Something Out of Nothing

If you are the average horse owner you are rich (in experiences) and at the same time very, very poor (in reality). You can’t put a price on the feeling after a great ride, placing in your class after months of training, or developing a strong enough bond with a 1200 pound animal to do liberty work. There are many other things I can put a price on though, like farriers, tack, vet care, feed, and the CT scan from my last bronc riding adventure.

The horse industry is an estimated $122 Billion dollar segment of the U.S. economy. You non-equestrians are probably envisioning the racing industry with thoroughbreds grazing on beautiful Kentucky Blue Grass amid a back drop of black fences and huge white stables. They make up almost half of the industry. For the other half, life isn’t so glamorous. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, out of the 7.5 million people involved in the horse industry, only 2 million actually own horses. The largest percentage of these owners are females aged 35-45 with a median annual income of $60,000. It’s pretty safe to say, a lot of equestrian dreams are happening on a budget.

Never having the luxury of an unlimited equestrian budget, I learned from an early age to make do with what was available. My first horse was my sister’s retired show horse. Tack and show clothes were also hand me downs. When it was time for my sister’s horse to fully retire, I had to make my own horse and learned the basics of training as a pre-teen.

Creating a competitive animal out of an untrained horse of questionable breeding, is challenging. I’ve been thrown off, thrown into, runaway with, and stepped on. I’ve said more prayers when my horse took the extra long spot or the extra short spot at the base of a jump than a Benedictine monk. There have also been many prayers as I flew through the air sans horse. Many equestrians describe horses as a religious experience. I’m a firm believer they say that because near death experiences tend to bring you closer to the divine.

When I finally had the opportunity to ride pedigreed, impeccably trained animals, I found the experience lacking. Yes, the horses were amazing, and a great jump round is always thrilling, but a great ride on packers is not nearly as satisfying as an almost mediocre ride on a $300 auction find. The thrill of nailing (in front of no one) the one maneuver you have been practicing for months that you’ll completely blow during competition because hey your horse has PTSD from their old life, can’t be replicated on a bred and trained to do it animal. I’m sure if I had the opportunity to start a young horse that had been bred from generations of champions, I would have enjoyed the rides more, but there is beauty in plucking a scrawny, neglected, maybe abused animal out of obscurity and seeing it blossom.

Now that I have more disposable income for horses than I’ve ever had in my life, I still find myself drawn to the rejects of the horse industry; the horses that were too slow on the track, the horses that found themselves in a bad situation, the ones that just had (dare I say it?) hard luck. Almost every animal on our property falls into this category, and every single win (win, is a very subjective term) with them is priceless.

I’ve spent nearly two and a half years working with Comanche. Due to unforeseen injuries incurred while playing with his pasture mates and the guerrilla warfare tactics of that damn pony (for more details refer to earlier blog posts), at least one year of that time was spent sidelined. Finally this year is looking up for my diamond in the rough.

By all accounts Comanche isn’t much to look at. I love his color and he has a great tail, but his confirmation isn’t the greatest. He’s squirrely on his best days, and charges around like a freight train on his worst. Despite all of that, I wouldn’t trade him for a perfectly trained 17 hand warmblood. Although, it would be nice if Comanche was a touch taller. The sweat equity I’ve dedicated to this animal makes him more valuable to me than any horse with a champion pedigree.

We missed several training days due to rain in February, but I’m finally beginning to see progress. The concept of light contact and maintaining a frame, is finally starting to sink in. I’m actually getting rides with rhythm instead of a speed up, slow down, speed up. Comanche’s topline is starting to develop through the combination of quality workouts and the supplements I’ve been adding to his feed. This is allowing him to engage his hind end more, and maintain that precious rhythm while extending and collecting his paces.

Canter work has been the bane of our training program. Mentally Comanche isn’t quite there for flying lead changes. He performs them but throws his head up like a giraffe and pours on the speed after the switch. I haven’t quite found the solution for this issue. Surprisingly he does flying lead changes best when jumping a course, going into the turn for a fence. Notwithstanding this minor issue I’m becoming very optimistic about my guy.

I’m seriously considering using Comanche in the hunter classes instead of Odessa at the next open show in May. I’ll probably be throwing all chances of placing out the window. He’s way too fast, and his head carriage is a little too high for a primarily quarter horse crowd, but the experience will be good for him (and it’s an excuse to braid him up). As long as we get some decent pictures and video footage, we’re already champions right?

For a horse that was starving in a junk yard when I found him, even an open show is a huge accomplishment. I did take the time to hardship register him though, because I do think he might have a shot at some ApHA shows now that we’ve worked through some of the freight train issues. Ultimately, he’s intended for eventing though. I’m not wasting that movement on hunter under saddle when we can do dressage and cross-country instead. The horse loves to gallop, so might as well set him loose.

Everyone has their thing. Many people swear by bloodlines and pedigrees, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I however have more fun making something out of a nothing. We might not set the show world on fire, but I still know how far we’ve come! It’s all about having fun in the end anyway. Ribbons are just icing on the cake.

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