When I was a child, I dreamed of owning a horse. Any horse. it didn't matter what size, breed, or colour; I was obsessed with them all. I railed against my parents who followed the doctor's advice not to let me ride, since I tested highly allergic to horses (and everything else with fur or feathers too). It wasn't until I was 14 that I managed to wear them down and convince them to let me try one lesson a week for the summer. We all know how that "just one lesson" scenario works out!
I part boarded and leased a few horses over the years but my dream of ownership didn't come true until I was 17. I had fallen in love with a handsome QH x TB in our barn, and when he came up for sale I couldn't resist. He was the horse of my dreams! Problem was, I was far from his dream rider.
Said horse was rising three and had only a few months' training under saddle - probably not the best match for a novice teenager who didn't even know enough to know what she didn't know. We struggled. A lot. There were high points, low points, victories, and hospital visits.
My coach offered to take him back in exchange for his older and better-trained half brother. I refused. I LOVED my horse and I wouldn't dream of giving him up. In retrospect that was a huge mistake. But our teenage years are for making mistakes, right? As I gained more knowledge and had the opportunity to work with a few knowledgeable dressage coaches, we turned things around. He was never destined to be a superstar but became a fun, (mostly) safe all-around ride who could hold his own in the show ring or take care of my adult beginner students in a lesson. When I finished university, got a full-time job, and faced the financial reality that I couldn't afford a horse, he ended up with a wonderful family in Nova Scotia and I closed the door on my equine adventures until I got back in the saddle for "just one lesson a week" at the age of 42.
I came up with another wild and crazy dream. Not only was I going to own a horse again, I was going to learn my way up the levels and compete him at Third Level before I turned 50. Again I found my dream horse - the huge, sweet and (mostly) safe gentle giant you all know as Gus, then 5 years old. Again, I was far from his dream rider, but I sure tried. We struggled. A lot. There were high points, low points, victories, and hospital visits. We made it into the ring at Second Level this winter - a huge milestone for both of us - and he was able to do all the Third Level movements at home, to the best of his ability at least.
But I was bit naive, having never ridden past First Level before, and didn't fully appreciate just how physically demanding the collection and self-carriage required at Third is. At that level the horse really needs to be an athlete and athletic is not a word anyone would use to describe Gus. He tried his heart out but with a conformation most unsuited to dressage and a chronic medical condition to manage, he started letting us know this spring that he was unhappy.
After changing everything we could (tack, bits, medication, pads, etc.) and having many consultations with the vet, the conclusion was simply that his body was not going to hold up to this level of work and that continuing would cause him pain. He deserves better. We could have retired him, or kept him as a low level pleasure horse, and if we hadn't found the perfect home for him that's exactly what would have happened.
However, just because he was no longer the horse to help me reach my dreams, didn't mean Gus wasn't someone else's dream horse. His new mom reminds me so much of myself when I first got him. Badly in need of a confidence booster, she loves the fact he stops when she loses her balance and, on her second ride, felt safe enough to try cantering for the first time in over a year. He will work at a lower level on a lighter schedule and will be wonderful at his new job. He'll hear "good boy" over and over again and will be doing what he's best at. She is his dream rider, plus she adores him and thinks he's the handsomest horse in the world. She's right.
There's Gus-sized hole in my heart at the moment but I know things have worked out in the best way for me, for him, and for his new owner. My dream of Third Level is on a temporary pause but that's ok. Taking care of my horse is more important. I believe there's a horse out there who thinks I'm their dream rider (ha!) and will love teaching me the next steps.
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.