Monday, May 10, 2010

Your Horse, In Training- Abby Part 1

(Abby- Photo property of Marcy McBride)

I've started this post three times now but each time I've come out with a long and boring chronological list of Abby and our time together. I was attempted to answer Leah's question of "How much time have you actually spent with Abby?" but found that there was no short way to explain the relationship an owner has, or does not have, with their horse while it is in training. I finally gave in to the idea that I needed to write a few posts on the subject and that it really is a topic worth exploring. First, the story of Abby.

Abby- Part 1

Abby and I first met exactly one week after I purchased her. And yes, against all reason I bought a horse sight-unseen. Within two days she began training at a barn located an hour and half drive and one border crossing away from my home. From the first week of 2008 until the last week of 2008 Abby was in training full time. During that year I made the trip once a week to watch her be ridden and to take a lesson (on a lesson horse) with my trainer, Kari. On December 31st 2008 Abby stepped on a trailer and headed off to McBrides Quarter Horses on a breeding lease that is scheduled to end after weaning in the fall of 2010. I haven't seen her since.

So, to answer Leah's question... How much time have I actually spent with Abby? Very little in the grand scheme of things. However, there is a great dichotomy between the amount of time, energy and thought I've put in to that mare vs. that actual amount of time I've spent in her presence. Some people send their horses off to training and don't look back. I actually did just that with two horses in the past. But with Abby I was there pretty much every step of the way. Even when I wasn't in the barn with her I was thinking about what I had seen in the week before and trying to decide what I'd like to see from her in the week to come. I'd also spend time with Abby when I was at the barn, tacking, brushing and taking her out for a graze. I fell in love with her from the first but I really came to respect and appreciate her qualities over that year in 08.

And there was plenty to apprecaite. I learned to recognize the way her mouth pinches when she's stressed, the grunt in every stride when she's in season, and the glazed over look to her eye at feeding time. I've experienced pride of ownership, seeing her blossom and improve every single week, watching her walk so calm and cool in to the arena at her first show, and hearing her being admired and cooed over by everyone who came to know her. I've laughed at her attempts to look light and graceful as she deer hops through the field, (a ridiculous sight for a for a mare of her short stature and compact build) and puzzled over her quirky habit of putting her back feet in any available bucket when standing in the cross ties. Since I bought Abby there has not been a single day where I haven't spent some thinking about her care and future, not an hour where I haven't felt ultimately responsible for her long term well being. I think that qualifies me as more than just a name on her papers.

However, when Abby was in training I often felt that she was not my horse. And, through no fault of my trainer, I forgot that it was suppose to be our future that we were training and working towards. The bond between Abby and Kari was mutual and obvious even to casual observer. Abby came to me quiet, sweet and safe to handle and ride but she had heaps of baggage under saddle. Completely locked up in body and mind, she'd thunder around the arena, her feet hitting the ground so hard you could hear it anywhere in the barn. She's huff and grunted and refused to hidge her joints. If you picked up the reins she'd mentally shut down.

It would have been impossible to get Abby past the hurdles she came to me with if it hadn't been for the compassion, patience and persistence of Kari. To a horseman who was unwilling to look deep, Abby lacked talent, athleticism and try but Kari saw a mare who's talents were locked up inside a hard shell of distrust. If it were not for bond that Kari forged with Abby I wouldn't have the horse I do today. Kari cracked my mare open by riding her everyday without ever giving her a single thing to worry about. She earned her trust and with every week Abby became softer, smoother, more settled in mind and body.

The first week I had Abby in training I was told (not by my trainer but by her boss) that Abby wasn't ever going to make it as a reiner. After three months we were all convinced Abby would make a talented reiner but that she was more of a trainers horse as she required mental babysitting (though she'd be plenty safe for me to ride.) I spent six months completely absorbed and frankly obsessed with watching and facilitating Abby bloom without having any hope that she could be a horse I would eventually show. The more talent she showed the less I felt enabled to ride her. The more my trainer fell in love with her, and the more people told me how nice of a mare she was the less I felt I had a right to ride her. After eight months of owning her and dispute the fact that she was perfectly safe for me to ride from the first, I had yet to step on my own horse.

I grew increasingly anxious over the prospect of getting on her, let alone the idea that one day I'd have to bring her home.

More to come...


  1. what a great story, I can't wait to hear more!

  2. horses are always.. .a lesson in focus, balance ... and discovery.


  3. Wow, it's so great to hear your story with Abby!
    That is so great that you were involved in her training. When my horses were in training, I went out two times a week to watch them be trained and to get lessons. It worked out great. I really liked that the owner could be involved in the training process. I could never just send my horse for training and never go see it while it was in training. But I know a lot of people do that.

  4. If you changed most every "Abby", "mare" and "season" to "Casey", "gelding" and "pain", you could be talking about my boy.

    I haven't been on his back yet. But, I have hopes that with access to an arena, a trainer and our move to Atlanta, I'll be on Casey by the end of the year.