capitalized. Again, more blank stares.
We continued with the walk-through and as I spoke about the horses, I repeatedly spoke of the “Thoroughbreds”. Who knows if they ever really caught on to their impromptu English lesson.
. . . by the way they give you a leg-up on a horse. For some reason, when I’ve asked family or friends for a leg-up, I’m immediately met with a smirk or a nervous giggle. That usually puts me in my “Uh-Oh” mode as I stand facing my horse with my left leg bent back, dangling my foot waiting for someone to take hold.
At the track, you’re never going to find a mounting block to climb on or a rider sticking their toe in the stirrup and hoisting themselves up. First of all, a young Thoroughbred is unlikely to stand still next to a plastic step and for an exercise rider to try to put their foot in the stirrup of a jock’s saddle from the ground up will be impossible. You need to have a ground person who knows how to give you a leg-up on the horse, and you need to trust that person isn’t going to screw things up.
When I first started galloping race horses, all eyes were on me – judging me and dissecting me from the clothing I wore, to the type of whip I carried. They knew I was green and what better way to stick-it-to-her, was to play a joke on me when I was handed my first horse of the morning.
Louie was the trainer’s best groom. He was short, stocky, silver-haired with a thick South American accent and always seemed to be in a bad mood. He took care of the famous gray colt El Senor and flew to Japan with the horse when he was sold into stud. He scared the crap out of me and I did my best to never make eye contact or be caught in a situation where I’d have to make conversation. When I was handed a horse, I knew it was going to be all business and a serious atmosphere as I stood with my leg cocked. That morning, Louie bent over, grabbed my ankle and tries lifting me. He lets out a huge moan as I’m dropped into the withers face-first of an impatient 2 year old.
What? Am I so weak that I don’t have any upper body strength to raise me up on a horse? I slide to the ground and look at him wide-eyed. Rolling his eyes, he impatiently motions me back up to the horse to try again and this time I am slung over onto my belly as Louie drops his grip from my leg and lets out another loud moan. “What the hell man!” I yelled, looking back at the hot walker and Louie smirking at each other. “Oh! So sorry! You heavy!” he said.
I guess you could call that morning my ‘initiation’. I was never dropped or slung onto the back of a horse again. But I must admit because of Louie’s practical joke, I immediately went on a strict diet.