Jen from Stories From The Saddle asks:
Do you currently have your “heart horse”? What makes a “heart horse” to you? If you don’t own a horse, have you ever leased a “heart horse”?
I encounter so many horses, with up to 20-25 different ones to ride in a week, that I’ve learned two things: 1) All horses are amazing, 2) regardless, certain horses just click with certain people, irrespective of whether they are actually that person’s favourite colour/breed/age/level of training.
So for me a heart horse is literally that horse that makes your heart turn a cartwheel and stop in its tracks, that makes it beat slower and faster at the same time. For those of us who are a little besotted (i. e. me), a heart horse makes you hot and cold all over and yet when you’re in the saddle you feel like nothing is too hard for God and you and that horse. It’s a lot like falling in love with exactly the right person (I imagine, anyway), only without having to make coffee and remember birthdays and run the risk of them suddenly not being who you thought they were. Horses don’t lie.
To me a heart horse is simply, at its core, utterly compatible with me, no matter how wrong the size or level of training. For me obviously they’ll all share similar characteristics because I like certain things in a horse. They’ll all be generous, with a good eye, a good walk, tremendous loyalty, and a big heart.All of my own horses are heart horses for me, and I was just ridiculously blessed because I only ever picked out one of them. The rest just sort of fell in my lap, as perfect as they are. But you’ve all heard so much about them that today I’m going to describe three horses that are absolutely heart horses, which I don’t own and never will, but I’m quite happy to run the risk of heartbreak rather than keep these bright spirits at arm’s length.Double Reef was probably the first OTTB I ever rode and, unlikely as it seemed at the time, I loved him. He was 16.3 hands of dark bay moodiness who didn’t think twice about aiming me a kick or a bite, but once I was on him he carried me as proudly and as carefully as if I was made of fine china. Once a top racehorse, Reef was sold on after racing to an owner that severely neglected him. When I met him he was the most pathetic, skeletal sight I’d ever seen, and his perfect legs, enormous eye, and chiselled features only made it worse; he was the stern sad ruins of a castle, not a tumbledown shack. With care, the Mutterer nursed him back to his fiery dark finery and he went on to teach countless kids how to ride. He taught me leg-yields and everything I needed to know about thoroughbreds and ridiculously long takeoff distances. He never shed his characteristic grumpiness, but we used to trust him with our four-year-old Down’s syndrome student because Reefer would have broken his own legs rather than allow any harm to come to that little boy.Double Reef was grumpy enough but in his heart he loved his job and, above all, he loved to run. It was easy to see why he campaigned successfully until the age of seven. There was nothing he relished more than snapping out his endless legs to their full length and eating up the ground in gigantic strides that left me breathless and clinging to his torrent of dark mane. He had an enormous heart.Reef is now semi-retired and I haven’t ridden or even laid a hand on him for years, but he’s one of those horses I’ll never forget.Not long after Reef left my life, I met Reed, who was his carbon opposite on the outside but within he was very similar. Reed was a 14.1 pony stallion and may have been nothing to write home about if it wasn’t for his amazing temperament and his dazzling colour. He was the most golden palomino I’ve ever seen, dappling gloriously in summer, with an attractive little head. And I’m not a pinto fan, but his white patches just made him prettier. He was almost excessively polite and friendly and didn’t have a grumpy hair on his head. But he too was gentle, willing, and loved his work. He had a surprisingly long stride and stylish bascule for his size and conformation, and I trusted him with everything in me. Beginners could ride him, and frequently did. In the time when he was in regular training, he would have done anything for me. He even cleared 1.20m with me once, which he really shouldn’t have been capable of. If I’d had more time I could have helped him become an awesome child’s event pony.Reed was the first client horse to break my heart and I don’t think he’ll ever be the last. After a super summer of steady training, the influx of young horses his owner needed backing pushed him off my schedule a little and a few months ago he was eventually sold on to the other end of the country. He’s gone to a high-profile home, but I’ll always miss him.Surprisingly enough, for all my fear of stallions, my third client heart horse is also a stallion. We call him the Storm Horse: a magnificent grey tempest of a horse, a Nooitgedachter stallion of the highest standard, standing nearly as tall as the top of my head and appearing four times bigger from his sheer overwhelming presence. When he walks in, you know about it. He has a commanding presence, a regal power about him that you can’t help but notice. And he wasn’t piece of cake to train: smart and tenacious as he is, as a colt he used all of his intelligence and resilience to resist everything the Mutterer wanted him to do. It took quite some time for him to decide to use his powers for good, but once he did and the stud could show him he raked in National Champion Nooitgedachter stallion in-hand and under saddle without apparent effort.
But somehow (and how the Mutterer predicted it, nobody knows) the big stallion just decided to give me his gentler side. He has a reputation for being dangerous, but he’s never attempted to hurt me. He moves around me with a half-awkward carefulness, akin to the way a big man holds a baby, and has never put a foot wrong with me on his back. That gentleness, the obvious joy he takes in his own power, and his faultless fidelity must be what attracts me so much to him, but one thing is obvious: the Storm Horse chose me for his human, and it doesn’t look like he’s going back on that choice.Thanks be to God, and glory to the King.