Training Laredo – or the value of doing things that will never make you money

Yesterday I rode our 4 year old horse. He’s a red dun Quarter Horse named Laredo. His registered name is something rather more elaborate. He’s got a lot of Driftwood in his pedigree – he’s a bit of a fancy youngster, to be honest.

We didn’t buy him for his breeding. We bought him for his temperament. He’s a quiet guy, not inclined to overreact to things. He was just about to turn three when we bought him. He’d been started under saddle – which meant he’d had someone on his back a handful of times, but that was about it.

My husband and I had retrained a number of adult horses before we bought Laredo, but we’d never trained a youngster. We knew working with young horses is different, so wanted one with a forgiving personality.

It’s been an interesting experience, training Laredo. It’s been both easier and more difficult than I expected. He came with a few strange issues. For instance, he hated having his ears touched. And I mean hated. Like basically you couldn’t touch his ears at all because he’d throw a serious tantrum if you tried. Also, he had a rooting problem, which meant he wanted to lean on the bit all the time. Since we ride on a loose rein, this meant he’d go hunting for the bit sometimes, dropping his head so low it would throw him off balance.

Other things were easy. Saddle? Sure. Rider? No problem. Go? Alright. Stop? Oh yeah, I love stopping.

Then there were the odd meltdown moments. In the fall he developed a  penchant for bucking when asked to lope, and taking off at a flat-out gallop just to get out of doing something simple, like a turn or a transition.

He’s a graceful horse, with near perfect conformation, which thankfully means he’s a smooth ride even when he’s sprinting out of control through a cornfield you’re not technically supposed to be riding in.

There’s no doubt we made mistakes with Laredo. His youth played a far bigger factor in his training than we had anticipated. He was like a toddler in terms of attention span and emotional intelligence when we got him. Now, he’s like a teenager.

Nevertheless, one year in, he’s so different. Yesterday I stroked his ears while I groomed him and he stood there with his head down, eyes half closed, loving the contact. He lifted each foot for me as I picked his hooves. Under saddle, he’s is happy to go into any gait and stay there. In short, he’s a joy to ride and be around. He feels like home now.

He’s far from finished, but he’s on the cusp of leaving ‘green’ behind. Between my husband and myself we’ve invested nearly 150 hours in riding him. And that doesn’t count the groundwork. (We do a LOT of groundwork.) But what’s more enjoyable? A fabulous ride on a horse that came to you all polished and educated, or a fabulous ride on a horse that once got so interested in trying to shake the bridle off his head he fell to his knees while you were riding him?

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and how it gets spent. I’ve been working on my Pegasus Project trilogy for seven years. I’ve had my other horse, Steen, for five years. (Steen came with plenty of issues too, but that’s a story for another day.) We’ve had Laredo for one. My Pegasus Project trilogy is almost done. The first book will hopefully be out in the real world by the end of this year. On Steen, I can trot figure-eights in an open pasture, no fences anywhere near, with my arms crossed and the reins draped over the horn. On Laredo, we’re nowhere near that level of sophistication. But he feels good to ride these days. Really good.

People are often surprised when they hear we have four horses. My husband and I are young. We’re not wealthy. We have jobs. The horses are a hobby. We squeeze them in between ‘real life’ concerns. People often ask if we mean to sell them for a profit, or start teaching lessons, or train horses for other people. While I do have one student and we will sell a horse this fall, none of that is the point.

The reality is, the horses will always be a huge expenditure of time and resources. They take energy and money and a whole lot of commitment. We’ll always be in the red with them as far as a spreadsheet is concerned.

But you know what? The best things in life aren’t the ones that offer you a return on your investment. What you gain from taking a green horse who used to distrust people and turning him into a well-started mount who will leave the galloping herd to come say hi when he sees you walk through the pasture gate is intangible. But that doesn’t mean it’s without value.

 

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