This post was written much later in the year (2013) - November in fact. Originally I was just going to do what I normally do which is acquire a horse, retrain it, and go about my business. Throughout the year things changed and I decided to start recording things down. It made sense to go back to the beginning. Well, at least the beginning of this part of the journey.
I'd been horseless for about 2 years I believe when it happened. Naturally it was my husband's fault as he always equated motorcycles with horses. I finally "allowed" him to get another bike after a job change left him working 2 miles down the road from our house with the most dangerous thing he'd encounter being a deer or rogue cow. A year passed and I was debating options for being more active. Going to the gym was boring and that left me only thinking about horses. The year before I'd gone through this when he got the bike and even went to look at a lovely Appaloosa filly here locally. The timing didn't feel right and I was actually enjoying my time free from horses and their cost/responsibility/etc. This spring however, I was going to do something about it. Just something simple: a "fun" horse preferably of some color and registered. A mare, I'd always liked those for fun things like trails. My goal was something around 15.2 hands and an all around horse but nothing spectacular. Cheap of course as I like my projects. I found some nice young horses for a reasonable price, but young horses aren't really my specialty and I'd never tackled one. Besides, I wanted to ride.
After looking off and on for a while, I found an APHA mare on Craiglist and I'd seen her on several of the for sale websites as well. Her price had been a bit all over the place and it never hurts to ask questions. I emailed her owner and offered her 25% less than her asking price at the time. Along with the offer I detailed out the type of life she'd have and how I trained/showed/kept my horses. "Kate" was nice enough to agree to the price and began to tell me the story of this black and white horse named Peppi. She'd gotten her as an 8 month old foal and they'd had years of adventures sharing their childhoods together. I was feeling awful about possibly taking a girl's horse and it pained me to think about my first horse and how that was a bit what happened to me at that age. Taking a deep breath, I looked one last time at the horse's ad and noticed a picture I hadn't seen before:
Kate had been trying to explain her horse to me and it was an odd mix of contrary things. I was really certain that this was not the horse for me. She was too small first off. 14.1 hands is by far the smallest horse I've ever even BEEN on let alone looked at as a potential purchase. Kate was describing a hot, hard to handle horse that needed regular work. I didn't have that sort of time. But that picture... I doubt any of my past eventers would realize that was even a jump. So I asked if she had any videos of the horse. She did, and they were jumping ones:
I saw no trace of a hot horse. She looked sane, happy, and no hesitation. Definitely worth a trip to look; after all, she was only 45 minutes from my house. I'll never forget my first thought when I saw this chunky monkey of a horse: definitely too small. And I began my plans to exit as quickly and as politely as I could.
Kate was nice as could be, adding to my guilt and wariness of the situation. She saddled Peppi while tied to a tree. The bridle that she'd borrowed possessed a gag style barrel bit that literally hung to Peppi's incisors rather than sitting on her bars. When she mounted the horse, she walked off immediately and I noted that she'd need work on standing for mounting and then followed them to the field, nbd. Kate rode Peppi through her three gaits as I'd asked and I decided to get on. Donning my helmet I hopped on and sighed as I felt like I was towering over this small mare. I was expecting some grunting, some issues with my weight versus her size. Nope, nothing. Nothing but curiosity and I thought huh... I moved her through her gaits again and all I had under me was straight energy, happiness, great work ethic. Sure there were things to iron out and she was a raw material, but she was a gusty little thing with boundless amounts of try built in. I knew she was going to go home with me as I rode back over with a smile. Its been a while since I've smiled on a horse this untrained. But there was so much potential that I couldn't help myself. So we loaded the girl up and took her home.
Kate texted me the next morning to check on Peppi and I began thinking how I'd have to wean her off the horse but that was to be expected in her situation. I also pondered if that's the sort of thing I'd want to have back when I'd had to sell my mare in high school. I decided I did not but with today's technology I was going to have to "put up" with this prior owner for the time being.
The first few weeks with Peppi were not my favorites, but then again, I normally hate the first few weeks of anything new (why don't they know the program yet?!). I renamed her Piper and realized that she was a handful. I debated selling her. I debated sending her to a trainer. I wasn't in the best shape and after a series of bad accidents on my previous horse I wasn't too terribly confident despite knowing facts about the horse and facts about my level of riding. Even if that riding skill was in my head and not in my muscles.
I called some trainers and then made a list of what I needed to work on with her. Kate had said that Piper knew the Clinton Anderson exercises and I vaguely recall when the whole "Horse Whisperer" movement began that he was the one I agreed with the most. I'd always been fortunate to have like minded people that encouraged me to use groundwork and roundpen work with my horses and so I was used to the idea. Seeing it in action and the marketed was amazing. I decided to start with Clinton and see what Piper knew.
First thing is first, Clinton is a marketing genius. This means also that his information is expensive but well organized. I liked that well organized but the price was a bit off putting. I found a Kindle book for $14 and bought that. It outlines his program perfectly if you know your way around horses (which admittedly is not his target audience) and it was nice to have a guide to remind me to not leave out things as well as give me new ideas on old tricks.
At this point I ordered a few things. I got a stick and a "clinician's lead" from horse.com and bought some mecate reins from B&H rope halters. I was beginning to feel like a groupie but whatever. I knew his program worked because it mirrored what I'd done with horses over the years when I "flipped" them. Once everything arrived a few days later, I grabbed Piper and started seeing what she knew. The exercises relaxed her which built up my confidence. There were some holes in what she knew or remembered so we worked on that. I was once more reminded of what a willing student she was and all thoughts of selling or sending her out for training was forgotten.
This is basically the start of my journey with Piper. Kate and I still stay in touch regularly which has turned into something I actually enjoy. I am so busy that I have to stop at times to remind myself to text Kate a picture or a message about something funny Piper did, but its been nice. I've never been "tied" to a horse's former owner as I prefer to buy from feedlots or auctions so it was definitely an adjustment. It is however nice to have someone to share this journey with this horse. Most things I do I end up going on that pathway alone.
Piper still has a lot of work to go through and things to learn. I struggle with deciding to train her in jumping or reining for the most part. I'm sure I'll figure it out in time, but for now, we're just working on solid foundations and then more advanced techniques. She's the lead mare of a herd of 4 at this time. She can be a huge brat in the pasture. She loves to get her way. I have to remind her that I am head mare when I'm out there and while I doubt he fully believes that, so at least goes along with what I ask and rises to most of the challenges I offer up to her.