Monday, 30 March 2015

Don't Fall In Love Too Early

We last left off after we found Uno, the cutie pictured above.  Uno is a 7yo Selle Francais who was, in pretty much every way, perfect for me.  He was brave. He was chilled. He hacked with no qualms. He wasn't a spooky idiot. He learned quickly, and though his flat work needed a lot of help, that's something that I'm really quite good at.  He was authoritative and blooded to the jumps. He would jump *anything* from *anywhere* and give zero shits about what was under it. He held my hand and took over when I made mistakes, and I made one really big one where he just dealt and didn't think twice about it. Liverpools, scary fillers, the open water - he didn't care. I got on and jumped him bigger than I usually do at home and couldn't WAIT to go bigger. It felt amazing. His jump was easy to sit, unless he really launched. The horse competed to 1.35m in France, so the scope was there too. We negotiated him down to what was more or less the perfect price, which, with my budget isn't very easy, particularly for Florida.  It was easy to get him to Wellington for a several day trial, and he was a perfect monkey in the ring. The universe seemed to be on my side.  I fell for him, and I fell hard.

I fully admit to knowing I should have waited, and that it's never good to give your heart to a horse you're trying when they haven't yet seen the vet.  But we were so hopeful - he was 7, he had had perfect X-rays when he was imported, blah blah blah.  I was so confident in it that I gave my notice on my lease with Riley.  Yeah, whoops...

Saturday began the longest weekend of my short life.  The vet, who was incredible, and apparently does all of Kent Farrington's horses (there's a good recommendation if ever there was one!) She appeared midmorning and thus began the most extensive vetting ever.  First we did blood, then flexions.  He flexed slightly positive on both stifles, which we had actually expected given his fitness level and conformation, and weren't worried about.  But then he flexed slightly positive on the right front, vet thinking coffin.  Uh oh, says we.  We move to flexions under saddle, same thing, but the horse works better when packaged, which vet is philosophically optimistic about, thinking the fitness and greenness is causing some of it. Well, it isn't too bad, and we think it's worth the X-rays, so onward and upward.

So, on to the X-rays we went. The first thing the vet did was pull his front shoes, and that's where things got a little iffy.  He had been wearing half pads (cut out to support his heel, and no pad in front... stupid really, since that just lets everything compact under the frog) and he had terrible thrush, as well as the beginnings of white line disease and both his front feet had small splits up the middle. Vet is unamused, makes it all sound very dire, and tells me white line is a maintenance nightmare. But, she is also mildly optimistic that it's not very far advanced, and could be at the point where it's still able to be completely eradicated.  Let's X-ray the feet, she says, and see how far up it extends, and also see where this split goes.

So we X-ray.  The front feet turn out to be fairly okay - the white line is not advanced, and the split is not advanced either.  Not affecting internal structures, and nowhere near them really. He is positive to the hoof testers, but she believes it's due to the poor foot care he's been receiving. He is also trimmed very oddly and unevenly and is due for a shoeing.  We go on and take the remaining X-rays, and she cheerfully tells me that she's seeing else pop up.  Upon her recommendation, she calls a farrier who is, apparently, the best in North America, shoes for the US Team horses, etc etc and is excellent with foot problems and any foot therapies necessary.  He agrees to pop in in a few hours and volunteer his opinion.  So we wait with bated breath until he appears.  I am somewhat beside myself, knowing if this farrier decides the horse has some serious foot issues that it will have to be a "no."  I am hopeful. All the barn staff and trainers are holding their breath.

So, the farrier shows up. He pulls out the horse, proceeds to quietly trim him and assess.  At the end, he stands up and says, "I would not be afraid of this horse's feet at all. If the feet are the deciding factor on whether you buy him, I would buy him. It's obvious they've been neglected, and there are several months of work ahead of you to fix the issues, but even with this trim I was able to even out his feet, take the pressure off his heels, and trim away about 50% of the white line issues.  I think if he is taken care of correctly, you will have no problems whatsoever in the future. I don't see any of this being an issue." Additionally, the way he was trimmed (low heel, pointy toes) led him to believe that the horse's split toes (worth noting exactly the same on both feet) were due only to poor trimming. He believed the flexion we got on the right front was due to the horse's tendons being extended the wrong way for so long, and that any horse would flex when they were pulled back the other direction, and that we shouldn't worry about that either if the X-rays are clean.  Excellent!!!! Says we.  I am stoked. Excited. Grinning again, the stress removed. I am so happy. I do a dance down the barn aisle. This horse is going to be mine, he is going to come home to Canada, we are going to jump the 1.20 this summer and maybe move into the 1.30s. He is perfect for resale, his age is ideal, he's brave and he's just wonderful.

I - and everyone else - am so confident about this that we crack open some cocktails and celebrate. I go buy a halter, complete with nameplate, and an Uncle Jimmy Hanging Ball.  Uno falls in love with this since he is, after all, a mouthy 7 year old gelding who is somewhat busy minded and food motivated.  I have figured out his favorite treats - he loves and adores carrots most, puff mints, apples and Meadow Mint cookies.  He is not a banana boy despite my best efforts.  I go to bed that night, following the penultimate WEF Grand Prix (and yet more cocktails....) and dream happy dreams.

I'm awakened at 8am after far too little sleep by the Assistant trainer calling me.  Her voice gives nothing away at first, until she interrupts my stories about the night prior to say, "I have some news, and it isn't good."

At first I think the sellers will not negotiate further on price. (We had him at a great price, but given the foot issues, we were advised to negotiate further, which was very much fair.) I am thinking to myself, well if they won't negotiate it down more, that's kinda fine, it's not a huge deal.

But then she goes on to say that the vet looked at the X-rays in a dark room, which of course allows them to see things more clearly, and give close examination.  

And it turns out that my horse-to-be has a very terrible issue which appeared only in the past seven or eight months since his import. It's a bad issue. Like, really bad, leads to horses being put down sort of thing.  The vet says it may never bother him, but the fact that he's not flexing 100% on that leg leads her to believe that it will, if not shortly, become an issue at some point in the future - and that also, for resale it will be an impossibility. It is the sort of thing that sends a potential buyer screaming for the hills. It's the sort of thing that drops a high $$$ horse from being worth absurd amounts of money to $5,000 instead.  It's the type of thing an insurance company will never insure. It's the type of thing that, if and when it becomes an issue, the horse is in pain forever and lame as can be, and most end up being put down.  It is, in short, serious, particularly due to this particular placement.

And so the Assistant says, I have talked to Trainer, I have talked to the vet, and we think it's not a good idea.  If it were me, says she, there is no way I would buy him. You may get many years out of him, but you would never be able to resell. You might have him for two weeks before he goes lame for life.  We just do not know. 

And so my perfect angel of a potential new horse turned into a great big "no."  Just like that, the bubble popped, and the dream ended.

After some quick leg work by the amazing barn staff, Uno found a place on a transport heading back to Ocala which left in several hours.  I went to say goodbye, give him some more of his favorite treats, and stroke his silky soft neck.  He didn't understand, and it wasn't his fault. He was visibly upset getting on the trailer, and kept staring at me like, what is going on? In such a short time, we had developed something. Even if he just thought I was the Treat Lady, he still knew me, and had no idea what was happening to him.  I had to load him on the trailer myself, and it really hit me then. I knew I shouldn't have given my heart away to this horse, but I had, and I cried and cried, kissed his nose and told him to be a good boy.  The last look I had of him before the trailer door closed was him staring at me, ears perked, for many long seconds.

And so it is over.

As I type this, I think to myself how ridiculous I must sound.  I only knew him for six days, but I came to love him so terribly quickly.  He was easy to love. I really feel horses like him don't roll around too often. He had the perfect amateur brain, and that's hard to find.  He was the perfect size, he was a lovely color (I'm trying to stay away from greys [cleaning nightmare] and really dark bays [only ever had terrible experiences with them; it's a superstition now!]) and just super cute to boot. Plus, he was so much fun to ride. I'm not kidding when I say I've never felt more confident jumping a horse in my entire life. For someone like me, who is anxiety ridden when jumping, that was a huge deal. Instead, I couldn't WAIT to get on and jump him.

The whole thing has been depressing as hell, and when you mix it in with all the stupid crap and drama that occurred in Wellington (more on that later, maybe) it just turned out to be two weeks that were pretty terrible.  There were good things, of course - I got to ride this lovely soul, I had a fantastic time with my friend, and even had a horse showing at WEF for the first, and probably last, time in my life. I even kept the number to prove it!  Those things are amazing, and I am so grateful that I got to experience the time with him and enjoy showing him.  But I am so, so sad that it didn't work out medically.  He really passed every test we gave him with flying colors, and then some.  It's not his fault. It's anything BUT his fault.  It would have been so much easier if he turned into a jerk, or started to be spooky or take off to the jumps, or stop, or something, but instead he tried his little heart out and did everything we asked of him cheerfully and well.

But now I don't know what will happen. The owners took little Uno back, and still plan on selling him for "money" - whatever that means. We tried offering to lease, we tried offering next to nothing for him, because realistically he is not sellable with his condition.  For $5k or something I would have been happy to take the risk. But not for what they wanted.  We tried, we really did, but they were not open to anything, and now I really don't know what happens to him. I don't know if they try to continue selling him, or if he gets put down.  I hope he lives a long and healthy life and that his condition ends up never bothering him... but that's not very likely.

Additionally, I have no idea what will happen for myself.  The horse show season is around the corner; give or take five weeks and it begins.  I will have no horse. Yes, I currently have Riley, but they've already found a new lessor for him, and that ends for me at the end of April.  We'll keep looking of course, but I don't know what's out there, and after the past several weeks of trainer wrangling I don't exactly feel hopeful that they'll find something for me.  So that sucks too.

Post of depression, y'all. But what a sucky, sucky weekend.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Catching Up, and Hopefully a New Friend

Somehow the months have just fluttered by with reckless abandon, and it's been two months since I last updated.

Dear readers, you really haven't missed a whole lot in my horse world other than a lot of circles in the indoor ring.  And a lot of pole courses.  And some snow hacking. With both trainers in Florida, lessons have been a scarce commodity.

I did make the trip down to Wellington, Florida for the Winter Equestrian Festival toward the end of January. I didn't really end up doing any pony shopping, other than eyeing up some horses going around the low and medium jr/am jumpers, then realizing they'd all be out of my budget by a power of, like, three zillion.  But I still had the best possible time with my good friend, A, who is grooming for my barn down here this winter. I enjoyed the warmth, horses galloping around me quite literally all day, staying up until 1am and waking up at 6 (okay, "enjoy" is strong for that particular activity!) and the incredible barn where we're staying.  All I'm going to say about that is that it's Eric Lamaze's overflow barn. It is easily the nicest barn I've ever set foot in.

After Wellington The First, there was a casual suggestion made that I return toward end of circuit in order to do some pony shopping.  Great, says I. Trip booked. Bam.

The month and a half in between was quick and exciting for me, if nobody else. During that time, I proceeded to (in order): get really sick with pneumonia, get stuck in the hospital, postpone our vacation/necessary appearance in Hawaii for a friend's wedding, actually go to Hawaii eventually, come home and frantically pack, then move. A week after we moved, I came back down to Wellington.

There were some, er, communication issues, shall we say, with yon trainers, which led to me frantically scouring the world for horses to try down here.  I came up with several and forwarded them on to the Assistant, who's proving to be quite good at this sort of thing.  She procured several as well and I packed up my riding stuff and my saddle and headed on down.

The first day I was here, we tried the first horse. A big 9 year old who had been going around the 1.40m in Europe, supposedly. There were a few red flags with this one - first, horses going around the 1.40 really shouldn't be in my price range, and secondly, the owner had imported him three weeks prior and was already trying to move him on.  The Assistant decided to hop on him first and go around, and he proceeded to spook his way around the ring and then stop at a couple of jumps. Trainer, Assistant and I all kind of looked at each other and said "thanks very much" and got outta there.

I was mildly despairing the rest of the week, because we really didn't have much else to look at in Wellington. The several the trainers had found were snapped up by other people in the hours before we went to look at them - yes, seriously - and I was growing more despondent as the days passed. While my budget is more than I had ever dreamed of having the ability to spend on a horse (and is a HUGE amount of money to me! and anyone sane.) by Wellington standards it is nothing.  Not to mention that every horse who sets foot on the grounds of WEF is automatically increased in price by 100-300%. I'm dead serious about that. It is truly absurd.

So we decided to take a peep at Ocala. Ocala is still expensive... but it's a lot more down to earth than the wild world of WEF.  We found two up there to go and see, one of which I had procured in my search. One, the one I found, I was really excited about. Something about his videos spoke to me, and I loved his seemingly cheerful attitude.

After the four hour drive to Ocala, I was stiff and tired, but hopped on the first horse, a 7yo chestnut gelding with four white socks who had been strolling around the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. It was also about 1000 degrees and sunny. So gross. I hate heat so much.  Anyway, the Assistant got on him first, thought he was worth me sitting on, and so I did. I didn't particularly enjoy the flatting experience - the horse was green, sensitive to leg and fussy in the mouth.  He wore a longer shanked straight bar rubber pelham with one rein that he didn't seem to like very much.  Anyway, I was feeling ultra-depressed since this was the horse I had liked a lot on video, but decided not to give up and to try jumping him... just to see.

Well dear readers. This (not so) little horse was another horse entirely over the jumps.  Such great fun. My first day jumping him, we casually sprang over a 1.10m oxer and 1.20m vertical. I rarely do that at home with Riley... to say nothing of doing it on a horse I'm riding for the first time. I got off with the tiniest of stars in my eyes and we arranged to try him again in the morning.

We looked at another as well while we were there, but it was a very poor fit. It was a lovely mare with some great scope, but also green and with an extremely sensitive mouth. I'm pretty proud of my flat work abilities, but I just could not get the feel for this horse.  It was very odd. A bad match any way you look at it.

The next morning rolled around and I hopped on and flatted the gelding, and already found him more attentive and having retained information from the day previous. We put him in a rubber gag just to try it out, since he has a tendency to get strong to the jumps.  I liked this better on him to flat, but he got a little scared of it when we were jumping. The jumping wasn't as good, but it was still pretty fantastic and we asked a little more by jumping lines, some more bigger oxers and a combination. He was a star for all of it and took good care of me when I made mistakes.

The trainer of the horse had mentioned to us that he could get stronger in the ring... and the Assistant wasn't wholly convinced about him because of that.  So, I being the brilliant bulb that I am, suggested that we take the horse on trial for the week down in Wellington and show him a little. Excellent idea, says she, and the owners of the horse quickly agree and he is thus southbound at 6am the next morning and I am somehow in Wellington for an additional week.

To make a longish story short, he strolled off the trailer in Wellington like he'd been there for the whole circuit, circled around his stall, drank some water, and then observed us watching him eat hay like, "what's the problem?" I hopped on him about two hours after his arrival, with no lunge or walking around to acclimate him to the surroundings and he was like, oh okay that's fine. Hey what's that over there? I will put my head up a little and not break stride and perk my ears at it. Oh you said it's fine? OK cool I believe you.

And he proceeded to stay like that the entire week here.

I've actually never seen a horse settle in somewhere so well. Even Riley, who LOVES horse showing, is terribly bright eyed and bushy tailed and loves to pretend to spook at things, and if he's at a new show ground will do the equine equivalent of leaping into my arms and burying his head.  But little Uno is very confident in his bad self and therefore gives no shits about which weird new environment he is in.

Where he's stabled, it's a bit of a hack to the show grounds, and the bridle paths around Wellington can be scary for horses. But of course he took it in stride, only having a little "ughhh I do not think I like that very much" at a wooden bridge with rushing water under it.

The Assistant showed him in the 1.10m schooling and he was an angel; she came out with a great big grin and said he didn't change an iota. Best of all, he cantered in merrily and proceeded to pluckily hop around the course, serenely approaching all manner of jumps that had terrified horses going around the rings the entire circuit.  Whatever filler, be it liverpool or black or white or orange or with butterfly wings, he just went with no fuss and ears up.  This is a horse that loves his job.

The Assistant brought him back the next day in the 1.15m schooling, just to see how he handled something bigger and he proceeded to approach all of it with the same aplomb. This course included a nice triple bar to start, a triple combination, a liverpool, and the open water and he didn't bat an eyelash.  He had been advertised as competing to 1.35m in France - which is his country of birth - and after some quick research I discovered that was in fact legitimate.  The horse makes piecemeal out of 1.15m. 1.20m should be no great issue for him either; the fact of the matter is, he jumps better the bigger the jumps are, and enjoys it with gusto.

In short, Uno passed every test we gave him with the most flying of flying colors.  And thus, we placed an offer on him yesterday afternoon, and after a short night of negotiation (given the sellers are European, there was a slight time lag while they slept!) landed a price on him that makes me very happy indeed.

So now? We are just waiting on the vet.  We're hoping tomorrow, but that's iffy. Regardless, he cannot leave for Canada for 10-15 days, due to the fact that the health papers take that long to come back, but arranging a stay and a ride for him has been simpler than simple.

I'm hopeful and confident for this, because it's all just been so incredibly EASY with this horse. Everything has fallen into place with such little fuss.  We tried him, he was good, it was easy to get him to Wellington, a friend had a single spare stall in Wellington, trailering him down to Wellington was easy because the Assistant had a friend going down that morning anyway, the negotiation has been easy, the horse has been easy... now the vet just has to be easy! Cross your fingers and pray, y'all.  We don't have the expectation he'll fail, since he has clean X-rays from his import last summer, but you also just never know. I will be rather heartbroken if it's bad news, because I've fallen for this horse. He's been easy to fall for. It's not every day you stumble across a super brave, level headed, good-brained horse with enough blood to get around the bigger courses and not kill an amateur at the same time.  The fact that he is all this and just turned SEVEN blows my mind.  He is still a baby in plenty of ways - the flat work is really green for example, and his body isn't all that filled out just yet - but with his brain I think we can do so very much with him.  Plus, he's bred to jump the moon, and that never hurts!

For those of you who don't follow me on Instagram - which is the only place I seem to find time to post - here is a picture of Uno! Hopefully I will have good news about him soon!