Married with Horses: The Right Horse

A horsewoman and her husband test drive new horses in their search for the right hunter-jumper.
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A horsewoman and her husband test drive new horses in their search for the right hunter-jumper.
| © Andy Myer

| © Andy Myer

It can take a lot to make or find the right horse. Granted the "right" horse is a subjective label and depends on what the owner or rider is looking for.

Perhaps you need an explosive grand prix jumper. Maybe you want a quiet trail or endurance horse. Perhaps you're seeking a collected and disciplined dressage athlete, or maybe you're just looking for a pasture mate for a lonely pony.

It had been a while since last we actively looked for a horse.

Four years ago we bought Skip as a hunter-jumper. He was rarely sound, and it took several months and many tests to figure out the problem was chronic sesmoiditis. We were devastated to find out that Skip could trail ride, but would never be able to jump--unless we wanted him to someday collapse and have to be put down.

We took in Ellie because she was a solid trail horse and could keep Vander company. Mandy was a horse in need of some TLC and was a wonderful broodmare. Madison, too, needed a home and proved to be a beautiful and sensitive ride.

But, not since Skip had we looked hard for another horse.

Recently, Kimberly realized she'd reached the limit of Vander's abilities. In Kimberly and Vander's most recent show--in a series of 20-person hunter-jumper classes--the two placed 6th, 4th and 2nd, but it took everything they had.

It was a bittersweet realization for Kimberly. Vander has been a durable and dependable horse for years. Many times Vander sustained mysterious (usually self-inflicted) injuries, but was rarely ever lame.

And a few times when Kimberly came out of the saddle during a jump, Vander contorted himself, as if he were playing Twister, so as to avoid stepping on Kimberly. If she wasn't quick to get up, he stood and watched over her until she got up, or until someone came over to help.

Vander isn't one to get his feelings hurt by anything other than you forgetting to feed him, so we felt free to begin searching for another horse.

Between the closing of the slaughterhouses and the weak economy, we thought we might be able to find an affordable horse in the backed-up equine market.

Kimberly was looking for a calm, athletic hunter-jumper and the search took her to other North Carolina cities and across state lines.

After several interviews and test drives, we thought we'd found the right horse: an athletic, 4-year-old Trakehner. We put in an offer and scheduled a vet examination.

The vet exam revealed some evidence of surgeries and possible problems not disclosed by the owner. Several vets looked at the X-rays and other exam results, but couldn't agree on exactly what the horse's athletic future would be.

We wondered what else the owner wasn't telling us, but Kimberly loved the horse. Taking into consideration the horse's uncertain future, we put in another lower offer, but the owner wouldn't reconsider her price.

It took a few days for Kimberly to get over the disappointment, but we continued the search.

It was ironic that after all Kimberly's long-distance traveling we found the right horse just a short drive from our home.

This horse, too, was a Trakehner. Brownie was a 14-year-old, 17.1-hand hunter-jumper with an unusually calm disposition.

During the vetting, Kimberly and I stood hunched over the vet's portable X-ray screen. We bit our nails during the flexion test. We watched for any sign that Brownie wasn't what he seemed.

Despite our worries, he passed the vetting with flying colors.

The owner and barn manager were completely forthcoming with all the information about Brownie. They gave us all of his feed and supplement details, as well as Brownie's likes and dislikes. They also seemed sad to see him go.

Brownie nearly loaded himself on the trailer and stood calmly as we closed the dividers and door behind him and drove away from the farm.

Once home, we expected complete mayhem as we introduced a new member to our herd, but there wasn't a sound. We put Brownie in a stall, and--like every evening--brought Madison and Vander in.

Vander looked at Brownie from across the barn aisle. Brownie looked at Vander. Madison pressed her muzzle against the wire partition between her and Brownie's stall. They touched noses. Then all three started eating their hay.

Kimberly and I didn't know what to make of the quiet reception. When we turned Brownie out with Mandy the next morning, it was the same story. They silently touched noses a few times and began grazing.

"Where'd he come from?" asked Justin as we both watched Brownie and Mandy graze.

"Raleigh," I answered.

"I didn't know there were other horses," he said.

"Millions."

"In Raleigh?" Justin asked.

"Almost everywhere," I answered.

"Wow," he responded "'millions' is a lot then."

"Yes," I answered with a smile.

Kimberly's first lesson with Brownie went smoother than any lesson she'd had before. I was speechless.

I'm used to being impressed with Kimberly's riding, but I'm not used to seeing her ride a quiet, well-behaved horse.

I'm also not used to seeing her fully focused on her riding; usually she has to continually correct or discipline Vander. He is as moody as he is durable.

Brownie may well be the horse that helps Kimberly realize the dreams she's had since she began riding. It's amazing what people can do with the right horse.

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina. Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section.