On Struggle and Perseverance

I knew when I bought Duncan that it would be a challenge for a multitude of reasons. I also knew that if I didn’t buy Duncan, I was seconds away from packing it in and calling this whole venture of coming back to riding a failed experiment. Two-ish months in and I can say that I was right, it has been a challenge, but there have been rewarding moments along the way too.

All things considered, Duncan is actually a pretty cool guy. He’s a forward ride and likes to work. While he is a worrier, hes not an overreactor and generally comes around to things pretty quickly. He’s a horse that really wants to do a good job though building his (and mine) confidence has been a slow process.

The first few weeks were rough. His already worried personality coupled with a change in environment/routine and coming from a place where he was stalled the majority of the time made it difficult for us to even have a conversation. His frantic energy kept his brain on lock down, sending his fight or flight response into overdrive. The first time I had him in the round pen I had a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that if I made the wrong move he would attempt to go over the wall. Shortly after while lunging him in the arena I absentmindedly took a step towards him to send him out on a bigger circle and he exploded, charging halfway across the arena and lifting both my feet off the ground in the process. Under saddle he was stiff and unyielding, unwilling to drop his guard (or his head).

We’ve gone at his pace, spent a lot of time with me on the ground establishing and reinforcing boundaries and the idea that while I am unequivocally the leader in this relationship, I am a fair and benevolent one who means him no harm. He’s made a lot of progress all things considered, our work having been inconsistent due to the weather of this time of year. We’ve worked to address any bodily pain, gotten him up to date on vaccinations and teeth and farrier work. Regular turnout with a calm buddy has helped him immensely as well as our groundwork and we’re starting to develop trust and a language. We hit a milestone last week when he wandered off while I was setting a jump and got his foot through the reins (completely my fault) and while he initially panicked, he almost immediately calmed down and stood still for me to untangle him. A month ago I don’t know that he would have trusted me to do so.

In a weird way, his issues have been exactly what I needed to experience to be reminded that I do actually know more than I give myself credit for. I lost a lot of confidence not only in my riding but also in myself through everything that happened with Quinn, and so it’s been good to see results and be able to affirm that I’m doing the right things. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a been a lot of frustration and sadness too though.

I could not have picked a horse that was more of a polar opposite from Q. Quinn never worried and never said no even when he wasn’t sure. I never had to give much thought to introducing him to something new and riding him, even though he was even greener than Duncan is, was never a struggle (until, of course his injury happened). He and I have one of those rare relationships where we just immediately spoke the same language and his easy confidence only emboldened me. Coming from a horse like that to a horse like Duncan who takes every ounce of my brain power and body strength to ride feels immensely like struggle. Throw in the fact that I still have dips in confidence in my own ability and there are some days where I wonder what the hell I was thinking. I watch green horses canter lines of cross rails like its nothing on their first rides off the track and am green with envy. I miss things feeling easy. Though I’m riding another horse now, I’m still deeply grieving the career that Quinn will never have.

This isn’t to say that I don’t like Duncan or have any regrets about buying him. I’m grateful for the things he’s teaching me and know that I will be the better for having him. Change is just hard. Growth is hard. Moving on from the loss of something you so desperately wanted to work is the most hard. Sometimes though the only way out is through, so Duncan and I will keep plugging along and I know things will become easier in time.

Along Came Another

I started looking at horses well before we knew for sure that Quinn wasn’t going to recover. Does anyone ever really stop looking at horses? I don’t think so. I knew that what I was going to need after this ordeal was a tall order.

  • Sound – like really, really, will-still-jog-sound-if-shot-in-the-leg sound
  • Gelding – due to our turnout situation but also I’ve just never been a mare person
  • Quiet and easy – coming from riding a horse that was unpredictable under saddle left some scars on my confidence
  • Preferably already going a bit – I’ve spent nearly two years not being able to ride and it would be cool to just get on and go
  • Low four figures – vet bills, so many vet bills

Add in that I have a preference for big bodied, ridiculously good looking, and a 10 personality and we have gone from improbable to teetering on the edge of impossible.

Oh, and I didn’t want to have to travel further than 2 hours away to see it.

I see people make ISO (in search of) posts along these lines all the time and frequently have a little internal laugh about the naivety of expecting to find such a veritable unicorn. Suddenly, I was one of them. Several people I know wrote me off as having lost my mind. I also questioned if I had lost my mind. But I also believe that everything that you want is out there somewhere and that if you’re willing to go through the process of looking for it and refuse to settle for anything less, you will eventually find it*.

*No guarantees on a time frame, your mileage may vary.

I talked to a lot of people about a lot of horses who for some reason or another weren’t quite right for me. We looked at several more, even took a few on trial. I found one who I was sure was it but then he had some questionable findings on the pre-purchase and I had to let him go (I still stalk him on Facebook and am still a little heartbroken it didn’t work out). My trainer found another shortly after she was convinced was perfect and on paper he was but something in my gut just said “No, keep waiting, this isn’t it” much to her chagrin (but he wound up being perfect for someone else in our barn so not all was lost).

I had pretty much given up on the whole thing when I received a text from my trainer telling me to look up the horse Parade Float. I perused his Equibase – 11 starts, didn’t race until he was 3, didn’t break his maiden until he was 4, aside from the one race he won never posted a speed figure above mid-50s. Off for 2 years after 4 year old campaign (can you call it a campaign if you only win one race?) and then raced back one time in October 2018. Seemed questionable that they would race back a 6 year old who had never been very promising after a 2 year layoff but I try not judge without knowing all of the facts.

Pedigree was decent – admittedly I’m probably more obsessed than I should be with OTTB pedigrees. Sired by Parading, a turf specialist son of Pulpit (A.P Indy) who had kind of an abnormal career in that he didn’t really get good until his 5 year old year. Pulpit offspring are generally well like for sport as they’re usually pretty balanced conformationally if not uphill, with good strong shoulders and good temperaments. Parading’s damside includes My Flag, Personal Ensign and Private Account (Damascus) which immediately caught my eye as its a line known for producing sturdy, sound horses. I also liked that this horse was out of a Grand Slam (Gone West) mare as horses from that line are generally big/thick bodied with good brains.

I agreed to go have a look even though I had reservations about a horse that was coming 8 and hadn’t really done a whole lot.

The person who had him had received him and another horse as fosters at the beginning of the year. They were skinny and had long shaggy coats that hadn’t begun to shed out even though Spring was coming on. She got them cleaned up and fattened up and started on some basic skills. This woman has a reputation in the area of finding really nice OTTBs and so the other horse found a home pretty quickly but Parade Float had been taken on trial twice and returned, most recently because he kept jumping out of the persons pasture. Nearly every big name trainer between Louisville and Lexington that had come to have a look at him and passed.

Parade Float on arrival in early 2019

I listened as we stood outside her barn and she explained, almost apologetically, that he just wasn’t very fancy. I was pretty sure when we walked into the barn we were going to be looking at a train wreck of a horse who must have some sort of defect if so many people had passed on him – we hadn’t actually even seen a picture of this horse before coming out. I braced myself to smile and say no thank you. Instead, a perfectly normal chestnut head peered over the stall door at us. We noted immediately his kind eye as he reached out inquisitively to us but as we stood talking I noticed that there was something else to the way he was watching us, almost like he was sizing us up.

As she took him out and led him to a small paddock so we could see him move we noted he was a bit pushy to lead and when she set him free I was surprised to see that while he wasn’t what one would call fancy, his gaits were balanced and he moved freely. I didn’t like that as we stood talking he would periodically charge up behind the woman as she stood at the gate but we also learned that he was being stalled most of the day and night so I reasoned that maybe it was just pent up energy. It didn’t seem malicious and despite not being very fancy there was something about him that just screamed “look at me”. For reasons I didn’t totally understand I agreed to take him on trial.

The first day all I could muster was “I don’t hate him”. He was pushy to handle and seemed to be on a hair trigger to nope right out of the round pen if he felt threatened. But as we went along he also seemed to want to do the right thing and seemed teachable. We learned that someone along the way taught him that lunging was simply trotting immediately upon getting sent out on the circle and refusing to stop until he was reeled in so tight trotting was nearly impossible. Under saddle though, he was willing enough and sort of moved off leg queues. He went over poles and cross rails with no hesitance. He definitely needed work but the pieces were all there. His ground manners improved after a few days of turnout and some short lessons about expectations.

My trainer has been trying to plant the idea that the next horse after Q doesn’t have to be a forever horse. Initially I was against this idea but have started to warm to it over the last few months knowing that I was coming up on some free time s my full time job transitions into something else. Weighing the fact that the price was right and most of the other pieces were in place or would come easily enough I agreed to take him.

I don’t know that Duncan (Parade Float just doesn’t quite work as a barn name) will be my forever horse. I really didn’t want to like him but something about him just called out to me. It’s nice to feel excited about riding and going to the barn again. I’m looking forward to seeing where we end up.