Saturday, September 20, 2014

How To Say "Goodbye" to Your Beast

...but first, lemme take a selfie!

Before I start, don't worry, her highness is happy, healthy, and full of fall time drafty cheekiness.

I have written and re-written this blog several times at this point.  Deleting thousands of words each time I think I have finished, deciding it is not good enough, opening another beer, and starting again.

The first draft was lamenting how expensive horses are and how broke I am... But you don't need to hear that

The second was about because I am broke I needed a second job and now have no time to ride my horse... But you don't need to hear about that

The third draft was a mixture of the two complaining about working 60 hours a week plus taking multiple graduate level courses AND trying to get a draft horse fit.... But you don't need to hear about that either.

What you DO need to hear about is how do you know when it is time to say goodbye to the horse who has made you the rider and more importantly the horsemen you are today?

It starts with a lot of crying... like a lot... Like inconsolable body shaking hiccuping crying

And once that is done you man up and start problem solving.

Ariat has been on the mend from her injury and is coming back into work.  She has been feeling better and better, but if we are being perfectly honest, she is not the horse she once was.  We recently had a dressage lesson with a new trainer and while I learned a lot and A tried hard, and we made some good progress in the span of the lesson it really hit me, she is just not the same.  While she has never been a dressage super star, she REALLY does not want to bend, give, come through, or move laterally.  She is a bit uneven on a diagonal pair signaling she would like her hocks done and while majority of her unevenness at this point is probably because of weakness, she is not as comfortable as I would like.  

So weakness is a lessor of two evils right?  At least she is not broken-broken, right?  Obviously correct... Weakness is something that can be worked on and fixed.  However, getting Ariat fit and strong is an epic battle that only Sisyphus would understand.  

It means long hours in the saddle 6 days a week working on nothing but building her fitness back up.... and I started to think: to what end?  To have a horse who dislikes ring work be a Training Level dressage horse who MIGHT on a really REALLY good day pull off a high 60?   So I left the ring, as I believe that a strong base of fitness is started outside of a freshly groomed area.  The more I hacked Ariat out on the trails the more she seemed to come alive and really take interest in our rides as opposed to just "putting her head down" (in quotations because from previous posts we all know she never offers to simply put her head down) and do her job. 

So many of you may be thinking, "what's the problem Kirsten?  Just trail ride your horse?  Problem solved!"

The truth is (and this is where I still beat myself up with guilt about), I wish trail riding was enough to keep me satisfied as a horseback rider.  I know many many people who own horses that are simply pets, that they have retired, or are just trail horses.  Unfortunately, that's not me, it has never been me, I am far too practical of a person for that.  Horses are really freaking expensive and the only way I have been able to justify the cost of owning a horse is because she was allowing me to ride, learn, and compete which are all things I genuinely enjoy doing and have deeply missed.

Figuring out how best to ride A in dressage and how to condition such a large horse for a 3day is what I love.  Those puzzles and challenges are what I thrive on.  And A has nothing left to prove and does not need to be a part of my new goals.  I one day want to give Training a shot (knowing that I have LOT to work on before that discussion can even be broached and also knowing my confidence jumping might never get there.... But I want that to be an option)  and Big A obviously has never been that horse and has done her part in helping me get there.  

SO... there I was... Not happy with my riding... not happy with my horse... not able to afford my horse.... working too much to even be able to ride my horse.... and worse of all FEELING ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE ABOUT ALL OF IT!  How HORRIBLE of a horse mom am I to get this frustrated with the horse who has literally given me everything?!

So I began to search for someone who would appreciate Ariat as she is now and ride her appropriately to her soundness and comfort level.  

I was looking for an on farm lease, maybe someone to come and hack her a few times a week while I'm too busy and this person could possibly help offset the cost of owning a horse when the most amazing opportunity fell into my lap.

An old friend of mine, who has similar education, experience, and horse caring beliefs as me (AND DRAFT HORSE EXPERIENCE!!!! because while practically perfect in every way... sometimes A can be.... well lets just say #JerkMare) contacted me asking if the adorable draft cross she saw on Craigslist (yea... I put her on CL... yea I was terrified and almost didn't, thank goodness I did) was mine!

I immediately called her, arranged a day for her to come out and meet The Beast, that went Fab with A being completely relaxed and right at home with her out on the trails (we had had several other test rides with less experienced riders and A was VERY good, but seemed a bit worried and definitely was not being the easiest horse... like come ON mare!  I steer you with my SEAT!  You can turn when they pull on the reins!  #JerkMare)

So after being an absolute crazy pants horse mom and calling all references despite knowing and feeling very comfortable with this person I went out and checked out where my girly would be living.

Lets take a second and step into an alternate reality... 

If I had a billion dollars and had a house with a barn in my backyard here is what I would do to keep Ariat.  She would be in a big mostly dirt paddock, with a run-in or shed, that she would be outside 24/7 in.  It would be hot wire because #JerkMare.  She would have AT LEAST one full haynet out in her paddock, ideally a few that she could move between.  She would have hay in front of her at all times because #spoiled and also #CorrectHorseManagement, and she would just hang out going on trail rides a few days a week and do nothing but exist and be her awesome Ariat self.

Now with that being said you will understand why I can even begin to stomach the thought of letting Ariat go... That is LITERALLY the barn situation Ariat will be in.

My girl will live the life of absolute luxury!  She will get 24/7 turnout which is something I couldn't even find for her this winter, she will get a big ol' haynet daily, something she can't have now and has actually begun dropping weight as the temps start to drop, and she will get both the time and the attention that she deserves that I simply cannot give her right now.  Her new job in life is to just go out on nice long trail rides up and down some dirt roads, down rail road beds, and through some beautiful woods.  We have literally found an "Ariat Paradise" and I couldn't be more happy.

I know there are people out there who might disagree with this decision, who might judge me, and who might think less of me because of this.  All I can say to that is Ariat's well being and honestly, happiness is and will ALWAYS been my top priority,  I would not let her care go out of my control unless I was 110% confident in the person's abilities, knowledge, and common sense.  Had I not found such a perfect situation for her I would figure it out, as (much to the chagrin of my parents) Ariat's well being has ALWAYS come before mine and that includes scrounging up the money to pay for her board every month.  

I wish I lived in that magical alternate reality I spoke of earlier... I would have my Ariat, my new big bold eventer (obvi originally trained by WFP and imported just for me), a fun GP dressage school master, and my favorite school horse from college and literally just spend my time riding all of them and competing and living the life.  Unfortunately, I have to spend some more quality time in the world of reality, go to school, pay my bills, and build myself a future that will allow me to include horses and competing without it being so stressful.

This decision was not made lightly and has been a long time coming going back to when we felt her start maxing out some Novice xc jumps.  I knew even then that I wanted to do more and that wasn't what was in her best interest.  The plan was to play around some lower BN courses, work on my eq, and eventually find someone who wanted an Elementry/BN packer to lease.  But as always with horses, you need plan A-zz and need to be prepared to utilize each and every single one of those backup plans.

So now Ariat is off to live her perfect semi-retierment life and where does that leave me?  I'll tell you, taking a nice long break from the horse world.  I feel very burned out right now with horse people and their drama and I just need some time to sort out my own crap without that added stress.  The plan as of right now is to find a place to take some dressage lessons next spring and maybe play in hunter world next summer in an attempt to build a lower leg and a semblance of a position over jumps.  If I have ANY hope of getting to Training Level I need to fix some massive flaws in my foundation first.  Eventually I will start the search for my next partner in crime, something big boned but not quite as chunk as Ariat.  Can be a work in progress on the flat, but I still need a horse who just goes out there and does its job over fences.  Ideally a big bay mare... but let's not get too picky here... Ariat fell into my lap when I was least expecting it and I will eventually stumble upon my next partner.  Until then the BeastEventer blog will be quite as I enjoy a non-horsey winter.

Thank you all for reading this, if you read the entire thing, thank you for acting as my therapist as I work my way through letting go of such an amazing horse!  Her new rider has given me an open invitation to come up and trail ride with them so really this is not about saying good bye forever, but instead about making sure Ariat is living the life she not only deserves but has earned.


  1. I applaud you for making the hard decisions. :-) A deserves the very best and you found that for her. She'll be so happy doing a job that she's cut out for and you don't have to feel guilty about it at all. I hope you keep blogging (cuz I like you) and that your next equine endeavor isn't too far off.

  2. Wow, if I could give you the Waredaca horsemanship award again, I would do it right now. This, this is what it's about.

    You have done a phenomenal thing with your horse and believe it or not, the fitness work and learning how to use her body better will benefit her the rest of her life.

    And then you did the best thing of all: you listened to her. We all have a choice to make (unless we can own an unlimited number of horses, heh) -- do we want to ride THIS HORSE & do what she wants/needs to do, or do we want to ride THIS SPORT (we're going to leave out cramming square pegs into round holes because we know that's just wrong). It's never an easy one.

    I was in the same place when Solo & I got hurt in 2011. He is...Solo, so it was a difficult and easy choice at the same time. I could not afford more than one horse, so I counted my blessings that he was still rideable (and whimpered a lot about eventing). It was only due to an amazing gift from my mother that I was able to get Encore. Even now, it turns out eventing costs money (WTF??? Rude.) so we don't compete, but with all the stress of other things in my life, I'm good with that right now. Heck, I'm just happy if I can ride a horse!

    I'll stop my rambling. I am thrilled for you and for Ariat that you both get to relax. I just wanted to commend you again for being the kind of horsewoman the community needs to hear more of and I hope we'll get to in the future after you take a nice long nap! :D

  3. Oh boy, that's always a super hard decision to make... And honestly, I think you are so brave for making it, and I think you are giving Ariat the best life that you can.

    I have had to do the same thing with my horses before and it's never easy, but you listened to your horse, you have her best interests at heart, and really - sometimes that's all you can give them in the end. Hugs.

    bonita of A Riding Habit