A thirty-something’s journey as a first time horse owner
When I was a little girl, all I ever dreamed about was owning a horse. Well, that and having my very own zoo... I was a little animal crazy then… and admittedly I still am. (I no longer dream of having a zoo...I would much rather support rescues and charitable organizations.) This year, my childhood dream of owning a horse came true when I was given my dream horse, a registered Canadian Sport Horse named Banner.
Let me rewind a bit and explain how this came about.
When I first decided I wanted to get back into horses (having taken a long break between riding as a teenager and now) I found a barn, told the coach there that I wanted to start from scratch and went for my first lesson. She pointed to a grey gelding (now I know he’s a blue roan) in a field and said we’d work with him. We haltered him and put him on a 22 foot line and I proceeded to get him to move laterally, circle me at a trot and jump a barrel. We got him to put his front feet on a pedestal and took him for a walk around the farm.
This was my first groundwork lesson ever and I, was, hooked.
I worked with a few other horses at the barn in subsequent lessons, but I loved that little blue roan so much that I leased him. I did one groundwork lesson a week with him and went 2-4 times a week on my own to get him to the point he’s at now. I think he enjoys the consistency of having only one person work with him. This horses nightmare would be to be a school horse - he is not built for that mentally… let me explain…
We don’t know his exact past, but here’s what we know in broad strokes:
He came from a breeding farm and is a registered Canadian Sport Horse
He then went to a barn where he bucked everyone off
He was then given away to a natural horsemanship trainer but he required more time and effort than she had capacity for (she’s a busy trainer and has other horses of her own)
He was then given away to my barn (yay!)
He became unpredictable and at times, dangerous
Somewhere, along the road, he became unpredictable and at times, dangerous. Unlike other horses where you can see the panic building in their eyes and their movement becomes flighty and agitated, when Banner is really uncomfortable and unsure, he goes utterly and completely catatonic - in fact, you’d think he was sleeping. He closes his eyes, he barely moves, and he stands perfectly still. I am certain that in his past, people mistook this catatonic behaviour for a “quiet and submissive horse” and then, when he would explode, they would say that it “came out of nowhere”. But no, his signs and symptoms of stress are just different.
The biggest investment I made
The biggest investment I made in this horse has been time. Because of his tenancy to go catatonic and then explode, I needed to build up his trust. I would take him out of the paddock and go and sit in a field with him and let him graze or I’d take him on a walk on a lead line around the farm. I would hide treats around the arena and we’d walk together (at first on a lead line and then at liberty) so he could discover them. I would stand on a mounting block and he would come over to have his back skritched. There was no particular rhyme or reason for what we did on any particular day - it was just lots and lots (and lots!) of undemanding time in between weekly ground lessons.
There have been many setbacks and sometimes it felt like I was going completely backwards but, reflecting on how far we’ve come, we have made great progress. From a horse that would not change direction in a round pen while on-line, to one who will follow a beautiful figure-eight pattern at liberty he has come a long way. He used to shut-down when a bridle came out and now he willingly is ground-driven. We are still working through some challenges which are preventing me from riding him but I’m certain that with time and effort we’ll get there. The more difficult the horse, the greater opportunities you have to learn and I am so grateful for how much he has taught me so far - even if I learned some lessons the hard way!
This summer, I was working with him in the round pen when my two coaches started walking towards the round pen and they asked me to come over to the fence. I walked over (with Banner following like a puppy) and they said they just wanted to check something on his bridle. They handed me a certificate gifting Banner to me and I burst into tears. It was embarrassing - it wasn’t like I shed a tear or two, it was a full on ugly-cry.
And that’s the story of how I came to have my very first horse. Banner is far from perfect, but he has improved so much and I couldn’t be more proud. I still have so much to learn and am continuing riding lessons (on other horses until Banner is ready to be ridden) to improve my horrendous seat and other bad habits. I’m not sure what the future holds but the one thing I do know for sure, is that Banner has found his forever home.