The weekend after Thanksgiving will mark my 6th year of owning Baron. In honor of six years together, here are six things I’ve learned: 1. Quit worrying about the horse and worry about your riding. I used to worry that Baron would always run around with his head in the air like a giraffe and that he would never get that hunter headset. Guess what? He wasn’t able to move like a hunter until I rode like one. I had several people recommend that I ride in a martingale and I refused every time. I knew a gadget wasn’t going to magically turn him into a show horse. Any problems Baron and I faced weren’t with the horse; they were with the rider. Instead of thinking a new gadget or trainer or bit or clinic was going to make us show worthy, I knew I needed to work on my position. I put hours and hours into reading about equitation and watching videos of upper level riders so that I could try and imitate them. I have gotten better, but I’ve still got a long way to go.
2. Trail rides are just as good as arena rides. I used to lose sleep over the fact that my barn doesn’t have an arena. How would I ever become a better rider without a proper arena? Turns out that riding anywhere makes you a better rider. Riding up and down hills, riding through spooks, riding on roads and through fields not only gave me a very level headed horse, it also gave me a ton of riding experience I wouldn’t have gotten in an arena. Nothing has gotten Baron in shape like some good long trail rides. He has lovely butt muscles and he’s even starting to build a topline after years of being out of shape and unridden. Walking on trails allows me to concentrate on my position while Baron enjoys himself too. I can develop the muscle memory at the walk that will serve me in the trot and canter. Walking on trails isn’t just lolly gagging through the woods. It’s helping me become a competent rider.
3. Horses get hurt. A lot. In the time that I have owned him, Baron has suffered lacerations to his chest from barbed wire, almost impaled himself on a fence post, lost 60% of his hair due to an epic case of rain rot, nicked an artery in his leg causing pretty significant blood loss, and developed a case of cellulitis that caused his leg to swell up like a giant hairy bratwurst. I am thankful that he has recovered just fine from all of those things. In my first few years of horse ownership, I would hyperventilate if he so much as got a bug bite. Now it takes a lot, a whole lot, to upset me. Horses get hurt. Things happen. Usually they live.
4. Horses deserve dignity. From day one I’ve tried to treat Baron with respect. I remember telling him early on that if he would pack me around and not get me killed, I would make sure he was taken care of until the day that he died. He’s kept up his end of the bargain so far and I intend to keep mine. Even though I wanted him to be a show horse, I always kept in mind that he did not necessarily want to be a show horse. I made sure that anything I did with the goal of showing was something that benefited him as a horse. I got rid of trainers who pushed him too far and too fast. I knew him well enough to know that he would try his heart out for me. I didn’t want to take advantage of that incredible willingness, or spoil his happy attitude. I wanted him to enjoy his work and that meant taking it slow.
5. I love self care board. I’ve had Baron at a self care barn for five of the six years I’ve owned him. I did a year at a full board barn and, while I got the opportunity to show, I lost the day to day care of the most magnificent animal I’ve ever known. I moved him back to self care because I missed him. I wanted to be the one who monitored his feed, who decided how many flakes of hay he got, whether he stayed indoors because of the weather and whether he seemed happy. I love taking care of Baron as much as I enjoy riding him. My evening barn time is the highlight of my day, and Baron looks forward to seeing me because I represent good things for him. I bring fresh water, dinner, treats, poll rubs and back scratches. Besides his life in the herd, I am his whole world. I don’t just show up to ride, so he doesn’t only associate me with work. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
6. Horse ownership is the single most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I was a kid, I didn’t dream of getting married and having kids. I dreamed of having a horse. Marriage and kids have been wonderful surprises for me, but horse ownership is everything I dreamed of and much more. When I ride I feel like a kid again. I could be a ten year old with a pony, with all the elation and the feeling of freedom that riding gives me. All the horse books and horse movies, the drawings of horses, the daydreams and wishing, all of those things came into being in a big chestnut Thoroughbred that failed as a racehorse. Baron is a gift, the best gift I’ve ever received.