The first thing people ask me when I tell them I ride horses is, “Does your whole family ride?” Alas, I’m the only one of us to have been bitten by the horse bug. My mother is basically terrified of horses and thinks they are all identical, and while my dad likes them in theory and faithfully accompanied me to many years of childhood riding lessons, his liking for the sport waned in direct proportion with how much it began to cost as I began to take it more seriously. Thus, a horse of my own was never in the cards: the cost of upkeep simply boggled my parents’ minds.
Fast forward to 2007: my trainer and her family had purchased their own farm that spring; I had just come off a successful summer showing my dear Artus and was looking for something new. All my friends seemed to be buying horses all of a sudden, as our competitive goals began moving out of the school-horse zone. One day in September my trainer brought in three young horses from a breeder in Ontario for a friend of mine to try. One, a fancy grey, was nice but overpriced. The other two, a four-year-old bay gelding and five-year-old chestnut mare, both unraced Thoroughbreds out of the same dam, were cute but very green and raggedy: they could go, stop, steer, and pop over a crossrail, but their feet had clearly never seen the attention of a good farrier and they were each missing a good few pounds. My friend took a liking to the bay, Brownies, who would go on to make a lovely 2’9 hunter for her (showing under the name Skye Ransome – any Saddle Club fans in the house?) I was told to ride the mare, Rosie, for the week until the breeder came to pick up the remaining horses.
Riding green-as-grass babies is not that exciting, and Rosie wasn’t anything to look at and had no personality to speak of. However my coach saw something really special in her – or more accurately, in us as a pair – and convinced me I needed to find a way to buy this horse.
Bear in mind it had never crossed my mind to purchase a horse at this point. I was 18 and had just moved two hours away to university, and I still didn’t have the money to pay board and expenses. My trainer, however, made me a deal we couldn’t refuse: my parents would put up the mid-four-figures purchase price; she’d board the horse free of charge; and we’d split any profits we eventually made on her sale. Sweet deal!
Except I didn’t really love the horse. This wasn’t how I imagined buying my first horse: there had been no careful shopping process, no trying cool exotic horses; just a few rides on a strung-out baby, followed by a vet check during which Rosie put on quite a display of babyish frustration and temper, rendering flexion tests nearly impossible. I remember my parents, driving home having just signed the sale agreement, thrilled to have been able to give me what I had always wanted; and me in the back seat, trying to feign more excitement than I really felt.
Every Friday, I would get the train home from university and head straight to the barn (thanks for the endless rides to the barn, parents!). Rosie started getting fatter, fitter, and better-looking. We pulled her mane and shod her and taught her to lunge. By the time the approaching winter weather sent us into the indoor for the season, she was growing on me: at least she was demonstrating some interest in my presence rather than totally ignoring me. I began to feel a bit of excitement (though I must admit, the most exciting thing of all was choosing her show name, after YEARS of making lists of horse names for the day I finally, FINALLY got my own horse. I chose Bold As Love, though my dad would have preferred Daddy’s Dollars.)
However, green TB baby with a big stride + tiny indoor all winter = problems. Oh, did I mention she was a chestnut mare? Rosie’s Terrible Fives hit with a vengeance that winter. Cantering and jumping quickly became very hazardous undertakings. My little horse was turning into quite the athlete – but she had discovered she could use her powers for evil! Our lessons did not resemble jump schools so much as rodeos. Eventually it devolved into walking for fifteen minutes as her only warm-up before jumping, in the hopes of increasing my chances of surviving until the jumping portion of the lesson, because Rosie DID NOT LIKE cantering, and she let us know this frequently and with great emphasis. It turned out her previously sweet half brother had the same hidden temper, so his owner and I were relegated to the 9:00 am Saturday lesson, when there were fewer clients around to gasp at the antics. Somehow, I stayed on through a winter of bucking, twisting, porpoising and general degeneracy, but there were some terrifying close calls. Suffice it to say the approach of show season filled me with dread: if she was like this at home, how could I bring her to a horse show?!
In April, Rosie stepped one foot into the outdoor ring for our first ride outside, took a good look around as I braced myself for an explosion, heaved a big sigh, and cheerfully trotted off without a care in the world. It was like the switch had flipped in her brain: outside = good horse. She literally never misbehaved again in the time that I owned her.
In fact, Rosie just kept getting better. She went to her first horse show, and although we couldn’t really steer, and I was too nervous to do her any good up there, she clocked around like a champ. (We were still VERY green. I remember going back-to-back in the order with another [uber-fancy] horse whose trainer was instructing them to “think about the quality of your canter to create a rounder jump.” Meanwhile, I was going to be thinking about staying in one gait the whole time and attempting to jump eight jumps in a row, which I don’t think we’d ever done before.)
Rosie turned out to be exactly what you hope for when you buy a hunter prospect: a horse who loves going to horse shows. She had a beautiful careful jump , a naturally huge stride, and a perfect automatic lead change. She had a very classic hunter movement that many judges loved: we won a lot of hacks at our B-circuit shows. If anything, she became too quiet: our biggest problem was our penchant for the deep distance. She was the same horse every day, everywhere, from crowded warm-up rings to jumper derby fields.
Honestly, Rosie’s biggest hindrance was me as a rider. I showed her in the 2’9 Baby Greens, a class that was 95% professionals riding horses for their junior clients. To gain experience (and as a point of pride), I wanted to do all Rosie’s riding and showing myself rather than having our pro take her around her first classes. I remember being so nervous before our first show that I distractedly polished the inside of my boots right before our first class, resulting in me basically slipping backwards off my saddle at every fence. Whoops. After my mid-season crash with my other horse, I clambered back on Rosie at the next weekend’s horse show, literally shaking in my boots; she couldn’t have cared less. She had become a true seasoned show horse, and a joy to ride at that. I shake my head now thinking about all the ways I could have done better by her as a rider; but honestly, it just didn’t seem to bother her.
By the end of the season, we had had some great results, and I had big (secret) plans to take her on the A-circuit the next year for our big 3′ debut. But all good things must come to an end. My trainer’s agent had seen her go at a horse show (at which we swept the division to come Champion) and told us he had a client in mind for her, if we were looking to sell. Bearing in mind the expense my trainer, her co-owner, had borne over the last year in boarding her at no cost to my family, we consented to putting her very casually on the market. We decided on a price we thought was outrageous, and told the agent that if the buyer accepted that price and not a dollar less, Rosie was hers; otherwise, we’d keep her for another year and do her in the Pre-Greens.
The buyer and agent came to try Rosie on a weekday while I was away at school. Our very good pro rider showed her for them…and ended up falling off my horse at the buyer’s feet when she went for a verrrry long distance and Rosie sensibly but awkwardly added another stride. Our pro was mortified when she called me to tell me the story – but I was overjoyed. Surely this was it! The buyer would walk away, and Rosie would be mine for another year!
Except the buyer called my trainer and said, “I loved the way that horse stopped and waited for your rider to get up off the ground and come get her, then came back around as if nothing had happened. I will take her at your asking price, no questions asked.”
So that was that. We shined Rosie up and waited for a fancy air-ride trailer to come take her six hours south and a few social classes up. I cried the day the left, twelve short months after grudgingly taking her on as my scrawny project.
I snuck in one more ride on her in the indoor arena, though. Of course, she threw in a good buck as I cantered down the long side, for old times’ sake.
Rosie went on to a successful career as a Children’s Hunter and 3’3 medal horse on the A-circuit in New England. She found her niche as a move-up horse for riders moving from ponies to the horse divisions. I caught up with her through some posters on the Chronicle of the Horse forums who assure me she’s in really excellent hands. She is 13 now and has the bulk and muscle of a mature show hunter, but I can’t help but notice that she never grew out of her scrawny little throatlatch!
In the end, Rosie was a real diamond in the rough. A few things really stay with me: her beautiful rhythmic canter, and how soft her face just below her forelock was. The first and only horse I’ve ever owned, she really was a girl’s best friend.