Some people go to horse shows and go home with a ribbon. Others go home with memories, a few rails down, and lessons learned. Me? I recently went home with a new horse — and a little extra love for my trainer, Angela Bowles, who made it happen.
Last year, it became apparent that my draft cross and I weren’t a good fit as we started jumping higher. Frustrations grew, tears were shed, and sales papers drawn. My confidence — always tenuous at best — had been shattered, and I found myself not enjoying eventing anymore. I emotionally disengaged from my riding.
Then entered Cabot, lesson horse extraordinaire. And he changed everything.
Angela acquired Cabot, a now 10-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred, from one of her students about three years ago. Hannah, a junior rider, had purchased Cabot as a four-year-old and taken him up the levels, but he didn’t want to be a Prelim horse. Angela bought him to use as a lesson horse, as his easy-going temperament and ability to be ridden by many levels of students made him a good fit for the job.
When my former horse Ollie and I started having problems together last year, Angela suggested I take some lessons on Cabot to regain confidence. I admit I wasn’t all that jazzed about it. Ride a Thoroughbred? I loved my drafty boy. Cabot couldn’t possibly feel right to ride.
And, at first, he didn’t. Everything was awkward (just like my general personality!). None of the buttons were the same, and I certainly wasn’t used to having a non-sofa-sized horse underneath me. I struggled to find distances and the right pace. I still had Ollie-sized baggage of being far too behind the motion out of deep-rooted defensiveness. But Cabot took my questionable riding in stride and took care of me. I didn’t even care that he hates dressage. It was all a good experience, even when it technically wasn’t.
Slowly, we came together as a pair. Ollie sold, and I rode Cabot more. I realized that I actually like a faster pace — if I have control and the final say in it. Cabot is the unicorn type of horse who will take complete care of more beginner riders and then provide a little sass with the more advanced ones. The day he started his mild back-talking when I whipped him to make him respect my leg, I knew I had “arrived.” I had become a better rider, and he knew it.
Cabot has a personality unlike most horses I’ve ridden. Generally content to be lazy, he will pick up the pace, but will let you know that he’s not happy about it. But as soon as his little show of mild shenanigans is over, he’s all business and game face on. In our only dressage test together so far, the judge’s comment says it all about him: “obedient, but flippant.” That should be his show name.
Throughout all of this, Angela and I were looking for my perfect unicorn, but my budget and needs were constraining. I was happy to have Cabot to ride in the meantime — and then I became the only student riding him. He was essentially mine, but not in reality. And I wished he were. But Angela said that she couldn’t sell him, as he was needed for lessons. I understood, but found myself getting increasingly despondent, especially as I made progress.
At a clinic with New Zealand eventer and show jumper Clarke Johnstone, Cabot took me over my first Training-level cross-country jump. The weekend after, we went to an A-rated jumper show — my first — and competed at .85m, the highest I’d ever jumped in competition. Much to my amazement, we won our speed class, something that would have been unfathomable just a few months before. I felt like we had started thinking and working in tandem. I had never had a connection with a horse like this before.
At our first horse trial together recently, we came out of the ring after our double-clear showjumping round. Angela and her husband Andy quickly called me over, and I thought I was in trouble for something I had done — or not — on course. Instead, she provided me with the happiest question imaginable: “Cabot wants to know if you want to be his mom, permanently.”
Cue the waterworks.
Angela knew how much Cabot and I connected, and she said she would sell him to me for my budget price — and I know she could have sold him elsewhere for twice as much if she had wanted to. She said she couldn’t imagine a more perfect horse for me. I totally agree.
When we left the show grounds, I knew we had a lot left to work on as a pair, but I didn’t care. He was mine — and my heart was his.
Photography credit to Shannon Honeycutt and Don Stine.