My Life

Practical Horseman - - Contents - By Amy Sayd­off

An am­a­teur dres­sage rider shares the trans­for­ma­tion of her Sad­dle­bred res­cue horse from an ugly duck­ling into a swan.

This un­ex­pected jour­ney be­gan with a ran­dom view­ing of a YouTube video ti­tled “Sad­dle­bred Res­cue Adop­tion Day in New York” a few years ago. I had been surf­ing the net and look­ing at horses after putting my beloved geld­ing down be­cause of a painful neu­ro­logic con­di­tion. Over the decades I had evented, rid­den dres­sage, fox­hunted and trail­rode, but as a 57-year-old with neck is­sues, I was not sure of my next move. Ruled out were any more 4-year-olds or off-the-track Thor­ough­breds. Sad­dle­breds had been off my radar since one had been my fa­vorite school horse as a girl.

But then I came across the video of res­cued Amish buggy horses, some of whom had been headed for slaugh­ter. With Sad­dle­breds back on my radar, I found a res­cue or­ga­ni­za­tion with a for­mer Amish buggy horse de­scribed as a sporthorse prospect not too far away from my home in Mid­dle­town, Mary­land. Ask­ing my good friend to come along for sup­port, we headed up the in­ter­state.

I met “Harry” in the rain. He was a tall, an­gu­lar, 9-year-old chest­nut, spare of frame. His head was nar­row and pretty with ears that nearly touched at the tips. His legs were clean, but one front hoof scooped out at an an­gle. The wo­man who fos­tered him told us Harry had been with the Amish for about a year and was used for trips of up to 80 miles. We tacked up and when I sat on him, his long, thin neck rose up like a periscope in front of me, giv­ing new mean­ing to the term “up­hill.” Wow, he was way out­side my box! He needed a good thump with my legs to get go­ing and we qui­etly trot­ted around in the mud.

I re­turned to see Harry two more times. His reg­is­tered name was “He’s Some Kinda Won­der­ful.” He was not gaited, his stride had reach and his mouth was soft. Get­ting a can­ter was not easy, but when we went out on the trails, he was a star—calm and in­tel­li­gent. On the last visit, I dis­mounted, stood in front of him and looked. He low­ered his head and looked back. Did I men­tion he has beau­ti­ful eyes? The adop­tion went smoothly. Harry passed the vet exam and came to the farm with rolling hills where I boarded.

Peo­ple were po­lite but sur­prised when I brought Harry home. My far­rier called him “Noo­dle Neck.” In the ring he was rub­bery, hol­low and counter-flexed. It was dif­fi­cult to get a 20-me­ter cir­cle.

He was treated for stom­ach ul­cers and be­came more re­spon­sive to the leg. His back and topline were weak, so we started walk­ing the hills and fields, of­ten with my friend on her sen­si­ble mare. I be­gan to gen­tly ask him to start stretch­ing his neck out longer and lower. Harry was a kind, friendly, goofy kind of guy with a big per­son­al­ity. Get­ting a can­ter in the ring was still not pretty, but I found that out in the fields this boy could gal­lop. I had him looked over by an equine chi­ro­prac­tor, who told me in six to nine months Harry was go­ing to be “the best horse you ever had.” My re­ply: “I se­ri­ously doubt it.”

Over the months our cross-train­ing out­side the ring paid off. Harry gained al­most 250 pounds and his topline mus­cled up, soft­en­ing his an­gles into curves. He was go­ing in a rounder frame, and can­ter tran­si­tions be­came easy thanks to his natural bal­ance. We schooled over fences, and he was hon­est and ca­pa­ble.

We moved to a barn with an in­door arena and dres­sage trainer to start to put the work all to­gether. He pro­gressed quickly. We be­gan lat­eral ex­er­cises. Harry loved his work and all the at­ten­tion. His topline con­tin­ued to de­velop. This horse I once had to thump with my legs to get go­ing was now light and re­spon­sive. My trainer liked him. “Re­ally?” I asked. I took him to a hunter pace and had a blast. After a pro­duc­tive les­son, my trainer said she thought he had the tal­ent and tem­per­a­ment to be an up­per-level dres­sage horse. “Re­ally?”

My plan is to con­tinue to train Harry and see where it takes us, keep­ing a sense of hu­mor and pro­found grat­i­tude as to how this jour­ney un­folded. I have been pon­der­ing, which is my wont in later mid­dle age. Good can arise from loss. Harry had been a har­ness show horse and a work horse and now is be­ing asked to do a bunch of things way out­side his box. Maybe the les­son is to keep our hearts wide open and take a chance. Then, sur­pris­ing and un­fore­seen things are pos­si­ble.

We tacked up and when I sat on him, his long, thin neck rose up like a periscope in front of me, giv­ing new mean­ing to the term “up­hill.” Wow, he was way out­side my box!”

Amy Sayd­off and her Sad­dle­bred res­cue, Harry

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