Sunday, July 30, 2017

Goldilocks and the three OTTBs

If you can recall from your childhood, Goldilocks was a really pain in the ass. Like the kind of girl you'd never take out to eat because she always sends back food or complains that music is too loud and trying to figure out how to please her seems like a path to insanity in trying. Certainly, finding a suitable horse for Goldilocks could be deemed equally as challenging, I mean, if she's that fussy about a bed or how her breakfast is served, then how in the hell would finding a horse be any easier?

In this story, Goldilocks will be played by me, and not to worry, I am not nearly as finicky as the fairy-tale protagonist. I have however, learned enough about myself and the kind of horse I want as MY personal ride and the journey to finding said horse is not unlike the fable of a girl with yellow hair and too many opinions.

In the first installment of the story we meet Riley:
Riley and I met in the spring of 2013, by chance at my (now) trainer's barn. He was a resale project for her that she let me ride once. The second and third time I rode him I took him to paper chases and he was foot perfect. I was an out of shape rider, and he was a barely 4 year old OTTB with a super chill attitude. We spent three years getting to know one another, and in the end, we fought more than we got along. He was crooked on my bad side and he got my number early enough in our relationship that I started to resent him for his antics.
2009, 16.1h gelding
Looking at his conformation shot above, what I like is a good shoulder and powerful hind end. I love his short cannons (though his legs always seemed too short for his body) but he was rather straight behind. He was put together in a way that would suit my needs at the time, something that could do a little bit of everything. Turns out, he was a better mover than his conformation would first suggest and he only got fancier as he built up a topline over the years and dressage judges LOVED him:

He could jump and actually had some talent, but he was VERY economical/lazy about it under saddle.

Sometimes, he'd actually try.
When it came to how we fit, this is where things get sort of interesting. For only 16.1hh (in shoes), the boy was a tank, and I never felt like I could use my leg effectively on him (something he definitely took advantage of).

I'm 5'6.5" with a 31" inseam for reference.
What I loved about him is that he felt like an old pair of shoes, familiar and comfortable, even when there were holes in our relationship. I felt safe on him, even when he was being cheeky. He had what I would call my preference for contact, not too light and not too heavy, like holding your hand against a running stream of water. I could take him anywhere and he was basically the same horse that I had at home. What I didn't like was that when he wanted to be an ass, he could really get me riled up and we'd meet each other with such frustration that riding him wasn't fun. I never got the feeling that he was "taking me to the jumps", it was always me kicking and pushing him along. I knew he'd jump (not always in the beginning), but he'd land in a heap and I started to really lose confidence because of it. He taught me so much about what I wanted and what I didn't want in my next horse...

Part two OR when you buy the opposite of the horse you just had (mostly).

I knew in this next installment that I was going to look for a small project to bring along. Maybe I'd keep him, maybe I wouldn't but I was looking for something wildly different than horse #1. My parameters were under 16hh, gelding, and fancy... Meet Nolan:

2013, 15.2h gelding.
After I made my list of wants, Nolan just happened to come along via a trusted trainer at the track that we've purchased from before. She breeds many of her own stock (Nolan included) and she knew he was pretty special. After failing as a racehorse (and a track pony for a hot minute) we drove out to see him. He did not disappoint. To this day, he had one of the best "track jogs" I've ever seen. Like, jaw-on-the-floor-wheres-my-poker-face-trot and cocky as all get out. It helped that he was personable, cute and had built in bling. When we got him home I knew almost immediately that he was probably more athletic than what I needed, but that he'd be great project for me. What I liked about him conformationally was his big shoulder (on a little body), powerful hind end, low set hock (good indicator of jump prowess), I liked how his neck tied into his body and that he was balanced, if not a bit butt high.

When you trot like this out of the box!!!
From the first day I knew I had my hands full with him as he was clever and bossy, not understanding that he was a small horse, or rather overcompensating for it. He challenged me, but Riley had in some ways prepared me to handle a bit more horse. Where I made mistakes with Riley on the ground (that ultimately led to under saddle issues) I corrected long before I got Nolan going. Working with such a fun, smart horse was truly enjoyable and where Riley could be lazy, Nolan loved a challenge and thrived from complicated work. He was, exceptional in every way...

Chronic overachiever!
The kid could jump, albeit much more athletically that I was going to need!!! When I got him going more seriously under saddle, he kept me on my toes. Not naughty, but he wanted you to be paying attention. He could be a bit squirrely, but always tried to figure out what I was asking and much preferred the work to be complicated rather than just WTC around the ring. He made me pay attention, and to be meaningful as a rider, which is a tough balance on an athletic, hot horse.

We fit quite well, which was why I originally wanted a small horse. Though small in stature, he had a very big barrel and took up a decent amount of leg. As such, a variety of riders looked good on him, partially offset by his conformational balance and long neck.

Such a cutie and a good fit!
What I loved about Nolan (and this is going to sound cheesy) but he made my heart pitter-patter when I saw his face. Seriously, he and I formed a pretty neat bond in a short period of time. He had an unbelievable canter that felt like a bouncing ball, the kind of canter you want to have out jumping, or in the sandbox. I loved that he had a light mouth, but hated that he required so much leg! I loved that when you rode him, his ears would be so focused on whatever you were doing. But the thing that made me want to move him a long was that he was crooked in the same direction that I am, so I knew better than to go down that road again (ahem, Riley).

And here's where we meet the "juuuust right".

Scout was a resale horse that should have been snapped up in a second. He was tall, dark and handsome and just a really good fellow. I went to meet him at the post-track farm, and I can still recall him shoving his face into my chest in the aisle. We knew we wanted him as a resale project then, but I had no idea I was going to fall in love with him! There's plenty to like at first glance:

2013, 16.3 (and a half)h gelding.
What I love about his conformation is that big ass shoulder and set back wither. Low set hocks and powerful hind end. He's quite balanced and while his neck looks a bit short in this photo he's got a lovely neck. He has a very kind eye, nice expression and I love the quality of bone he possesses. His angles are all really correct and you can expect for him to move well and to be able to jump a big jump.
Expectations met, the sucker can move!
He had such nice, natural reach in his shoulder and a fluidity to his gaits that sometimes take a long time to achieve once a horse stops racing. What made him even more valuable as a resale project was that he was great to handle and ride. Having a horse that from day one stands quietly at the mounting block is such a treat! Oh, and it doesn't hurt that he looks like this over fences:

First time in the jump school, NBD.
After watching a few people come to try him I was kind of dying to hop aboard myself. So when I got the chance to ride him in a sales video I jumped at the opportunity. Normally, making a sales video takes several takes in order to get concise footage of each gait and transitions so it's not just 10 minutes of someone trotting around for no reason... well, Scout made it super easy for me and we followed our typical pattern and shot the whole thing in one take! I was just beaming when I pulled up and Emily said it was the happiest she had seen me on a horse in as long as she could remember. *Internally, I was thinking uh oh.

First ride, all smiles!
You see, despite his large stature, we fit REALLY well. I'm not sure how but my leg is able to wrap solidly around his barrel and hang lower than it did on Riley. He's a really nice combination of having a nice mouth and being forward off my leg. He's overall very straight and doesn't come with the typical asymmetry I'm used to. With all those things working in our favor, we made a nice pair... and as it turns out, this horse really LIKES me. Not to sound hokey, but he goes very well for me in a way that he doesn't for others. That makes me feel super confident when I'm riding him and as such, we've been able to progress quite quickly with our rides. It was an easy to decision to buy him as I felt like I had truly met a partner to grow with. 

Goldilocks had finally found her horse that felt juuuuust right. And when she swung her leg over and took a deep breath and pointed him into the unknown, she knew he'd be right there with her, every step of the way.

All the smiles.
So tell me readers, if you were the protagonist in this story, which one would you choose and why? Beyond conformation, what's important to you in terms of personality, ride-ability, natural talent, bravery, and movement?


  1. Conformation is meaningless without the brain to back it up. ;-) Ask me how I know. So glad you found your guy and I hope you have many excellent adventures together.

  2. They all sound like fun horses in their own right, but sounds like Goldilocks found her just right with Scout!

  3. Great story, I was wondering what the evolution and thought process was between Nolan and Scout (since I could only watch on Instagram). Thank you for relating the tale!