When I got P in May of 2014, he’d been off the track for about 10 months, mostly just hanging out, which was appealing to me. Even though as a kid I’d never even heard of horses coming off the track and being “let down” in a field, as I did my research prior to purchasing my very first OTTB at the golden age of 28, I read over and over that this let down period was vital. That it was the ONLY WAY for a horse coming off the track to not be fried. Now P had had some rides here and there, and I was told he was good about things like cross-tying, leading, mounting, etc, so he wasn’t feral or anything, but he’d mostly been sitting. I was very lucky though to get him through the seller that I did, because P was definitely a VERY easy re-start, considering he had just turned 4 when I got him, and I was an out-of-practice ammy with a new baby and not as much confidence as I thought I had.
So everything about restarting P was super slow. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. I didn’t even canter him until September- FOUR months after buying him.
He didn’t pop over a single jump until November.
Didn’t venture off the property for anything until February 2015, when he went to his first dressage show.
His first jumper show was in August 2015.
And his first HT, and first time seeing XC, was in September 2015. So a full 16 months after purchasing him.
And then, as anyone who’s followed us for awhile knows, things went downhill thanks to my inexperience in finding a suitable trainer and blindly trusting resumes and internet reviews. But as you can see, I took things super slow and easy with P. Partly because of his age when I bought him, but mostly because of me. No one can say I ever rushed the horse.
My experience with Leo so far has been the complete opposite of P in every single way. He was handpicked by Trainer B off of a 1:00 free video and a 2:00 first-ride video, then I brought him home on May 25th- a mere 15 days after his last race. He’d had ZERO let down, as he traveled from TX to KY, then to DE, then to NC, where I hopped on him for the first time 4 days later. And he’s been going ever since.
For the first month I had him I didn’t have much time for him, as P’s eye ulcer was still raging and requiring most of my attention. But I still managed to get on him on May 29th, take him to Trainer B’s for his first field trip on June 1st, show him his first XC course (including popping over a log and going through water) on June 15th, canter him on June 19th and jump his first x-rail on June 30th. So basically what took me a year and a half with P, Leo and I have done in less than 2 months. Leo’s been off the property a total of 8 times, has been to 2 shows, had a pro ride by Trainer B, gone through 3 different water complexes, jumped in the XC field, gone over his first ditch, and “jumped” through a 2-stride….and it feels REALLY good.
The reason I bring this up is because I’ve gotten some not-so-nice comments from a few horsey acquaintances (no one in the blogosphere) that I’m going WAY too fast with Leo. It’s been not-so-subtly insinuated that he’s *definitely* going to be ruined and that *clearly* I’m just impatient because of the year P has had off. And I’ve got to say, I’m a bit confused. Because, uh, look at him.
I’d be lying if I said hearing the criticism didn’t bother me a little, as no one wants to hear those types of things, but it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it would have a few years ago, because MAN, have things radically changed in the last 5 years.
For starters, I’ve known Trainer B for 2 years now and you simply will not find a better horseman or horsewoman out there. And I’m not just talking about riding- everything he does in regards to training, teaching and horsecare is at the highest level. His horses are all not only impecccably taken care of, it’s obvious they are genuinely happy to do what he asks. So when he does something like bring us out to the XC field and says to trot Leo over some sand and a couple of rails, I just do it. And I’d say considering Leo’s nonchalance about the whole thing, I’m pretty sure Trainer B’s timing was just fine. If it’s between his advice vs a rando or two that have a few backyard horses, it’s not really hard to figure out who to trust more, #sorrynotsorry.
The other thing that’s majorly changed is my own skill. When I started re-riding as an adult, I was genuinely surprised that I was no longer the confident kid who’d get on anything. And while it took me a LONG time to get out of my own way, the journey’s been worth it. When I came back to riding, trotting was a big deal for me- I always looked like I was going to pass out because I was concentrating so hard. Cantering was something that took awhile for me to be comfortable with. A spooking horse was a hard pass. Now I ride a fairly spooky horse (unless you’re in a t-rex costume…don’t ask me to figure that one out) and am fairly unfazed by a lot. I still get nervous, but the reason has changed from feeling like I wasn’t good enough to hang on should things go wrong, to I just don’t want to screw up the horse.
Now obviously there’s more than one way to skin a cat (such a disgusting saying…), and every horse is different, but I’m interested in others’ experiences. So for those that have started or-restarted a horse, or introduced new disciplines (not just OTTBs), what was your experience like? If you haven’t ever done those things, would you ever? Why or why not?