“Take a mulligan,” instructed my golf teacher after I topped a drive off the tee. Immersing myself in golf lessons seemed like the right distraction after the passing of my 23-year old thoroughbred. And once I turned 50, I was reluctant to go the green horse route again.
But golf wasn’t horses.
Enter Handsome, an appropriately named gray OTTB gelding owned by Dana whom I met through a horse ad online. She had allowed him months of rest after his racing, starting him in his hunter career slowly, with light hacks and cross rails at a schooling show or two.
Through Dana’s generosity, now I ride Handsome as often as possible. Handsome lives on Dana’s ranch along with two other horses that Dana shows, and several more retired horses and ponies, dogs and cats.
We do not have the deep pockets to show the A circuit, the cash flow to pay trainers, the time-off-work to stable all week at horse shows, the extra twenties lying around to tip grooms. We do have our years of expert advice from good trainers, and our own experiences of horse care, training, vetting, shoeing (Dana shoes her own), hauling, braiding, schooling and showing.
At the shows we are known as an “Independent.” Be kind to us Independents, we were up at 4 a.m. While I am not an advocate of riding trainer-less, it just works for us right now. A bevy of good hunter-jumper instructors reside in our area, available to assist at a moment’s notice. Because we are Independents, we appreciate even more the many hats trainers wear.
Our days are marathons. Both of us work full time, have family commitments and juggle our schedules to accommodate the horses.
But the rewards run deep and the lessons are profound.
I soon discovered that Handsome has a forgiving attitude when his amateur (that’s me) misses a distance or makes a mistake. Maybe it has to do with the carrots I bring him, the scratches behind the ears and the conversations we have while grooming. After a few months of trotting over grids and cantering simple lines, Handsome and I were ready for our first horse show together.
Handsome’s second career as a hunter compelled us to come up with the show name Mulligan.
To help us assess our progress, Mr. Canon travels with us to horse shows. He is there for every round including the flat classes. He communicates our mistakes so they are obvious and he never dwells on the negative. Only sometimes does Mr. Canon lose his focus, but the big picture is always there. He is accurate, handy, and affordable. We observe our performances against the professional hunter rides that we watch carefully with Mr. Canon at our side.
Mr. Canon mirrors our mistakes and we have instant replays when we need reminders.
So at our first local show together, Handsome now Mulligan asked questions all day long. Why are horses everywhere? Why are horses tied to trailers? Why are we riding then resting, then riding then resting? Why are we not going the same direction? Why is that horse jumping in the arena next door when we are just standing? Why are we lined up but those three horses are leaving, can’t we leave too?
We answered his questions patiently, through continual exposure and quiet rides, words of praise, lots of petting and boatloads of carrots. Mulligan settled down in his cross rails class, jumping every fence the first time. He had a flashback from the race track when he heard the announcer on the loudspeaker but he came through the experience no worse for wear.
Dana and I were exhausted.
Part 2 >>