After vacating the lease on Hank, I was a bit ambivalent about leasing another horse. He had been so convenient: not a mile from my home, and the owner fully responsible for his board, vet bills, etc. Pete, Hank’s owner, had been a bit too glib, a bit too laissez-faire, more than willing to allow me to do anything with the horse. It wasn’t until I learned through first hand experience, and the testimony of a barn hand, that Hank was unrideable due to a back injury the year before.
So I thought, well, I’ll go without a horse.
But my heart will not be denied, not any more. I’m getting old. I have to soak in as much horse as I can before I can’t.
I put out some feelers at the barn for a possible lease, but the only one available was Pilot, who, everyone said, was a horse to be avoided. He was being used as a lesson horse, and it’s unknown who needed more training: Pilot or the students. I didn’t need that again.
Hank holds a grudge, I learned. I went to see him the other day in the course of events, and even though I had a peppermint in my hand, he looked at me and said, “Oh. It’s you.”
There was no friendliness in his eye. I had hurt him, and he wanted nothing more to do with me. I can’t blame him. I did hurt him. Unwittingly, but still.
I put up an ad in the local feed and tack shops, wanting a horse for lease. I was very explicit about what I wanted: warm or hot blood, no vices or medical issues, and the three S’s: Safe, sane and sound. I didn’t want the breeds specifically bred for color. That cut out almost 90% of what’s available here. We are awash in Paints and Appys. There are many Quarter Horses available, but all seemed to have been bred for the show ring, meaning they have mental or medical issues. When you breed to a show ring standard, you get horses that can only do show ring things.
I was referred to an older woman named Barb who has a huge, 300 acre property near here. It’s hock deep in horse manure, but the horses are in good flesh. I talked to Barb about leasing. She had a 6 year old green bayArabian who was running about at the time like a mad thing. She also had an Arab/pinto mare named Panda. (registered name supposedly Pandemonium). Barb said the mare had 11 ROM’s (Register of Merit in the Arabian horse show world) and had been Canadian National Champion in Dressage. But Barb couldn’t provide papers or a registry number. Nor could she show me a trophy or even say quite when the mare had won all this stuff, although she’d owned the mare from foaling. She didn’t indicate who had ridden the mare to all these wonderful wins. I didn’t push it. I don’t demand a horse be registered. I don’t give a rip about what it’s won in the show ring. What I AM interested in is, is the owner being truthful about the suitability of the horse for an advanced beginner. In Pete’s case, he was right, anyone could ride Hank, but only because Hank had a bad back and wasn’t willing to hurt himself being stupid. In Barb’s case, I’m not so sure.
Panda hadn’t been ridden in seven years, until a few weeks ago. Barb’s barn hand, a young man named Jarred, (I won’t go into the torrid undercurrents I sensed with that relationship) who wanted to learn to ride. He had ridden Panda, “three or four times”, but that was all the riding she’d had in 7 years.
When I arrived at their covered arena, Barb was riding Panda in a heavy western saddle, a snaffle, and a martingale. I have no experiences at all with martingales, but I know they’re meant to provide leverage on a bit. Barb immediately got off the mare, who was sweating from the work. Barb seemed genuine, so I can’t believe that she meant me ill. But I now believe she was willing to tell me whatever I wanted to hear in order to make some money.
She had me untack Panda, as her ‘shoulders’ can’t take the weight anymore.” No kidding, that thing weighed a ton. I realize now, it was not a saddle, it was a sea anchor, and I was making a big mistake in removing it from Panda’s back. I’d told Barb I ride bareback by preference, so untacking Panda was fine with me. This included removing the martingale.
I tried to mount, but Panda kept moving away from the block. Strike one, as far as I am now concerned. Barb said, “I think she’s coming into heat” I guess, as an explanation for Panda’s bad manners.
I am the type of person who likes to merely SIT on a horse, bareback, for the first time, just to get the horse used to who I am.
I didn’t get that with Panda.
Barb held Panda just long enough for me to scramble aboard, and then let her go. The mare immediately spun around and began to walk. FAST. As we moved down the arena, she walked faster and faster. I shifted my weight, trying to use my body to get her to slow down, slow down, slow down. She ignored me.
I don’t like using a bit as a brake. Panda forced me into doing just that. A snaffle is useless on a horse that knows how to avoid it. Panda grabbed that bit and set her neck. She began to trot. I hadn’t asked for it, and asked her, politely, to slow down. I said, ‘walk”. I wanted a gentle walk, so that I could get my balance and find the feel for her. I asked, politely, and got nothing but a hard, hard jaw. The more I asked, the hard she set her jaw. She ignored me as if I didn’t exist.
Her trot ratcheted up in speed. Soon we were flying around the ring, still trotting but only just. Still unbalanced, I responded by bouncing on her back, and that, I believe, is the only thing that kept her from breaking into a gallop.
I’m not a raw beginner, but I can tell you that Panda is NOT for beginners. She’s not even suitable for a Grand Prix rider. She could only be ridden by a big shouldered linebacker. Panda is a four-legged locomotive. Nothing else can describe the way that mare pulled. Barb said over and over, “She has a big engine”, meaning this 15 hand mare could go. And she could. But no where and in no way the way I wanted.
What she DIDN’T admit to was that Panda was so hard-mouthed I may as well have used a baseball bat to stop her.
I knew, now, why Panda had gone unridden in seven years. She didn’t want to be ridden. She’d learned how to get people off her back without having to resort to bucking or anything athletic. Grab the bit, set that big neck, and move as fast as possible, ignoring all attempts of the rider to do anything but hang on. Panda never gave me a break. She didn’t give an inch, not a millimeter. There was no communication with her whatsoever. She was smart, and, dare I say, mean. She wanted me off.
Never in my life have I experienced a puller like that. I didn’t do more than three circuits of the arena when I realized, I don’t have to take this horse. I don’t want to lease this horrid horse. She is not willing to work with me and the only thing I will learn from sitting on her back is that I cannot ride her.
I managed to get her to stop, and jumped off. “I’m sorry, but she is too much horse for me.” I said. Barb said, “Well, she hasn’t been ridden in a while.” Like I’m supposed to be the one to break this pinto puller? Life is too short to waste on a bad horse. Now I know why Barb hadn’t ridden her in seven years, why she had bad shoulders, and why her barn boy was having troubles learning how to ride.
In retrospect, I believe now that Barb was lying through her teeth about the mare’s show ring performances. No dressage horse in the world pulls like that.
I left, relieved that I’m old enough to be able to say, no, and not knuckle under to someone else’s assurances that it’s just a matter of time. I also was angry, at the horse, and at Barb. No way in hell did Barb not know the mare pulled. She was either remarkably barn blind or horribly irresponsible to put a beginner on that horse. My arms and shoulders were sore for two days afterwards. But I thought, okay, I’ve learned something. And all it cost me was some sore muscles.