Leo as a five year old, when we bought him

Bailey Moran sent us this great story about her “perfect” horse.

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Leo’s Story

I find it incredibly hard to talk about my horses. I always feel like I describe them as perfect angels who are completely invincible and magnificent animals, whenever that may not always be the case. We have stops and rails, an occasional kick or buck and even a break into the canter in our extensions. We’re definitely not perfect, and I hate seeming like we are. But this time, I have a horse who is worthy to be dubbed perfect, and his name is Leo.

A little over a year ago, I spent three weeks in Ireland. We tried out numerous horses, driving for hours upon hours, attempting to find the perfect match for me. We wanted something a little more ready made, something that had already done a one star or two and had scope for more, and to our immense disappointment, we were finding very little.

Finally, four days before we were headed home, we found a fantastic match. He was brave, scopey, and beyond elegant. The big bay Hanoverian was simply gorgeous, and so good at his job. He was the one! But, of course, he had a vet check to pass first. We selected a back up choice, and went along our way to vet this handsome gelding. Our excitement peaked, and then collapsed when the vet called. He had not passed. This took us all completely by surprise, and suddenly we were being shifted to our second choice, one we hadn’t even really considered.

Loughnatousa Calypso was a big, goofy, immature, inexperienced five year old chestnut with a crooked blaze. He had a sweet nature, but knew very little. He had his basics down, sure. He could walk, trot, and canter, and had hunted for two or three months, as well as jumped around the stadium ring, but other than that, he’d done nothing. The big, seventeen point one hand Irish Sport Horse was a late bloomer, we were told. They’d started him at four and decided he wasn’t ready. He’d been under saddle less than a year whenever he passed his vet check with what the vet described as “the cleanest legs he’d ever seen!”

Calypso’s name was changed to Caislean(Cash-lawn) before we left Ireland, appropriately meaning castle in Gaelic, and he developed the nickname Leo shortly thereafter. Within two weeks, the clumsy flaxen chestnut was flown to New York in the middle of August, where he then traveled to his new home by trailer in San Antonio, Texas. He was given a few weeks to adjust to the blistering Texas heat, just walking, some trotting occasionally.

Finally we began working, and though the gelding showed incredible amounts of bravery, Leo, who soon became known as “the goofy chestnut”, often forgot where his lanky legs were and how they worked over jumps, and had never had a lick of actual dressage training. In September, we decided we would take him to Holly Hill at Novice the weekend before Halloween, purely as a show to get him out and see what the eventing world was all about.

The weekend approached rapidly, and I prepared myself for blisteringly high dressage scores, an interesting cross country round, and quite possibly a disastrous stadium ride, constantly telling myself, “He’s only a baby! It’s his first show ever.” We went into dressage that Saturday, and to my surprise put in a decent test. There were a couple of head tosses, a discombobulated transition or two, but over all I was pleased. After the final salute, I just laughed, repeating, “Good baby!” over and over. I was extremely proud, and even more so when I was stopped by the judge and told that she wanted to take him home in her pocket– I laughed and said, “I don’t think he’ll fit!” Off we went to get ready for cross country.

I had just tightened Leo’s girth whenever I heard a shrill screech come from my mom. “He got a WHAT?!” Immediately, I went to investigate, finding mom, dad, and grandpa all gathered around my dad’s iPhone, pointing. It wasn’t long before they told me that Leo had gotten a 25.5. I stood very still for a moment, letting the shock sink in. I’d never gotten anything below a 29.1, yet here I was on this five year old who had never done anything, scoring the lowest score of my career? We came to find out that I also scored my first nine on a dressage test with Leo, as well! Despite how much I told myself to have low expectations, I couldn’t do much more than pray we had a good round on cross country.

Leo schooling Preliminary recently

We did. It wasn’t without some very big spooks and very cautious snorts, but we made it around Leo’s first cross country course double clear, and I was thrilled. And this horse only had more surprises up his sleeve. After a double clear stadium, we took home first place at our first show together.

Of course that dressage score proved to be a fairly one time thing– it was a long time before we made it into the twenties again, but this didn’t stop him from taking second and first at his next two shows at Novice.

In February, Leo moved up to Training. It definitely took us a little while to get a hang of things, but my goofy chestnut never lacked in bravery and besides an occasional explosive dressage test, he always tried his best. It took us three shows at the level to figure it out, and after that we soared.

At his fourth Training level trial he took first, at his sixth third, seventh third, eighth first, ninth first, tenth first. He was shocking us all with his incredible mind and how much he seemed to adore eventing! With his help, and much to my dismay, I was boosted to third on the USEA leader board, and soon after, first, though I was battling it out with another fantastic rider, trying desperately to hold onto my lead.

Then came the American Eventing Championships. Our nerves were on end going into dressage– this was by far the biggest atmosphere Leo had ever faced, and after the twenty hour drive to Georgia, I was worried the now six year old would be overwhelmed. We trotted into the dressage arena and began our tour around the arena. BAM! Leo swears that photographer came out of nowhere. With a skip, leap, and a jump, we were suddenly cantering around the arena! It took several seconds to rein him in, and finally he halted, still shaking. I gave him a pat, talked to him for a moment, and then we began trotting again. This time, he expected the photographer, and even though he gave her a vicious snort, he continued on his way.

The test started well. He’s always been very good at center lines. He can be very wiggly, but he’s always handled them well, usually taking an eight. He went through the figure eight decently, and around to the canter. The test went smoothly until we went by the photographer again. Leo exploded into a canter (thankfully in the right place), but he had the wrong lead.

I’m sure every eventer can relate to the overwhelming sense of dread that pools in your stomach whenever you mess something up big time. We trotted, I corrected him, and we completed our test. At our salute, I just shook my head and said thank you, giving the still jittery Leo a big pat. At least we stayed in the arena, right?

I had another horse to ride, so we returned to the barn and I untacked quickly, moving rather fast to get my other Irish boy ready. “WHAT?!” I hesitated while getting ready. Deja vu! My dad walked over to me, gaping. “I can’t wait to see what this horse does when he actually behaves!” We had scored a very respectable 30.5, and I was thrilled.

After dressage day, we were sitting in third and I was beyond excited. Cross country was a blast. Just recently has he come to understand that the start box relates directly to cross country, so he was right down to business when we began walking around it. I’d heard time was hard to make, so when we heard that familiar “Have a nice ride!” We were gone.

Leo made the course feel easy. I had to admit, even though we’d been schooling Prelim recently, there were questions on the course that Leo had never encountered. The water complex, consisting of a jump in the water and a second question of jumping into the big pond was my main worry, and even though Leo had never had a problem with ditches, the off-set coffin was in the back of my mind as well. But Leo jumped around like he’d done it his entire life. We crossed the finish line with eleven seconds to spare, and I couldn’t be more excited.

After cross country and an unfortunate fall from the first place rider, we had moved up to second, and even though stadium was still to come, I was determined to enjoy it while I could. We had a blast at the competitor party, and it was quite funny seeing the dance floor full of mainly Texans!

We didn’t ride stadium until lunch time, and being in second meant I was second to last. The course was terrifying, namely the two stride which lacked any kind of ground line. Leo’s form had improved greatly, but he still didn’t always keep track of his feet, and the upright vertical to parallel oxer was ominous.

He trotted into the arena feeling more relaxed than ever, and after an awkward, but clean first jump, he kicked it up a gear. He soared around the stadium course, not touching a thing, and when we cantered across the finish line clear, my cheering section went wild and I nearly fell, collapsing onto his neck, tears in my eyes as I hugged him tightly. Of course he didn’t care; the silly horse just thought it was fun! The emotions quickly subsided as I went to wait for the ribbons, eyes carefully trained on the first place rider.

When she pulled the second rail, I was overcome with shock, excitement, and somewhere deep inside there sadness for the first place rider. I looked to my mother, my father, my grandfather, and my trainer, Donna Kinney, all of them who had devoted countless hours to help me achieve my dream. They were all in tears, and it was then I realized I was, too.

My perfect horse at the American Eventing Championships!

The rest was a blur. Interviews, prizes, ribbons, it was all so exhilarating that it all has mushed together in brain. But I’ll tell you the one thing I remember perfectly clear. That victory gallop was the most proud moment of my life. I was all smiles galloping around the arena, ribbons blowing in the wind, tears streaming down my face as I thought about how lucky I was to be sitting on such a talented young horse. A horse that I could take so much credit for training.

Leo is an amazing horse with such a massive future ahead of him, who despite his flaws, truly deserves to be called perfect.

His first show at Prelim is in two weeks, and just like our first show together, I won’t allow myself to expect greatness from him. But he sure does have a habit of surprising us, doesn’t he? I don’t want to sound conceited, or cocky, but I truly mean it when I say keep an eye out for this horse. Loughnatousa Caislean is a champion in the making, and even though I’ll be sitting on is back accepting every ribbon he brings home, at the end of the day, he is my superstar, my Olympic hopeful, my dream come true, and my best friend. I wouldn’t be anywhere without him.