Temperament: The Key To Our Suitable Mounts

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After I picked out the photo for last week?s blog describing the importance of having a suitable mount for you and whatever you're doing, I thought, ?Why don't I describe these horses to show what I'm talking about'?

I think that all five horses, each of whom we either bred or selected before training them to be event horses, illustrate our points about finding, and then training, a horse who suits you and the sport you want to do with him. The common thread to them is their temperaments: They all suit their riders and the sport of eventing that we do.

I'll start with Bella, the pinto mare I'm holding second from the left. Bella is 4, and my wife, Heather Bailey, took this photo at the Shepherd Ranch Horse Trials in Solvang, Calif., in June. We bred Bella, and this was her very first horse trial.

Bella is by the Dutch Warmblood stallion Palladio out of Lizzie?s Hero, a Thoroughbred mare we bought to be a foundation broodmare. We bred her to sell, but she became an orphan at the age of 2 weeks, and after raising her and seeing what an athlete we'd produced, we couldn?t sell her. We bred her to be a top-class horse, and she looks as if sHe's going to be that, perhaps even my best horse ever. Bella is a big, beautiful mover, and she can definitely leave the ground to jump in lovely style.

But what really sets he apart is exactly what I'm talking about: her temperament. SHe's simply all business. Her attitude is ?no muss, no fuss. let's go do the job.? Yes, We've certainly had some green moments along the way (and I'm sure there will be more), but what really sets her apart is her willingness to figure out whatever I've presented to her.

I ran her in the introductory division as Shepherd Ranch, and she finished second. Since then, sHe's completed two beginner novice events, both with completely faultless cross-country rounds. And last weekend she finished sixth on her dressage score, with one of the easiest show jumping rounds I've ever ridden on a young horse. She moves up to novice at her next event, in three weeks, and I anticipate moving her up to training level in the early spring.

By contrast, Shawn, the bay gelding on the far right, has never suited me or Heather, even though we bred him too. He's by the now-deceased Thoroughbred sire Class Secret and out of my Thoroughbred mare Native Monarch, and He's now 15.

Shawn is a fabulous athlete and has had a busy career, but he didn't turn out to be what we'd hoped. He's too small and quick for Heather, and as a youngster he required full-time attention that I couldn?t give to him then, because I was the editor of The Chronicle of the Horse and was already riding my great partner Merlin when he was young. Honestly too, his quirk doesn't suit me either?He's a bucker, and He's bucked me off many times, along with a long list of other people.

Fortunately, our former trainer Sharon White fell in love him when he was 4, and they got along great, even though he could also buck her off. Soundness problems prevented him from being a big-time horse with Sharon, and so He's been ridden by a range of hopeful younger riders ever since. His partner right now is Kaitlin, who's 17 and loves everything Shawn does. They get along like peas and carrots. Shawn is providing Kaitlin with wonderful experience (they've placed in their first two training level events together), and we'd like to think that all the money We've spent on training, competing and caring for Shawn has paid off now that He's 15 and mature (he bucks less often).

Matilda, the Palomino Paint mare standing next to Shawn, had spent her life looking for someone who wanted to do what she liked, until we found her more than five years ago. SHe's a beautiful, 14.3-hand mare, and I suspect that someone bred her to be something, but life took a turn, and she ended up unappreciated and unwanted on a Central California cow farm. The woman who had her for sale had been given her in exchange for training another horse, and she thought Matilda was far too opinionated and basically useless. We fell in love with her athleticism and her independent personality, and we bought her as a sales prospect.

We fixed her up physically (the usual feet, teeth and chiropractic care that's often desperately needed) and trained her to jump and to event. Her reaction to jumping could best be described as, ?Where has this been all my life'!? although I'm sure no horse in her pedigree had ever jumped. We then sold her to Emma, who was then 9, and they've been a happy pair ever since. SHe's taught Emma to be a confident and effective rider.

Myster, the Paint gelding standing between Matilda and Bella, is also a Quarter Horse with no jump in his pedigree, but jumping changed his world too. Our barn manager, Roxanne, bred him to trail ride, but Myster is rather opinionated, and Roxanne was having health issues that definitely depleted her riding ability. Through mutual acquaintances, she brought him to us, and we did two things that were like a carrot and a stick to Myster: We taught him to jump, and we were able to insist on a level of discipline under saddle that Roxanne had, at the time, been physically unable to do.

Myster was the first horse Heather rode and competed after her pregnancy, and lately He's been a reliable schoolmaster for a range of riders. that's our working student Victoria holding him, and this was her first recognized event, in which she finished third, right behind me and Bella.

The horse on the far left is Flynn, an 18-hand Appaloosa-colored gelding who's half-Thoroughbred and part draft. We bought him because his owner, Nilda (who's holding him here), wanted a big horse and wanted color, but we, as her trainers, insisted that the real priority was a horse who was willing and quiet, because her last unruly horse had sucked the joy and confidence right out of her.

Flynn is all that and more?he shows up for work every single day, whether I'm riding him or Nilda is riding him, with a smile on his face and then does his job. He absolutely takes care of her, and she adores him for his reliability. This was her first event with him, and since then sHe's placed in another event at Shepherd Ranch, and last weekend he claimed second place in open novice with me at Twin Rivers.

Flynn, along with one of our schoolmasters, Schultz, has renewed in Nilda the confidence to once again enjoy cantering, jumping and competing.