Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The General Idiocy of It

As promised, my second post will (still) be about choosing your first event horse, and I will attempt to coherently breakdown, defend, and ridicule my list of "requirements" for my first event horse (again, conformation and soundness issues aside).  If you missed it from the first blog, below is my list of requirements and Bernie's qualifications:

My Requirements      =          Bernie's Qualifications

 1. Some eventing experience = 2 BN events, check (not specific enough)

 2. 16H or larger (I have long legs) = 16.1H, check (maybe too specific)

 3.  NOT chestnut = Liver chestnut, sorta check (way too specific)

 4. Under 10 years old = 9 yrs old, check (too specific)

 5. Quiet = had a quiet trial ride, check (not specific enough)

 6. No breed preference = Thoroughbred, check (perfect amount of not specific)

 7. Straightforward to fences = thinks about going over the fence more than he thinks about not going over the fence, check (not specific enough)

So, #1 doesn't seem so bad.  Having never evented myself, having a horse who has done some eventing is downright genius.  However, I should have been more specific about my rather generic "some eventing experience" requirement.  In glorious retrospect, what I need(ed) was a training level packer.  At the very least, a solid novice horse.  A horse who has done two BN events does not scream "experienced."  It does not say "I know my job, I love my job and I will tackle this log, ditch, bank, drop, water, etc...with confidence, because I've done it before, lots of times."  And let's face it, unless you are an experienced rider crossing over into eventing from another discipline, us newbie eventers need a horse that has done it all before, a lot.  Now, stay with me here, because things can get a bit fuzzy when trying to follow my logic (I use the term logic loosely).  I considered a training level packer, but I actually felt bad looking at training level packers who were ready to move up to Prelim.  I would be asking them to move DOWN, way down, to Beginner Novice.  Somehow that didn't seem fair.  Maybe that sounds silly, but it's honestly how I felt.  These horses ready to move up to the upper levels deserved a better rider than me, someone to take them up, not down.  Back to glorious retrospect, what all horses really need is a loving home and a loving owner.  Like the horse is going to be upset he didn't make it to Advanced, I've somehow squashed his ambitions by purchasing him.  We all enjoy seeing horses reach/compete at their potential, but what we all enjoy even more (I hope) is seeing a horse get a good home.

So, while I was letting my guilt run unchecked, terrified I would purchase a horse destined for Rolex, and thereby robbing him of Rolex with said purchase, what I should have considered was an older horse who was on his way down to Training level from the upper levels.   Unfortunately, idiotic requirement #4 blocked the possibility of an older, schoolmaster type eventer.  Most horses under 10 years old, who are at Training level, are moving up the ranks, not back down.  So I settled on a horse with "some," translate little, eventing experience.  And here is my justification for that.  I have a great trainer in Tom Waters.  With his help giving me lessons and riding Bernie himself, a horse lacking a ton of experience will work.  And it almost has.  Here's where I erred and have been unfair to Tom.  We weren't looking for a project horse to "bring along."  A horse that Tom needs to jump on and ride to knock off some rust, or school some complicated dressage maneuvers I can't even pronounce, yes.  A horse that needs significant Tom Waters (and Kerry Blackmer) training time under saddle just so I can hack around outside the ring, no.  I made a decision based more on the skill of my trainer (Tom can do it!) than my own, admittedly lacking, riding ability.  My expectations for Tom to magically turn Bernie into the eventing schoolmaster I actually needed, were just ridiculous.  Tom, I'm sorry. 

This is getting long (again) so I will blow through the rest of my requirements and then give the moral of the story:

#2: 16H or larger.  Okay, I can't ride a pony, I DO have long legs.  But my first horse (see picture in side bar) was a 15 hander, and I did just fine on her.  15.3 is not that much smaller than 16.  I would have been fine expanding my search to some smaller horses, who may have even been less expensive because a lot of people fall into the 16H size trap like I did.  Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like that 16H+ size mark commands a higher price.  Bigger isn't always better, its less height to fall from and you don't always need a mounting block. 

#3:  NOT Chestnut.  Really?  This is so dumb a requirement I don't even know how to comment.  The color of the horse does not matter.  We all have our preferences, but don't let it actually dictate the purchase.  If the right horse is the wrong color, he/she is still the right horse, end of discussion.

#4:  Under 10 years old.  Don't get hung up on age.  I believe I had an age minimum requirement of 6 years as well.  I should have looked at a larger age spectrum or possibly no age at all.  For some reason, I felt anything over 10 was old and seemingly on its last leg.  This is stupid (I am running out of synonyms for ridiculous, dumb and stupid in this blog post).  A lot of the upper levels horses are well past 10.  I looked at the Rolex entry list for this year and one of them was 17.  Horses older than 10 still have plenty of years left in them to carry me around a BN, Novice or Training level course.  Tom tried to suggest some nice experienced 12 or 13 year olds and I said no.  Biggest newbie mistake ever is not listening to your trainer.  On the flip side, we want to equate age with experience, but that isn't a safe bet either.  Look at the experience and the personality of the horse, then the age.  For a better explanation on age from a more respected source, check out what Steuart Pittman has to say on the Dodon Farm website under "Steuart Says..." and "Buying younger vs older horses."  While you are there, read the rest of his entries, because they are all good.  Link here:

#5: Quiet.  This is a good requirement, but riding the horse one time, in his comfortable environment, at home, is not a good indicator of his behavior away from his comfort zone.  Somehow, you need to push the horse out of his comfort zone and see how he behaves.  Maybe you can see him at a show, or the seller will take you out on a trail ride off the property or even do a trial.  At the very least, try the horse several times, take a lesson on him with your trainer, and if possible have him do all the things you expect of him with you aboard.  A lot of event farms have cross-country jumps to school over.  Do it.  I took this requirement too lightly with Bernie because he was being used as a lesson horse and being ridden by (and had competed with) a young rider.  I'm not saying I am a better rider than young or junior riders, I'm sure there are 5-year olds that ride better than I do, but let's face it, mostly sane people don't put kids on crazy horses no matter rider skill.  Bernie's young rider status led me to believe he wasn't crazy, and mostly he's not, mostly.  I also made some assumptions that a lesson horse is generally bomb-proof.  Huh. 

#6: No breed preference.  This is the only requirement I was spot on with.  I had no preference here, if the horse was right, he was right.  I should have taken this mentality and applied it to #3 and #4. 

#7: Straight forward to fences.  I discussed this a lot in my previous post.  I wasn't as specific about what "straight forward to fences" means, but Tom was.  And Bernie is, very straight forward to fences and keeps a very nice easy rhythm, occasionally on the slow side, just like what Tom wanted.  He has his cheeky moments, but when we head down to a fence, 95% of the time, I'm sure we will get over it.  If I'm straight and riding him forward to the fence, its 99%.  He has taken weird angles, meandering approaches,  long spots, short spots, and a lot of "rider unbalanced" fences for me.  He has run out on a fence a handful of times.  Each time I feel it was to teach me a lesson, it was him telling me "hey, you do need to ride me to this fence and do more than point me in the general direction."  I say this because most of his run outs have been in front of a small cross rail that we've jumped more than a few times and he's completely unfazed by it.  There was one run out in front of gate we'd never jumped before and I was a bit unsure, so he took that as his cue to exit stage left.  Straight forward does not mean automatic, there is some level of actual riding involved.  It does mean (to me) a horse who knows his job is to go over the fence, is willing to do it without a big argument, doesn't need a lot of fussing with and doesn't employ "the dirty stop" just to f**k with you. 

And finally, the moral of all this long-winded rambling: choosing a horse is always a crap shoot; above are mistakes I feel I made or avoided.  Please don't let what I've written be the end-all-be-all for choosing your first event horse.  I've shared my experience and my opinion in hopes that maybe, somehow, somewhere, there might be SOMETHING in this post that is useful information for a person in newbie boots, like me.