The first horse I ever met was a workhorse. I was born and raised in New York’s North Country (it’s a thing) right on the the northern border of New York and Canada (no, I’m not from anywhere even close to Buffalo). The boy was a big Belgian named Bob and 20 some odd years later, I was finally getting my own horse and yes, I named him Bob.
Bob has been everything I’ve needed and didn’t know I needed in a first horse, but the time has come for him to be retired after struggling to stay sound with navicular changes. I’ve had Bob for going on 4 years now and we’ve been through a lot together, none of which started smoothly.
When I first met my fiance 6 years ago, Bob was owned by a newly single mother who struggled to make time for the horse, due to no fault of her own. Despite a few lease attempts, no one seemed to stick with old Bobberz… mostly because he was a total d*bag.
After all, he hadn’t been routinely worked in years and let’s just say he’d developed a bit of an attitude problem with his first taste of early retirement.
Eventually we had a student who started working with him around the same time I was considering finding my own horse after riding every other horse on the farm except Bob. The student was more inexperienced than me but also a bit more foolhardy. After riding Bob with moderate success she decided to take him out for a trail ride with another friend. Both were promptly dumped on the trails after Bob took off in a fit, ditching the student and causing her friend to topple off as well.
Bob had earned a reputation for himself by the time his owner offered him to my fiance.
“This is going to be something you’re going to have to really work at you know,” I remember her saying to me.
I didn’t realize it then how right she was.
I made so many mistakes early on, but watching other people make mistakes with their own horses gave me an education that most people only experience firsthand. I watched inexperienced riders take out cold horses to ride in the cool autumn weather, only to have their horses take off bucking with them down the length of the arena.
And despite watching that I made the same mistake when I got the slightest bit comfortable.
After maybe a month of working and riding Bob, I decided to take him out on the trails with my fiance and another friend. We planned to go for an early ride to avoid any trail traffic and after sleeping in I found myself on the short end of the timing stick and decided to forego the lunging today.
He’s been so good, what could go wrong? I hopped on Bob, walked a lap, didn’t even both to walk, trot, canter, and we were off on the trails. The peaceful ride lasted for maybe a mile before I lost control and Bob spooked at something and nearly dumped me on a stump.
As we walked the longest mile back to the farm that I’ve ever walked I broke down in tears. I wasn’t hurt, but I was upset with myself because I knew better than to set Bob (and me) up for this kind of failure. Sure it’s a learning experience for everyone but as I walked back on the trails I looked back at the scenario and couldn’t blame anyone but myself. I should have prioritized taking my time and lunged him. I should have walk / trot / cantered him in the arena to weed out any potential issues before doing that a mile deep on the trail.
We learn from our mistakes and for the year after that incident, Bob was lunged before every ride and during every pre-trail ride warm up we walk / trot / cantered in the arena. A year after that there wasn’t even a question anymore — Bob was conditioned into a gentleman.
It’s these kind of past experiences that make good horse people. You’ve got to have a decent memory and remember what our old horses taught us so that our new ones don’t have to experience the same shortcomings.