A couple of readers have suggested I should tell you all a little bit more about me and Gus so here goes! I have loved horses for as long as I can remember. When I was a small child in Calgary the best days ever were the rare occasions we'd go visit a friend's ranch and I'd be allowed to pat, brush and even ride the horses. But since I was allergic to horses, my parents thought riding was a poor choice for a hobby. It took me until the age of 14 to wear them down into agreeing to a weekly lesson.
Well you all can appreciate that weekly lessons are just the gateway drug into full-blown horse addiction! I progressed to two weekly lessons, then part boarding, volunteering to muck, feed, sweep and clean tack, and working as a counsellor at summer riding camp. At the age of 17 a lifelong dream came true and my parents agreed to let me buy my own horse. It was no fairy tale, however and here's why:
I grew up in a part of the country where we had no certified coaches and no professional trainers. The instructors we did have were wonderful people, passionate about horses and about teaching kids to ride. But when I look back now and realize how much we didn't even know that we didn't know, I'm amazed we all survived. Case in point: As a 17-year-old, still fairly novice rider, the horse my coach helped me buy was a green-broke, rising 3-year-old QH x TB. I think even then I knew in my heart he wasn't the right horse for me, but he was gorgeous, he was sweet and I LOVED him.
Splash and I had a lot of ups and downs over the next few years but also learned a lot. Our barn started bringing in regular dressage clinicians, and hired the very talented Stephanie Gow as our in house coach. I spent a summer in Nova Scotia as a working student and finally started making real progress with my horse. Unfortunately at about that time I had also finished university, was starting my career and didn't have the time or money needed to focus on riding. I made the difficult decision to sell, and my beloved Splash went to live with a lovely family in NS.
As happens to so many of us, riding became something I used to do. I got a second degree, got married, moved to Ontario and started a family. I had a job, mortgage, children and no room in my life for horses. I didn't even go to the Royal once a year - being around horses was like running into an ex-boyfriend you still loved with all your heart.
For close to 20 years I didn't put my foot in a stirrup. Imagine my excitement when my then 8-year-old daughter asked for riding lessons! Turns out it wasn't to be her thing, but me walking in a barn on that first day was like an addict walking into a crack house. It wasn't long before I was telling my husband that weekly riding lessons would be a great way to get some exercise. Poor guy had no idea what that really meant...
Before long I found a great coach in Debbie Dobson at Equestrian Dreams, and started mucking stalls to get fit and earn extra time in the saddle. Does any of this sound familiar? When the time came to buy another horse, I knew I'd be smarter this time. Something with plenty of miles, buttons already installed. Older and needing a little maintenanc was fine, as long as it was bombproof, big enough to carry my weight but not too tall. So what did I buy? A 5-year-old, 17.1 hand Oldenburg cross.
I swear I'm not crazy. Really! I met and fell in love with Gus on my very first visit to Equestrian Dreams. Debbie had purchased him as an unbacked 2-year-old and and carefully been training him herself. Yes he lacked miles but made up for it with an exceptionally quiet nature and super brain. Knowing this time I had the help of a professional trainer to keep us from going too far off the rails, I somehow talked my poor patient husband into agreeing, and in January 2015, Gus officially joined our family.
We showed in the walk trot classes that first year at a local schooling show series. I never imagined at 43 I'd be going in the show ring again but we did it and had a blast. In the summer of 2016 we moved up to Training Level and Bronze shows. Our first show was a great success, winning both our classes on scores of 68 and 69, and taking home the home the high point award. Second show Gus decided to get abcesses in both front feet, so no show for us. Third show we had a spooky fist test but settled down in the second half of it for a score of 64. Unfortunately the day went downhill from there when Gus encountered his first bicycle, I fell off and fractured my knee. So much for the rest of my show season!
I was out of the saddle for three LONG months and just started riding again at the beginning of December. Slowly but surely things are starting to come together again and at the moment, we still plan to show First Level this summer. Knowing how poorly plans and horses go together though, I think we'll just take one ride at a time for now!
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.