As my journey toward horse ownership unfolds, I’ve made lots of new contacts, and a good number of new friends. And every last one of them is entitled to their opinion about the vagaries of horse buying. But finally, I’m coming to the opinion that I know more about this than I give myself credit for. Not that I know everything. To the contrary! I’ve made it this far without doing permanent damage to myself, and I will happily keep learning. But if I wait for everything to be perfect, then the timing will never be right, and my horsey goals in life will remain tauntingly on my bucket list. I’m not willing to do that. So I press on. Sometimes sideways. Hopefully always forward.
So my search continues in the way it has since it began: with me scouring various websites and Facebook groups for something that feels right. And somewhere in that process, I came across a horse named Flirt. Not the best name for a gelding, but I’ll let that slide. The description says he is a Warmblood, living and working at a dressage barn, that he jumps (and enjoys it!), hacks out happily on the trails surrounding the farm, and has a soft, gentle personality.
Remember, my daughter, Rachael, has only recently informed me that she wants to do dressage. Combine that with my desire to do eventing, and the more intense dressage training doesn’t put me off. So I send one of those horrible, anonymous e-mail responses from the anonymous website. And time goes by…
On Saturday morning, my phone rings. No one ever calls my home phone. So who is this? It’s Flirt’s owner! OMG! I can’t figure out how she got my number, and then I remember the generic response to the ad, which required a phone number. Aaahhh…
Her name is Betsy, and she explained that she was having Erin Sweeney, a USDF certified dressage instructor, out to the farm the next day. And if I was available, I could come out early in the morning, and do an informal “meet and greet” with Flirt and some of her other horses. Well how could I pass up an offer that that?!
But I was afraid. Afraid that some of my friends, in their well intentioned way, would try to convince me that these were the wrong horses to go see. That they were too “dressage-y.” That I need a different breed, or size, or age, or height, or whatever. So like a teenager, defying my parents, I told no one.
I asked my daughter to get up early, and come with me. But I told no one at the barn.
As Sunday morning broke, Rachael and I both woke before the alarm. We dressed quickly and got on the road for our hour drive north to meet Flirt. I know I checked over my shoulder, as if we needed to escape before anyone we knew drove by our house on the way to the barn. We cackled like schoolgirls all the way up, talking about the possibilities. And I, secretly, also worried. Is this horse “too good” for us? Would our riding be sufficient?
We arrived to find Erin and Betsy, already hard at work on the clinic, and eager to show us the fruits of their labors. We met Flirt, a gentle 10 year old chestnut Hanoverian standing around 16.2 hands, who shared his paddock with Frankie, an equally gentle 11 year old bay Hanoverian, around 16.3 hands. Betsy had bred both of them, so she knows their history intimately. The boys entertained us while the clinic got underway. Then, Erin graciously re-arranged the order of go so we could see Frankie and Flirt first.
She rode Frankie, putting him through his dressage paces. And he was beautiful. He moved so fluidly and easily. He took his cues without protest, and did everything he was asked. At which point, Erin pulled up alongside where we were standing in the ring and asked, “Well, did you bring your helmets? Go sign a release, and hop on!”
Fortunately, my riding bag never leaves my trunk. So I quickly ran out to get my helmet and gloves, and got mounted. And the conversation in my head begins: “Deep breaths!” I’ve never met this horse, and he’s much bigger than I’m used to riding. “Exhale!” But how else am I going to figure out if this is even potentially the horse for us if I don’t ride him? “I can do this.” A gentle nudge with my heels and we were off. He covered a lot of ground with every stride, but he never felt like he was running away with me. And we did a little bit of everything — walk, trot, and canter.
After just a brief ride, Erin offered to let Rachael ride him, and fortunately, I was comfortable enough with him to do that. Rachael and I both had the benefit of a mini-lesson with Erin. And for her, as an aspiring dressage rider, it was an unexpected treat! And she repeated the paces — also cantering this huge boy on her first ride.
Then Flirt came out. Again, the same scenario: Erin rode first, and put him through some training exercises. Then I rode. Then my daughter rode. The transitions were smooth and effortless. The gaits were big and sweeping, but controlled and attentive.
Wow! Two totally new horses in one day at all three gaits. Yes, it was all on the flat. But we had to start somewhere.
The conversation on the way home was lively! Who was your favorite? What did you like about Frankie? What did you like about Flirt? How do you think you rode?” “Would you like to ride them again?”
Of course, there will be more steps in this crazy horse buying process. But we will be back for a second look, trainers in hand, to see Frankie and Flirt again. And even if it doesn’t work out with one of them, I will always be grateful to them for getting us off on the right hoof…